Behind the stunning shots in luxury designer boutique On Pedder’s latest iteration of its seasonal art book, which captures the culture-saturated atmosphere brimming in Hong Kong’s gleaming urban gem of Kowloon, is Luke Casey, whose work explores the roles of gender and translation in Southeast Asia and Africa by drawing from a rich palette of references informed by the shifting currents of global capitalism. We sit down with the Hong Kong-based artist and photographer to find out more about his recent ‘Nine Dragons’ Pedderzine collaboration with On Pedder, and how a Londoner with a camera finds himself washed up on the pearly shores of Hong Kong.
How did you fall into photography?
I was living in London and taking lots of photos of my friends and things on the street that caught my eye. I was unhappy with the day job I was doing at the time and didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my future. Then a friend of mine emailed me and told me I should just give up my job and become a photographer, which is basically what I did. I made a portfolio and sent it around to a few magazines and then got a response from Dazed And Confused; I met them and showed them some work and then managed to secure my first shoot.
How did you come to be based in Hong Kong?
After shooting with Dazed, I began to pick up work in London. I was only officially shooting there for about three months until a really crazy and amazing opportunity came up for me to work on a boat as a reporter. It was tough for me to leave London at such an important time, but I decided the boat project was just too weird to turn down. So I sailed around the world, living in a small cabin on a boat for three-and-a-half months, writing and shooting. It was incredible. Eventually the boat arrived in Hong Kong and my original intention was to get some work and use the money to travel a bit – but it’s now three years later and I’m still here! Hong Kong is amazing in that I didn’t know a single person when I arrived, but it opens itself up to you and offers so many opportunities. It’s an amazing city.
What are some differences you’ve observed between England and Hong Kong, especially when viewed through the lens?
There is something about the moisture/pollution in Hong Kong and the faded fronts of buildings that make it all look very pastel-coloured in photos. England feels more visually crisp somehow. People in Hong Kong are generally quite open to being photographed too, which is good. I think being from the UK I have to work a bit harder to find subjects that are of interest to me, whereas in Hong Kong I am always seeing things that I naturally want to explore.
How did the collaboration with On Pedder happen? What was the experience like?
I had fairly recently moved to Kowloon, which I found incredibly inspiring, and I knew I wanted to channel what I was seeing day-to-day into a project of some kind. Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call from On Pedder about collaborating for Pedderzine. They were super open and gave me free reign to come up with a concept and put my stamp on the material. It was a total dream project, and I very quickly decided I would centre it around Kowloon. It was three of the most intense shooting days I’ve ever experienced, but it was so much fun. A team of us were running around Kowloon day and night shooting in karaoke bars, nail salons, even a real brothel. All the locations were real and the models were all regular people and friends. I think the book captures the madness of Kowloon and the fun we had shooting it.
“Kowloon isn’t generally considered a place you would associate with high-end luxury brands, but the book was about finding a way for these two aesthetics to work together.”
What was the creative process and direction like for ‘Nine Dragons’?
The literal translation of the word Kowloon is ‘Nine Dragons’, which appears as a visual theme in the book alongside images solely shot in that area. Kowloon isn’t generally considered a place you would associate with high-end luxury brands, but the book was about finding a way for these two aesthetics to work together. The amazing stylist Sean K brought an enormous amount to the table for the project.
Your photographs seem to be charged with meaning, and it feels like there’s a lot that’s left unspoken in the frame. How do you feel about this kind of effect in some of your shots?
In retrospect, it was a deeply personal project that I poured a lot of my heart into. I think the unspoken elements stem from personal experiences and observations. I guess I’m happy for the audience to try and decipher what they can from the images.
You’ve also directed the short film, Mr. Kwan, for the collaboration. Could you tell us more about that?
I discovered film after photography and it’s been really enjoyable experimenting with it. Mr. Kwan was the first collaboration I did with On Pedder and was made to celebrate the opening of its men’s store. Like Pedderzine, they were very open in letting me come up with a theme and doing things my own way. I really love the printing presses in Hong Kong and Mr. Kwan, who makes my business cards, was happy for us to film there. There weren’t any products in the film at all; it was more evoking a mood for the men’s store. I think having taken photos for so many years helped me to compose shots, but film is a whole other beast, to be honest. I do actually think my experience of making films has affected my photography in that I am increasingly inserting narrative into my photo projects.
What are some things you are looking to explore next?
I’m drifting towards a more art-focused direction now. I love photography and video and want to continue to push them to their limits, as well as experimenting in other areas. I actually just opened a new project space in Sham Shui Po called HOLY MOTORS, which is a small window display unit attached to a bike repair shop. The idea is to invite 10 artists over the space of this year to produce artwork in response to the space. We just installed artwork by our first featured artist, Dylan DeRose. In addition to that, I am keen to try a bit more fashion, actually, especially projects that allow for space to be a bit weird and creative. It’s going to be a fun year!