Jonathan Van Smit

Jonathan Van Smit moved from New Zealand to Hong Kong in 2008, drawn to wandering the back alleys and side streets of the city when he’s not at his day job in the financial industry. Entirely self-taught, all of his photographs are raw, dark and gritty compositions focused on the underbelly of life in Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and China. Despite being a 65 year-old self-proclaimed Gweilo (or foreigner), Jonathan possesses a remarkable ability to slip seamlessly into the underworld with his photography. Wandering the streets with his Leica rangefinder and wide angle lens, he prefers to shoot as close as possible to get a sense of intimacy. We spoke to him recently about his work and his approach to street photography.


2008年Jonathan Van Smit從新西蘭移居香港,在其供職於金融行業之餘,他常遊走於當地錯綜複雜的街頭巷尾。對於攝影,他完全是無師自通, 並以 風格粗獷、黑暗且冷峻不羈 的風格展示著香港、東南亞及中國大陸地區地下階層的墮落生活。儘管65歲的他對外自稱鬼佬(外國人),但他潛入地下群體進行拍攝的能力還是超凡的。帶著自己的徠卡旁軸相機和廣角鏡頭遊走於各種小巷街道的他,喜歡盡可能靠近被攝物以達到一種親近感。我們最近與他談論了其作品及其街頭攝影的方式。

Neocha: Coming from a different background, how did you get into photography, and specifically street photography?

Jonathan: Photography for me is primarily a way to explore this world that we live in. I don’t like to think of myself as a street photographer. I am just an amateur photographer who likes traveling, walking around, exploring other people’s lives, and trying to see what’s around the corner or behind closed doors. I’m also quite interested in economic marginalization and how people react to adversity. I also like bridges, big cities, seedy bars, intersections, alleyways, dark places, and the night time.


Neocha: 毫無相關背景的你是如何走上攝影之路並且專注於街頭攝影的?

Jonathan: 對我來說,攝影是探索世界的首選方式。我並不認為自己是街頭攝影師,我只是一個愛好旅行、愛閒逛、愛探索他人生活以及犄角旮旯正在發生著什麼的一個業餘攝影師。我同樣對經濟邊緣化以及人們如何應對逆境十分感興趣。我也喜歡橋、大城市、衰敗的酒吧、十字路口、小巷、黑暗地帶以及夜晚。

Neocha: Why do you choose to use mostly black and white? Why do you use your current camera setup? Have you explored other cameras and techniques before in the past?

Jonathan: I find colour really distracting in photographs. Using black & white tends to emphasis the content more, at least for me it does, and it also connects us with photography tradition.

I mostly use Leica rangefinders because I’m so used to the manual controls, which allows me to take photos faster than, say, a Sony or Fuji. Sometimes I need to be quick and change focus or shutter speed or aperture without looking down at the camera which I can easily do with Leicas. I’ve tried other brands but generally end up being frustrated as they seem to be designed by technicians rather than photographers.


Neocha: 為何你的大部分攝影作品都是黑白的?你為什麼用現在這台相機?在此之前你是否嘗試過使用其它相機或技巧?

Jonathan: 我發覺色彩很容易分散人對攝影作品的注意力,使用黑白攝影可以更強調出拍攝內容,至少我是這樣覺得的,而且這也能讓我們更接近攝影傳統。大部分時候我用萊卡旁軸是因為 我習慣手動調控,這能讓我比使用像索尼或富士這類相機更順手且快捷。有時我需要特別快速地完成拍攝,包括變換焦點、調整快門速度或不看取景器直接調整光圈,這些我都可以用徠卡辦到。我曾試圖用其它品牌的相機但都以失敗告終,它們似乎是為技術而生而非攝影師。

Neocha: What fascinates you about Hong Kong? Cambodia? What are some stories you return to over and over again?

Jonathan: Hong Kong interests me because it is currently my home and I have a permanent resident visa here. It also has a strong and unique culture, sadly that seems to be diluting as more and more old buildings are being demolished. I am always struck by the huge gap between rich and poor in what is one of the world’s wealthiest cities. I like the more traditional, grass roots parts of Hong Kong rather than the glitzy shopping malls with their aimless materialism.

