When she was 15, Chan On Ki surprised her father by asking him for a camera… she’s never looked back. Nearly three years later she still has that Canon 40D, but her camera collection, not to mention her lens collection, has grown exponentially. That collection includes some classic vintage film gear with exotic names that I can neither spell nor pronounce easily. What I can say with complete confidence is that she is a very talented young photographer, who I’m sure could make interesting images with the most basic of cameras.
I first met OK last summer in her hometown of Hong Kong during a sweltering August afternoon photo-walk and I was immediately impressed. She was years younger than everyone else in the group but didn’t seem to be at all intimidated. She was carrying a tank of a camera, a old Kiev 60, and it was clear she knew how to use it. After returning to my hotel that night I was able to take a look at some her photographs on the internet and was even more impressed. Through our mutual love of photography we’ve become friends and I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with OK about how she came to photography and what she sees herself doing with it down the road.
Expatriate Games: I appreciate you making the time kiddo’. So, what prompted you to ask your father for that first camera?
Chan On Ki: Not many people know that I have a hearing disability which not only affects my hearing but to some extent affects my speaking as well. I think that’s why I’m not so good at expressing myself verbally or musically. I am however, very much into color and shapes and imagery so I thought I might give it a try. It was fun from the beginning but after I met some other teens with a passion for photography there really was no looking back. I began to take my camera everywhere and tried to find as much information as I could on technique and different cameras and stuff. It didn’t take long before I was completely addicted.
Expatriate Games: Well I’m glad you said it first! I mean, I thought I had a lot of gear but you my friend, have officially gone nuts. Let’s see, I know you have a Leica M6, the Canon 40D DSLR, Canon F-1, FTb and FX film cameras and the aforementioned Kiev 60 medium format camera as well as a Polaroid Land Automatic. Throw in an eclectic mix of lenses from Canon, Leitz, Voigtlander, Volna, Mir and Vega and that’s quite an impressive array of camera equipment! Do you have a favorite?
Chan On Ki: Yeah it’s easily the M6. I still use some of the other cameras depending on my mood but the Leica is my go to camera and I think it will be for a while.
“I think this is a nice example of OK’s unique vision. This is a shot I probably wouldn’t have taken or noticed because of the steamed up window. Of course thats exactly what makes the image. I can smell this, feel it. It’s palpable.” – EG
Expatriate Games: What is it about the Leica M6 that you like so much?
Chan On Ki: Well, first off obviously it’s a film camera and I love film. I also really like the meter, I can really rely on it. It’s solidly built and I’m hoping it can be a life-long partner for me. Leica also provides great details which is especially good when I’m shooting on the street.
Expatriate Games: Was it difficult to get used to the rangefinder manual focus? I think I would miss the autofocus.
Chan On Ki: Not really, I’d pretty much gone to all manual all the time, including focusing, even before the Leica. It helps me slow down and see the shot better.
Expatriate Games: You have embraced film at a time when many photographers, myself included, have moved over to digital. What do you like about film as opposed to shooting digitally?
Chan On Ki: I’m not really opposed to digital. It definitely has its advantages but those advantages, at least for me, make it almost too easy somehow. With a digital camera you can just click away and delete at will. I find I’m more intuitive with a film camera in my hand. I think that’s because I’m more aware of light and exposure and in the surroundings and in making a good composition.
“I remember this was taken on a photo-walk with some friends in Lan Kwai Fong. I was really had a blast that night, I kept shooting and shooting. There are so many people on earth but we can still find our focus.” – OK
Expatriate Games: Are you processing the film yourself and do you still digitally enhance images in post processing?
Chan On Ki: Yeah I do almost all of it myself if I have the time. I will use Lightroom in post-processing, usually for things like removing dust or changing the contrast or deepen blacks. I do that mostly because my flatbed scanner lacks somewhat in quality!
Expatriate Games: What about your folks now… what do they thing of your “hobby”?
Chan On Ki: Well, school still comes first, that’s for sure. If they think I’m slacking off it can get kind of tough for me! It’s okay I just need to manage my time very carefully! Obviously they are very supportive and they think it’s a good hobby for me.
Expatriate Games: Yeah you might mention I am up for adoption…
Chan On Ki: Ha! Well, they don’t pay for everything! I actually work as a maths tudor and use almost everything I make on cameras and film!
Expatriate Games: Lemme tell ya’ sister, that’s a lot of math! What about the future, do you see yourself shooting professionally one day?
Chan On KI: Probably not, I’m actually leaning toward architecture. My dad heads his own engineering firm so I’d like to be involved in the family business. I guess we should never say never but no I don’t see myself working as a photographer full-time. Besides, I think it would be very hard to shoot for a client and not for myself.
