03 June 2020

A Metaphorical Look at Hong Kong's Identity Crisis

03 June 2020 - Written by Laurence Cornet

PHmuseum 2020 Photography Grant 2nd Prize winner Pierfrancesco Celada presents a portrait of Hong Kong as a place of growing uncertainty and ongoing struggles.

© Pierfrancesco Celada, from the series When I feel down I take a train to the Happy Valley

Italian photographer Pierfrancesco Celada moved to Hong Kong in 2014, nearly at the same moment as the Umbrella Revolution broke out, followed with a long movement of civil disobedience campaign defying the attempt of the Chinese Communist Party to gain more control and undermine democracy.

Interested in documenting the place where he lives, Celada gathered a few images from the protests. His goal is everything but journalistic though. Month after month through today, he sharpened his understanding of the place – the excitement of the omnipresent neon lights gave room to boredom, skyscrapers soon became synonymous with lack of access to the sky and housing, and the “two country, two systems” arrangement appears to create an identity crisis thoroughly imprinted in people’s heart.

© Pierfrancesco Celada, from the series When I feel down I take a train to the Happy Valley

With these notions in mind, Celada wanders his adoptive city, capturing its complex situation with visual metaphors. On a balcony, a tree is compressed between the concrete walls and ceiling, just as the inhabitants of what is today the third most populated city in the world. “The photographs I shot over the past 6 years mainly represent a city that is struggling and going through some of its most difficult years. Some people have nothing to lose and fight for freedom for the future”, he explains.

The title of his series, “When I feel down I take a train to the Happy Valley”, inspired by the name of a subway stop in Hong Kong, gives a sense of hope. So does the weirdness of the situations that Celada captures and that shine bits of humor through his set of images.

© Pierfrancesco Celada, from the series When I feel down I take a train to the Happy Valley

On an empty speedway, a man walks in what an arrow painted on the floor clearly states as the wrong way. Defying the course of history. Signs of protests, but also calls for help, just as in his photograph of a quiet seascape, barely troubled by three boat in the haze and two arms lifted towards the sky from a submerged body.

Celada’s work is complex, each photograph encompassing multiple layers of meaning. In one photograph, a street covered with cobblestones used by protesters. Some are carefully piled up, other are scattered around. Shot from above, it changes the perspective, making the scene look like a field of Lego toys left by a child half-way through the construction process. And with this, it evokes both of today’s main issues faced by Hong Kong – its population density as well as its ongoing identity crisis in regards to mainland China. And this, as China is putting more pressure over its control of Hong Kong.


Pierfrancesco Celada is an Italian photographer based in Hong Kong whose long-term photographic project is a documentation of life in modern cities. Follow him on Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb.


This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

4 minutes

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