Cambodia is very different, of course – the less developed law and order there makes it a refreshing change from living in Hong Kong, which is much more regulated. Compared to Hong Kong, Phnom Penh is chaotic, edgy and relatively lawless, which perversely enough, I find relaxing. I also have friends over there, people smile more, and I enjoy the food and music so it is a holiday break for me. In terms of photography there, I’m interested in the way women are treated, which is often shocking, and drug use seems to be common too.

For example, a common theme I have come across is that a girl gets pregnant, her boyfriend can’t or simply doesn’t want to support the child, so she needs to earn an income while her family looks after the child. A young woman can earn $128 a month in a Phnom Penh garment factory but double that working in a bar. The loss of self-esteem from bar sex work can lead to drug use, especially ice, which in turn can lead to unsafe sex and HIV.


Neocha: 香港或柬埔寨有哪些吸引你的地方? 有哪些主題是你一再反覆拍攝的?

Jonathan: 我對香港感興趣是因它現在是我的家 並且我也有這裏的永久居住签证 ,並且它有強大而獨特的文化,然而很遺憾的是它正在被稀釋,許多舊樓也在不斷被拆除。作為世界上最富有的城市之一,香港一直以來 讓我很震驚的是其貧富差距的巨大鴻溝。比起那些耀眼且物欲橫飛的百貨商場, 我喜歡香港更傳統、低層的部分。

柬埔寨則十分不同,比起生活在秩序井然的香港,這裡欠發達的法律與秩序讓人耳目一新。與香港相比,金邊是混亂的、焦躁不安的、毫無法律制約之地……而這反而令我感到輕鬆。我也有朋友在那裏,當地人很愛笑,我喜歡那裡的食物和音樂,所以待在那對我來說猶如度假。在那裡拍攝的話,我對當地人對待女性的態度很感興趣,他們時常讓人震驚,而且吸毒現象也十分普遍。

譬如,我見到過的普遍現象之一是,女生懷孕了,她的男友無法或根本不想提供任何幫助,於是她把孩子放在家裡讓親人照顧,自己出去掙錢養家。一個年輕女性在金邊的製衣工廠工作一個月可以賺到128美元,但在酒吧工作則是雙倍。而從事酒吧性工作的女性在自尊丟失的同時也會有吸毒隱患,尤其是冰毒,而它也是招致不安全性行為和HIV的元凶之一。

Neocha: What’s your routine, if you have one, during a day – do you go out to take photos during certain times of day? Are there favourite neighborhoods or parts of a city you go to first for inspiration?

Jonathan: To be honest, I don’t really have a routine… I am fairly random most of the time. Assuming I am not working, meeting friends, or have something planned, I’ll start walking in the morning and keep on going all day – sometimes until late at night with a couple of stops for coffee or food. I like the Kowloon part of Hong Kong, and go there a lot as it’s easy to get to. Sometimes, I’ll get on a bus or train, and then get off somewhere at random. I like the freedom of not having a plan.


Neocha: 你是否有一套例行程序? 如果有,你通常在一天中的什麼時候出去拍照?你是否有在自己所著街區特別喜歡的會在第一時間去那裡找尋靈感的地方或城中其他某個地方?

Jonathan: 我並沒有什麼例行程序……大部分時候我都十分隨意。假如我沒在工作、見朋友或計劃做某事的話,我會從早上開始散步散一天,有時候會到很晚,中途會有幾次停下來喝咖啡或吃點東西。我喜歡香港的九龍地區,也會常去那邊,因為過去很方便。我可以坐上巴士或地鐵,然後隨機挑一站下車,我很享受這種隨心所欲的自由。

Neocha: Language – how do you find access to your subjects especially in such unguarded, intimate moments, and without a common language? How many times do you revisit subjects before you feel the connection? When you’re walking around on the streets of Hong Kong or elsewhere, how do people react to you?