“This is one of the first images I remember looking at the night after meeting OK. It looks like a glossy magazine ad but I know now that is was a shot OK caught of her brother Keke as he was unwinding at the end of a long day. I like the choices she made here, with the crop and the high contrast processing.” – EG
Expatriate Games: Let’s talk about your vision, how you see Hong Kong through your lens. You definitely have an artist’s eye… were you very artistic before you got into photography.
Chan On Ki: Thanks, I’ve never thought of myself as an “artist” and I know I said before that I was into color and shapes but honestly before photography I never tried anything artistic. My way of thinking about things is always changing, evolving maybe. I think I “see” in a strange way sometimes. I still take a camera everywhere , even to school.
Expatriate Games: And are you looking for anything in particular when you are out?
Chan On Ki: I’m rather random in shooting things but I am quite keen on trying to find a different angle or perspective. I’ll shoot anything that catches my eye and Hong Kong is great for that. Many locals complain about the city being too small or too dirty or too this or too that but I think it’s beautiful. It just depends on how you view it.
Expatriate Games: Well Hong Kong is one of THE iconic cities for photography and I think per capita it surely has one of the highest rates of talented photographers anywhere int he world. You and I have a lot of mutual photographer friends and most of them (like me) are much older than you. Do they give you suggestions or have you been able to pick up stuff from the more experienced guys?
Chan On KI: Sure, usually they’re usually very gracious. I really think that even just looking at other people’s work can give you some idea of how you want to do things. We have a nice group who like to go out on photo-walks together and I’m always surprised by how differently everyone interprets the same scenes. I’ve got one very cool flickr buddy named Wesley Wong who teaches me a lot of thing but he is only a year older than me . He’s the one who got me so into film, particularly black and white.
“I like this photo. To me it conveys something important… I feel hopeful or impressed whenever I see someone trying their very best to reach their dream.” – OK
Expatriate Games: Aside from film, you also have an affinity for street shooting.
Chan On Ki: Yeah, I like getting out and losing myself with the camera and shooting on the street is where I feel most comfortable. I prefer getting good candid shots because it’s much harder to capture something natural if they know you are taking the shot.
Expatriate Games: Another reason to like the M6, it’s very discreet.
Chan On Ki: Yeah, you know it can be quite hard to shoot in Hong Kong. A lot of people don’t want their picture taken so I’m always getting scolded!
Expatriate Games: That’s the world we live in today. Speaking of candids, I really like these next two shots. With the first one here there’s something about the posture. He’s so comfortable… oblivious even and of course the color is fantastic.
“This one above was taken on Valentines Day… I was really close to him and yeah he never noticed me. I remember thinking he must have been texting his girlfriend because just before I took this he’d smiled at the screen and that caught my attention. The next one below was inspired by another photo someone had taken on a bus. Obviously mine was taken on the subway again and it’s a rare example of something I actually set up in my mind beforehand.” OK
Expatriate Games: I like this shot of the little girl in the rain. Unbridled joy.
Chan On Ki: I like photographing kids “in the moment” like this. I guess I’m still a kid so maybe that’s why I like it. They give you an honest response.
Expatriate Games: Well said. Most children this age haven’t learned to put on that mask that sooner or later we all learn to hide behind. I like the choice of focal point here. I know I would have focused on the girl’s face and it wouldn’t have been as good as this.
“This is another example of a shot I’planned ahead of time. I was actually waiting for a reply/response to something and this single piece of mail exposed my feelings perfectly. It’s simple I know, but one of my favorites.” – OK
“Evidence of my film addiction. This is how I spent $1,500 HKD in a single afternoon. Now THAT is a lot of math lessons! Film is so special to me, with each type producing something unique. When I see a rare roll of film I usually can’t help myself ” – OK
“A shot from OK’s “Look Up” series. She’s been doing a lot of this gritty black and white work of late. You can see more on her Flickr page here.” – EG
“A lot of young/inexperienced photographers are afraid of the dark. Ok embraces it, deep shadows and silhouettes feature in much of her work. She learned early how to let shadows amplify a photograph. Showing what isn’t there can accentuate what is. I love this example.” – EG
Chan On Ki – 陳安琪
“… I feel hopeful or impressed whenever I see someone trying their very best to reach their dream.” – OK
This shot I took of OK toward the end of that Hong Kong photo-walk last August. She’s a sweet kid with an old soul and a talented photographer. Again, you can see more of her work on her Flickr page. It’s worth the time to go take a look.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the second interview in the series. I know this installment was a long time coming but I’m hopeful now that I’ll be able to share these conversations and photographs on a more regular basis. If you haven’t taken a look at the first interview with Mark Hobbs you can go here. Each of the shooters featured will have inspired me. Somewhere along the way they’ve made me feel something with their art. The plan is to interview all types of photographers, ranging from the famous to the obscure and the parameters are wide open. I’ll feature landscape specialists, photojournalists, street shooters, documentary, cultural and travel photographers as well as folks who shoot predominately architecture and maybe even throw in some fashion photography.
Thanks again to OK Chan. Here’s to all of us reaching our dreams.