Spirit of Hong Kong

Photographer's disability doesn't stop him from daring to dream

A photographer hasn’t let his condition get in the way of his art. His latest exhibition looks at the identity of the city’s young people

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

No dreamer is ever too small and no dream is ever too big to achieve - photographer Kevin Cheng Kai-man is living testimony to this popular quote.

Despite being physically stunted and confined to a wheelchair by a rare genetic disease, Cheng, 27, has fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional photographer.

Cheng spent much of his childhood going in and out of hospitals for surgeries and has to put up with curious stares from strangers on the streets, but he has remained cheerful and positive about life.

"I believe that everyone is here for a reason," he says.

"In life, you win some and you lose some. And you live with what you've got."

I believe that everyone is here for a reason. In life, you win some and you lose some. And you live with what you've got

Cheng was diagnosed with the disease when he was about six months old, after his family noticed that his growth was slower than that of most babies. By his teenage years, he had undergone three major surgeries.

Even today, his spine remains in danger of growing increasingly crooked, which would affect his organs' functions and eventually lead to death.

But despite everything he has gone through, Cheng says he is "luckier than many others in the world" because he has a loving family and friends, hope, and a story he can share with the world through his photography.

"I always had a lot of emotions about the world around me, and photography is a good way for me to express those feelings."

Cheng's first solo exhibition, "Lost In Lego City", opens at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre today. It features more than 40 of his works, each with a man in a Lego head at various locations across the city.

The young man was introduced to photography in secondary school. He went on to complete two higher diplomas in multimedia design and commercial photography at Polytechnic University.

Today, he works as a freelance art photographer, selling his photos for income.

"Kevin works very hard. He has a tenacity and commitment to creativity that's rare even among those of us who aren't disabled," says photographer Ducky Tse Chi-tak, Cheng's mentor and friend, who got to know Cheng during the 2009 protests against the government's bid to demolish Tsoi Yuen Tsuen to make way for the Guangzhou-Hong Kong high-speed rail.

Being a photographer is tough for those with disabilities, Cheng admits. "I can't run around or climb up and down like I would need to while taking wedding photos and such [if I were a commercial photographer]," he says.

But he preferred art photography from the start, as he could convey deeper messages and thoughts through his work.

The "Lost In Lego City" exhibition is Cheng's take on how young people relate to the society they are thrown into upon graduation.

"Leaving school life and coming into the real world can be very tough," he says. "Most end up not being able to follow through with their dreams."

Like the Lego Man in his works, many young people feel like they are being tossed around like a toy, confined by the rules of modern society and unable to live out their dreams, Cheng says.

"Many walk around with a smile painted on, like the Lego Man. But no one knows if they are really happy," he adds.

But the future is not all bleak - Cheng's final photo in the series shows the Lego Man removing his helmet and sprinting down the beach towards the sea.

"My message is for everyone to remember to keep your dreams … People should pursue what they want and stop caring about what other people think. If you do that, it's liberating," he says.

Cheng's exhibition starts today on Level 7 of the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei.