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Gallery

Aaron Lam’s street photographs and interviews document the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong—participating in the most civil of civil disobedience movements.

Aaron Lam is a Canadian photographer and musician based in Hong Kong. Most of his camera work focuses on storytelling through black and white and includes portraits, landscapes, and street photography. In 2012, he started experimenting with music, first assembling EDM and hip hop-based mixes under the DJ name “Mr. Lam,” and more recently producing electronic music as “The Fiendish Dr. Wu.”

Lam graduated from the University of Victoria and currently teaches music at an international school in Hong Kong. His art and music portfolio can be viewed at GRAYSHADES.

All photographs used with permission. All images © copyright the artist, all rights reserved.

The Morning News:

You’ve been out to the protest areas every day the past week, sometimes staying out through early morning. Tell us a bit about how you navigate from place to place, or decide where to be out there.

Aaron Lam:

The Occupy Movement [has been] split between two locations: the heart of political and economic Hong Kong (Central and Admiralty), and the heart of classic residential Hong Kong (Mong Kok). I have been going out every day and night by myself to wherever there is the most action. I stay updated through live feeds like Twitter and Reddit, and I choose the location that seems to have the most action stirring up and dive in. Also, my friends who live in the affected areas act as my eyes and ears. Through technology, I’ve been at the right place at the right time.

TMN:

What’s been the most surprising aspect of telling Hong Kong’s story during the ongoing protests?

AL:

What’s most surprising during this crisis is witnessing the greatest quality of the Hong Kong people: their civility. I have seen students organize a camp into a mindful organism where different people serve various functions like gathering supplies, distributing food, maintaining queues, and managing waste. I have seen hundreds of students respond to verbal and physical assault by throwing their hands up in a gesture of non-violence and cooperation. I have seen fleeting moments of compassion as students covered officers from the rain or brought them food. I have seen this conflict bring out the best in Hong Kong people. It is this moral fiber and sense of mutual responsibility that ties the protesters together. Their civility is the Occupy protesters’ greatest shield. And as long as they can maintain it, they will not fall to violence and suppression.

TMN:

Whenever I see photos of police, I wonder if some of them would rather be on the protesters’ side. Do you know of any officers who have gone on strike?

AL:

I wonder the same thing, especially when taking photos of them. Most look away when I shoot, and none of them smile. I do not detect a sense of pride in what the police are doing. Actually, I have a family friend in the police force, and she has told me that there are police officers out there who wish they could be on the other side, but are threatened with losing their jobs. When this movement inevitably ends, they still want to be police officers. So they are unfortunately stuck defending a cause they may not believe in. At the heart of this conflict, the Hong Kong Police are in the toughest spot of all.

TMN:

How has the mood changed over the past week?

AL:

The mood has been a tragic spiral from peace to violence. Following the pepper spray and tear gas incidents last Sunday, people—mostly students—were outraged and joined the protests en masse on Monday morning. Strolling through the Occupy camps in Central and Admiralty, I was astounded by the civility and moral fiber of the protesters who distributed free food and water, established recycling and compost stations, and even set up mobile tutoring teams who would help others with homework. As the week went on, the situation got ugly, with Anti-Occupy protesters appearing at both sites and viciously dismantling the optimism of the students through verbal, physical, and even sexual violence. At the end of this week, I can barely feel the optimism from last Monday. It has been replaced by fear and paranoia.

TMN:

Have you had a chance to speak with anyone from the Anti-Occupy side?

AL:

I’ve spoken to very few of them because most of them are not interested in talking. The Anti-Occupy protesters, most of whom are men aged 40–50, feel much more like a mob as they shout crude insults and threats at the students. Most reiterate the same points—that the students are spoiled and don’t need to make money, that local businesses are suffering as a result of the occupation, that their kids can’t get to school, and that democracy is a futile endeavor. The friction between the two groups is one of the most frightening aspects of the conflict that I’ve witnessed.

TMN:

Looking at the week ahead, your birthday is today, on Monday. How will you celebrate?

AL:

Hopefully I’ll celebrate with a night off. The conflict has consumed my week, and I look forward to getting away for a bit.

Karolle Rabarison is at home wherever she can satisfy her coffee habit. She currently lives in Washington, DC. More by Karolle Rabarison