Eric Tsang
Language of the Unheard

In June 2019, Hong Kong experienced a series of mass protests against plans that would allow prisoners to be deported to China. Many people had misgivings that the “one country, two systems” model would be undermined. In 1984, the People’s Republic of China and Great Britain had signed the treaty outlining how Hong Kong’s sovereignty would be managed as of 1 July 1997. The younger generation in Hong Kong, who had grown up in an ultracapitalist colony, now lived in a socialist city with a Chinese imprint. The protests revealed a new side to the city. Hong Kongers’ perception of their own identity had always been split, which mirrors the situation of the metropolis: caught between East and West, glass and grass, shadows and reflections, those heard and unheard.

3 Questions
1. The door opener: Can you describe a formative moment in your career as a visual journalist?

The formative moment didn’t happen when I was covering any great stories, but when I wasn’t able to work due to an accident. I broke my knee in a basketball game and after the surgery I couldn’t walk for three months. I had to take a break from my career as a photojournalist, and stay at home to recover. It’s pretty much like what we are enduring now during this COVID-19 pandemic. As a journalist, I was used to meet different people and being luckily invited into their lives, listening to their stories. Yet, I couldn’t meet anyone except my doctor and therapist then. Without anything to do, I started to take photos of my broken leg, to document how it recovered, when I could stand up and walk again. I was listening to my own story, tried to visualise my recovering experience. This was the moment when I realised that I am a visual journalist, that I feel whatever happens to me, the only thing in my head is: I have to work on a visual story.

2. The decisive moment: When did you first encounter your topic and why did you decide to cover it photographically?

The topic came to me quite naturally when the large-scale protest started in my home town Hong Kong. There wasn’t another social movement in this scale since 2014 and wasn’t that violent since the riot in 1967. There is simply no option not to cover this story as a Hongkonger. The title “Language of the Unheard” is borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968 he said in an interview, that “a riot is the language of the unheard”. The civil unrest happens when the authority fails to hear its people and address their needs. I am strongly related to those being unheard of in this city. For my language to speak of this story I never thought of not using photography, as I express myself better visually than verbally, in a distance I am comfortable with. This is my language, to speak of my kind, their story of decades, when they are using their language to speak to those not listening to them.

3. The future: What could the visual journalism of the future be like?

I have no idea what the future of photojournalism will be like. Interestingly, as a visual journalist, it’s one of the few professions in modern world, that amateur and professional are possibly using the same equipment: be it a Canon 1Dx Mk2 (a flagship model), a Fuji XT-3 (a prosumer APSC model) or a Gopro action camera (a specific breed of camera). Along with the growing popularity of civil reporters or influencers on numerous social media platforms with computational algorithms behind, it might be the second mechanical revolution since the invention of photography: the invention of machine seeing. People used to discuss what painting will be when photography was invented. Now people may start to discuss what visual journalism will be when all of the above mentioned were invented. I am not academically well equipped to give any insight but I am very much eager to see what the future will be like.


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Eric Tsang talks about his work “Language of the Unheard”.

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*Hong Kong
After studying Journalism at the University of Hong Kong, Tsz Yeung Tsang worked as a photojournalist for several news agencies and international media such as Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal. In 2018, he won the Focus on Frontline Award from the Hong Kong Press Photographer Association in the Portrait category. After completing his studies of Art, he increasingly explores media-based forms of expression apart from photography. www.instagram.com/erictsang_ty/

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