PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am


The Upper Station, Sheung Wan
Ends July 30

Photographer Dustin Shum Wan-yat's latest exhibition was originally named '30th Anniversary of My Public Housing Tenancy', and this prosaic title would have sufficed if Shum had taken a personal, expressionistic or photojournalistic approach to depict the lives of people in Hong Kong's public housing estates. But the spare aesthetics of these carefully composed medium-format, enlarged colour photographs begged a tighter moniker. 'Blocks' concisely introduces a set of landscape photographs highlighting the architecture and individual design quirks seen in these estates.

This exhibition shows Shum has been inspired by the legacy of the influential 'New Topographics' exhibition of 1975 held at George Eastman House in New York that included such exemplary photographers as Stephen Shore and Robert Adams.

Taking a lead from them, Shum depicts estate landscapes without the obvious presence of people, but 'peopled' by physical, man-altered and architectural interventions that are, at times, varied, surprising, uncanny and just plain weird.

Shum's personal experience of living at Shun On Estate for the past 30 years allows him a perceptive analysis. The 1960s egalitarian spirit of 'housing for all' has shifted to now mean that 'public housing' has, as Shum explains, 'become a phrase that stands for poverty, aged [people], obsolete [housing stock] and families relying on social security assistance'.

In Nam Shan Estate . 9/2010 the newly renovated estate is painted in jazzy shades of green with matching seating, safety-rubber ground paving inserted with bunny-rabbit motifs and a pragmatic but banal courtyard designed for efficient cleaning rather than enjoyable and unsupervised relaxation.

Shum believes the marginalisation of Hong Kong's public housing estates and tenants reflects a shifting psyche. The city's capitalist flair had supported the myth, now no longer trusted, that living on an estate meant a person grew up 'with a tough and frugal childhood, unyielding struggles in youth', to eventually achieve 'success, fame and wealth'.