Arriving on Japan’s Peace Boat for what was supposed to be a short stay, Luke Casey was quickly seduced by the manner and measures of Hong Kong. Sometimes surreal and often openly candid, his snapshots of Hong Kong embrace fading cultural emblems and the unfiltered nature of the city’s inhabitants.
Originally hailing from London, his approach to photography took a dramatic shift once encountering a city as unapologetic as this. Once capturing beautifully lit portraits on the streets of London, he felt he couldn’t translate that style into the chaos he had found here, so decided to document life as he saw it unfolding.
“I’ve seen a lot of Wong Kar Wai films, and I knew about photographers like Wing Sha who tapped into that whole aesthetic, and I was just super super drawn to it, but once I moved here, I realised there is way more to it! If you can kind of get under the surface of people, even talk a little bit of Cantonese, their eyes just light up, and suddenly you’re getting access to a whole nother side of Hong Kong!”
Luke’s unromanticised style shines in his personal works, and with Ocean Pine, his multidisciplinary studio, he works with brands to create crisp visual stories. His commercial works certainly differ from what he captures in his own time, but as of the late, the lines have begun to blur as brands open up more experimental visuals. Using his Instagram to show all facets of his creations, it serves as fly by the seat of your pants, here’s me, take it or leave it narrative of his day to day. “In Hong Kong, the chaos is just everywhere, you can’t avoid it, so I decided just to embrace it…I wanted to post those more real things I take on my iPhone or camera and not have to have this Instagram feed which is this perfect portfolio.”
Having made Tai Kok Tsui his home base, all the hidden karaoke joints and obscure bars are his regular haunts. Drawn to the near-forgotten side of the city, he proceeds with caution when it comes to documenting them but is also ready to belt out a song to earn his keep.
“I go to this Karaoke bar, and I had to put in a lot of time to be welcomed there. At first, they did look at me like ‘oh who’s this gwai lo’, but after a while, they were like ok he’s harmless. It is like being on a movie set, and all these older people who are regulars and they’ve got their own world there, so I don’t want to disrupt it too much…it’s just an extraordinary place, really iconic Yau Ma Tei, and the sad thing is it’s going to disappear.”
The most intriguing spot he frequents is actually one of his own creations, an unassuming garage that doubles as an art space dubbed Holy Motors. A tiny glass box sits between the auto shops two wide entrances, in it sits dusty equipment and a ladder for the time being, but this is actually one of the most obscure and fascinating galleries in all of Hong Kong.
When first approaching the owner of the garage, Luke was quickly turned away. “Some chi shin gwai lo”, they must have thought, “You cant put art in there”. With some persistence and plenty of miscommunications, they agreed to rent him the space. It was then that the community of Sham Shui Po became the audience to a series of experimental art showcases set to a backdrop of greased up Chinese motor heads tinkering with bikes.
Unwittingly, the boss of the motor shop became a sort of spokesman for Luke’s many art shows, quelling the curiosities of those who dared to question the nature of the displays. Luke’s Holy Motor project evolved into something he couldn’t have predicted. ” It became collaborative. We’d be setting up for a show, need a tool, and this group of mechanics would be helping us decide the best way to make it happen. They would get pretty excited to see what the next showcase would be and we’d have these opening nights with mechanics on their bikes parked around, and friends from all over the creative spectrum. All sipping cheap beers around this tiny exhibition on the street.”
For a time he kept his involvement with Holy Motors a secret, attending his own shows as a guest and keeping the crowd wondering who had been inviting these artists to show their work here. With the garage now changing owners, Holy Motor’s fate now rests in the hands of whoever takes up this novel space as Luke waits to see if the little glass case can still be a home for eccentricities and alternative art.
Now moving forward with a more documentary- fantasy approach to his work, Luke enjoys throwing context out the window to allow his viewers to craft their own narrative. “Hong Kong does attract a lot of photographs and you do tend to see a pattern of work. That’s why this fantasy element is important to me now so I can inject a bit of myself into what I’m shooting.” He recalls an evening where he was walking with a friend and had her sit on top of bags of concrete for a picture, after some back and forth they decided to return a week later only this time with a mermaid costume. A commentary on what you may ask? That’s for you to mull over, but the next time you stumble across a man, a mermaid and the foundations of Hong Kong, don’t be so alarmed.
You can find more of Luke Casey’s work on his website or Instagram.