Except for the New Bright Colour, All Have Faded Away
Public housing estates are important monuments of the Hong Kong Government’s social policies in the post-war years. The multi-storey and cramped public housing design was able to accommodate throngs of immigrants from the Mainland effectively since 1950, and the “half-village, half community” style of living facilitated the enhancement of peace, harmony and long term development in Hong Kong. On the other hand, public housing estates also bear a popular myth of the baby-boom generation. Most of us are familiar with this myth, with some of them even believe their own life story resemble the myth : tough and frugal childhood, unyielding personal struggles in youth, and success, fame and wealth in the end.
Nowadays, People generally consider the flats in public housing estates small and their facilities very basic. However, for those early immigrants and the post-war generation who had been living in matsheds or dingy rooms, the environment of public houses were indeed a big improvement in their living standard. Furthermore, the Government often established industrial sites near the housing estates so that people could find jobs with relative ease. Even housewives could earn some money at home by doing processing work of plastic flowers, toys or textiles that they obtained from the nearby factories.
But this myth about public housing estates has started to explode during the 1980s. New estates were built only in remote regions because urban lands were either occupied, too expensive or had been designed for other purposes. At the same time, as a result of economic transformation, Hong Kong industrialists were moving their factories to the Mainland. Therefore, residents in public housing estates who were not able to adapt the new changes found their life kept getting harder. When their offspring grow up and gradually move out from the old homes, “public housing” has become a phrase that stands for poverty, aged, obsolete, and families relying on social security assistance.
Dustin Shum Wan-yat was born in 1971 and moved into Shun On Estate with his parents from Kwun Tong Yu Man Square at the age of ten. In the past thirty years, he experienced the transition mentioned in the previous paragraph. He himself became a true witness of the deteriorating building conditions. Ironically, the Government paints up the public houses in every few years during the regular renovations, and the colours it applied are getting brighter and brigher. According to Shum, the public housing estates are now in kindergarten style.
Last year, before the Ngau Tau Kok Estate was demolished, many Hong Kong people brought their cameras there in order to produce some nostalgic images of the estate. Undoubtedly, these photographs reflect the collective memory of the baby-boom generation. On the other hand, the photographs of public housing estates produced by Dustin Shum, a Hong Konger born in the 1970s, reveal a Hong Kong in its decline.
Possibly because of the soaring land prices in recent years and ideal jobs are very difficult to get, many university students nowadays are applying for public housing flats even before their graduation. Perhaps they believe the lower rent can offer them an easier starting point in their career. Will they eventually create a new myth of the public housing estates in Hong Kong? And will someone among them grab a camera and use photography to tell the views of the younger generations on public housing estates?
About the artist
Dustin Shum graduated from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Degree in Photographic Design. Having been a photojournalist for more than ten years, he now works as a freelance photographer. He has been awarded many honours for outstanding documentary photography over the years, including awards by the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (2003, 2007) and Amnesty International. Solo exhibitions held include “Alias: Xianggang” (2003) and “Perfect Olympians” (2009). Shum has published several catalogues including Live Alone a Life: People with Mental Illness (2007), and Themeless Parks: Photographs by Dustin Shum (2008). He also participated in many local and international joint exhibitions including “Imaging Hong Kong”(2008), Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial (2010), City Flâneur: Social Documentary Photography (2010)，Pingyao International photography Festival (2008), “Photography Now: China, Japan, Korea” (2009, organized by SFMoMA) and Savignano SI Fest (2010) in Italy . His works are collected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and private collectors.
岑允逸。1994年獲香港理工大學攝影設計(榮譽)學士，曾任攝影記者超過十年，現為自由攝影師。曾獲多項紀實攝影獎，包括由香港報業公會、香港攝影記者協會、亞洲傳媒大獎及國際特赦組織等機構舉辦的新聞業界獎項。個人展覽包括「別名：Xianggang」(2003)及「奧運健兒寫真」(2009)，曾出版攝影集包括《一人生活》(2007)、及《係‧唔係樂園：岑允逸攝影作品》(2008)。並曾參與多個本地及國際攝影聯展，包括影像香港(2008)、 香港當代藝術雙年獎（2010）、城市漫遊者─社會紀實攝影（2010）、平遙國際攝影節(2009)、三藩市現代美術館主辦的「Photography Now: China, Japan, Korea」（2009），及意大利Savignano SI Fest（2010） 等。作品為三藩市現代美術館、香港文化博物館及私人收藏。