Jonathan: It is not really a big issue for me, and language isn’t the only form of communication. For example, there’s mime, smiling, signing and body language too, and I use all these when gaining access to what I want to photograph. I guess I’ve found a way to cope with my very limited language skills, and also I usually prefer to be a passer-by than a participant when taking photographs. I generally don’t want my subjects to be engaged in the taking of a photo. I am just another Westerner with a camera, I guess.

 


Neocha: 關於語言 —— 你是如何在沒有共同語言為基礎的前提下與被攝者接觸並抓到那些自然、親近時刻?在你感受到彼此感覺對應之前,你會反覆拜訪幾次被攝者?當你在香港或別處的街道上散步時,人們的態度是怎樣的?

Jonathan: 對我來說這不是什麼大問題,而且語言並非是溝通的唯一方式。 譬如,模仿、微笑、手勢以及肢體語言,在我嘗試接觸想要拍攝的任何人物時我都會用上。我可能是找到了一種方式來應對自己十分有限的語言技巧,在拍攝當中 ,比起作為參與者, 我更願意 作為一個旁觀者的身份。基本上我不想讓被攝者有感覺像是在擺拍。我只是另一個拿著相機的鬼佬,我想。

Neocha: How often does fear cross your path? How often do you have to diffuse or leave situations?

Jonathan: There’s a fine line between exhilaration and fear, and I get a bit nervous sometimes when drugs are involved. It is not a big deal. Most people I meet are charming and friendly.


Neocha: 你多久會出現一次憂慮感? 多久你需要驅散一次這種糟糕的狀態或者完全任其發展?

Jonathan在高興和憂慮之間有著微妙的界線,當面對毒品題材時我也會顯得倍加焦慮……但這不是什麼大問題。我遇到的大部分人都很善良友好的

Neocha: What are your influences and inspirations? From photography, literature, or experiences?

Jonathan: I haven’t had a TV for many years so I read a lot, and I manage to get through two to three books every month. Plenty of non-fiction books like River of Time by Jon Swain which I’ve just read for the second time but also fiction authors like Jim Harrison, Annie Proulx and Raymond Carver. I also keep myself up-to-date with current affairs.

I sometimes look at other people’s photos but I’m more interested in getting out and taking my own. I think the most important thing to me is moving outside my own day-to-day existence and comfort zone, and gaining a wider set of personal experiences through exploration and travel.

 


Neocha: 你所受到的影響以及你的靈感來源從哪裡來?是攝影作品、文學作品還是人生經驗?

Jonathan: 由於不用電視機多年所以我讀了很多書,基本維持在一個月2-3本的量。許多並非小說類讀物,譬如我剛剛重讀了來自Jon Swain的作品《River of Time》,當然我也喜歡一些小說家,譬如Jim Harrison, Annie Proulx以及Raymond Carver,此外,我也會關注時事以便讓自己跟上時代。 

有時我也會看些別人的攝影作品 ,但我更喜歡出去走走並拍攝自己的。對我來說最重要的是讓我的日常所在置於外部空間,這讓我感覺舒服,並且通過這樣的探索和旅行可以讓自己的閱歷更為寬泛。

Neocha: What are you working on currently and are there any projects you’re looking forward to in the future?

Jonathan: I’d like to spend more time traveling in Asia especially the area from the Bay of Bengal over to Vietnam and West China. I’m also trying to move away from darker subject matter but maybe that’s just a temporary phase. I don’t think of a specific theme when I’m taking photos. That comes afterwards when I’m editing.


Neocha目前你在做什麼?在未來你會期待做什麼樣的項目?

Jonathan: 我想要花更多的時間在亞洲旅行,特別是孟加拉灣到越南和中國西部這一條線。我也在試圖從暗黑題材中轉型,可能這只是臨時階段而已。我在拍照時並沒有什麼具體的拍攝主題,那都是在我處理它們的時候才會有的。

Websitejonathanvansmit.com
Flickr: ~/K_iwi

 

 

Contributor: Jia Li


网站jonathanvansmit.com
Flickr: ~/K_iwi

 

 

供稿人: Jia Li