For the record

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2007, 12:00am

A woman clutches her sick child in the doorway of a ramshackle medical clinic, but her serene expression belies the turmoil within. 'It was raining, but the mother didn't look too depressed ... she was actually desperate,' says local rocker Paul Wong Koon-chung, who took the photograph on a recent humanitarian mission to Bangladesh.

That same sense of resilience can be found in another of Wong's shots from the trip, which captures the reflection of four children standing in a pool of stagnant water.

'In such an adverse environment, the children are still living happily and there is clearly a strong friendship among them,' the 43-year-old musician says.

'They don't recognise the harshness of their life, which inspires me to think a lot about human nature, and myself.'

These two black-and-white images, and many more, feature in the exhibition Trapped for 15 Years, are the fruits of Wong's visit last month to Teknaf on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh.

He was invited to the impoverished border town by aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres and the resulting photo project aims to raise awareness of the plight of the 260,000 Muslim Rohingyas who escaped Myanmar for Bangladesh in 1992. The Rohingyas fled their homeland after years of discrimination, violent intimidation and forced labour. Today, they are a trapped people, unable to return to Myanmar for fear of retribution and unable to obtain refugee status in Bangladesh. With scant clean water, food or medical support, they struggle to survive.

But instead of despair and pessimism, Wong's images capture a people full of dignity and hope.

The exhibit, featuring monochrome and colour prints, and employs various photographic styles. 'The photos I picked for the exhibition are either very straightforward or a bit abstract. I didn't want to show images that are too sensational,' Wong says.

He had never heard of the Rohingyas before he was asked to contribute to the show. So before leaving Hong Kong, he studied their history. Yet nothing could have prepared him for the shocking conditions he would encounter in Teknaf.

Bin liners, bamboo sticks and cardboard are used to build huts. In his blog (, Wong - who has previously visited Nepal for another charity project - posted some of the Rohingyas' photos and comments: 'Imagine living here for 15 years!'

Soon after arriving in Bangladesh the former member of marquee 80s rock band Beyond got stuck into his work. However, on the first day he chose not to take any pictures, preferring instead to observe the people and soak up the atmosphere of the border town. 'I was glad I had a chance to see the camp at its worst. It rained heavily for the first few days, the ground was a mire, [and] the air was filled with a foul odour.'

Wong says he prefers to work in black and white than colour because the true nature of objects is more clearly seen and the images are often more powerful.

The singer-songwriter, who first became interested in photography at the age of 17, says he was drawn to the art form by its sense of finality. 'After you press the button that's it, [there's] no return. That's the value of photography ... [and] life. Many things only happen once,' he says.

While photography and music may seem vastly different forms of expression, requiring vastly different talents, to Wong they are very similar as both record reality and history. 'I'm simply making ... social records [rather] than creating music records,' he says.

Trapped for 15 Years, Park Court, Level 1, Pacific Place, Admiralty, until Oct 2; Central Atrium, G/F Olympian City 2, Oct 8-12