Life in a concrete jungle

By Young Wang

Photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze sees Hong Kong from a new perspective

By Young Wang |

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Chaotic yet beautiful, Hong Kong is a dazzling city of contradictions. When Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze moved to the city in 2009, he was immediately inspired to buy his first DSLR camera. Now, the 27-year-old Frenchman is a professional photographer, whose second photo book, Wild Concrete, will come out in May.

Before Jacquet-Lagrèze landed in Hong Kong, he was happy to just take snaps on his mobile phone. But walking under the neon lights, exploring Hong Kong's unique architecture and admiring the details he found in the facades of buildings, he was inspired to make the change.

Jacquet-Lagrèze grew up in the suburbs of Paris, and worked and lived in Los Angeles and Tokyo, but Hong Kong was special. "Here, life is shown everywhere as a kind of chaos. The city is so visual," says Jacquet-Lagrèze, who holds a master's in multimedia and art.

After deciding he wanted to do photography in this city, he still had to find that clear vision for his project. At first, he explored each district with his camera, and took photos of everything he saw. When he looked back at all the photographs, he was drawn to 10 shots taken at an interesting angle.

"Why not try to push it further?" he said to himself. That moment led to his first photo book.

Vertical Horizon was published in 2012 and captures the competitive skyline of Hong Kong and its vertical spirit. Being a foreigner, Jacquet-Lagrèze was able to keep a distance from his subject and had fresh eyes to discover the concrete jungle.

More than anything, he likes the detailed facades of Hong Kong's unique buildings, especially the traditional tong laus where each floor and window is different.

Modern towers side-by-side with old-style residential buildings may seem normal to Hongkongers, but "it's not normal for 99 per cent of the world", says Jacquet-Lagrèze.

He wanted to share that phenomenon through his lens.

His new book, Wild Concrete, tells a different story. He captures sprouting and maturing trees in unexpected places. These trees are growing in the concrete, inside walls of buildings, in the water pipes, in front of windows and sometimes even inside homes.

"They'll always find a way," says Jacquet-Lagrèze.

Even though people are trying to control the environment, the trees - that look like they are taking over the buildings - break that control and create surprise.

"I love the determination of those trees. I just want to convey this feeling of determination … and the strength coming out of it," says Jacquet-Lagrèze.

Being able to invite people to see something they have not seen before, or have overlooked, is what he likes most about being a photographer. To Jacquet-Lagrèze, trees growing on the concrete look like living paintings and he wants their beauty to be appreciated.

He likes to use a wide-angle lens to capture as many scenes as possible, but sometimes he also needs a zoom lens to home in on trees growing in walls and water pipes.

It's easy for people to get lost in Hong Kong's busy lifestyle. To enjoy and capture the beauty of the city, Jacquet-Lagrèze says the most important thing is to take his time touring around.

"Try to imagine you have never seen Hong Kong before, try to forget everything you know about the city," he says. "Just look at it and not look at it … the more you think, the less conscious you are of what you see."