*A new interview series with a play on “20 questions,” where I try to mix it up with different questions. Some serious, some not so much. I’ll also be focusing the series on some of the best street photographers from the cities I visit around the world during my 100 Cities project.
I visited and photographed Hong Kong earlier during my 100 City project, but didn’t get a chance to know Michelle Chan (aka little.rice) until this year. While Hong Kong is her home, she’s also lived over a decade in the UK and spends much time traveling, especially to one of her favorite places, Nepal . With such a genuine and warm energy, along with a unique photographic vision, I knew I had to include her in the 20 Questions series, and thankfully she agreed.
Michelle’s black & white photos contain a dream-like atmosphere and mood, while also including a strong focus on people and life. There’s emotion in her images, all with her own personal touch and character. An award-winning project of hers includes her unique, and slightly humorous, documentation of the Crab Seniors, a group of early morning elderly swimmers in Hong Kong.
So now to learn more about her, it’s time for 20 Questions in Hong Kong with Michelle Rice…
20 Questions with Michelle Rice
Before we get to the 20 questions, please introduce yourself. Your name, where you’re from and one interesting thing about you?
Hi everyone. This is Michelle Chan from Hong Kong. I actually lived in the UK for almost 13 years and now I’m based back in my birthplace of Hong Kong. One interesting thing about me I’d say is that I love to look at people’s handwriting. It says a lot about a person’s character and personality :)
1. What is your earliest memory of photography?
That would be going through family albums of old family photographs. The rotten yellow cornered faded colour photographs of me, my sister, and my parents – on the beach, at the park, playgrounds, outings, etc. Hmmm, but I don’t recall the actual photography taking, nor when I started taking photographs. My memory is like a fish :P
2. What do you think drew you to your preferred subjects in photography?
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly drawn to certain groups of people or subjects, but I think we are drawn to certain themes, or way of shooting, consciously and subconsciously. There are some ways of shooting that you prefer more than the others. Maybe it’s color or black and white, maybe it’s close up or distance. And I see myself usually drawn to shooting with themes of mysteriousness and dreaminess. I am also drawn to taking photos that create or have a lot of texture involved.
3. What advice would you have given yourself when first starting in photography?
Empty the mind and follow the heart to photograph. It’s not easy to empty the mind completely and let the surrounding guide you. But try to do it anyway, because that’s the birthplace of organic photographs.
4. How would you describe your photographic style and what you look to capture?
Nikos mentioned this, “The style is something that comes from inside, it’s not something to decide.” I think one’s own style comes and gets consolidated as you learn more about yourself, and as you get better at picking the photographs that you want to be represented as your work. I’m still learning.
5. Describe how you approach photography when out shooting?
I’m a person that shoots 100% with my stomach. And then I group them into certain themes, organise them in a way that make sense. I don’t have days that are specific to shooting, I just carry my camera with me all the time and wherever I go. It’s the same with the Crab Seniors series. I just go swimming in the mornings, talk to the seniors and if I see something, I photograph.
6. If you could pick one thing that you really love about photography, what would it be and why?
“The whole point of taking pictures is so that I don’t have to explain things with words” –Elliott Erwitt.
Talking takes so much effort :P My brain just doesn’t wire that way. I could not talk for days and just dive myself in books, poetry, journaling, music and art.
Not So Serious Questions:
7. You get one superpower for photography, what would it be and why? (You can’t choose invisibility!)
Ah. This is a difficult one. Maybe it’s the ability to access my subconscious and manipulate my dreams and my emotions, like how joy and sadness do from the movie ‘Inside Out’. With this superpower, I’ll be the director, and I could select whichever dreams or emotions I have, like selecting a book from the library, and put that ‘on the mode’ while I create my photographs. Does it make sense? Haha.
8. You also get 3 photography related wishes, what are they?
I wish to spend all my time taking photographs without worrying about finance. And that I have my own darkroom with all the equipment and unlimited resources of chemicals, papers, films to indulge myself in day in, day out. Last, I would travel, travel deep – to different corners of the world, and photograph my encounters with the people there, my emotions, my dreams and imaginations.
2 Speed Rounds (Give the first answers that come to mind!)
This or That: (pick one)
9. Single Images or Projects?
10. Take Photos for Yourself or Others?
11. Gritty or Pretty?
Name 3: (name 3 for each topic)
12. Inspirational Photographers (Past or Present)
Trent Parke, Sohrab Hura and Josef Koudelka are my all time favourites. (Then there are much more like Jason Eskenzai, Igor Posner, Piotr Zbierski, etc, and of course Nikos Economopoulos)
13. Important Qualities for a Street Photographer to Have
Courage, Curiosity, Confidence.
14. Non-photographic interests
Travel, Music, Philosophy.
15. Where do you like to photograph most in your city, Hong Kong, and why?
Nowadays, I’m drawn to shooting around Ma On Sha area. That’s the pier where I go swimming in the morning and shoot for my Crab Senior Project.
16. You like to spend a lot of time in Nepal. Talk a little about that photographically and what personally draws you to this country?
Nepal, for me, is photographically interesting because I prefer to shoot in rural, raw and rustic areas rather than the urban, hip, and modern cities like my hometown Hong Kong. Personally, I think Nepal has a lot of history, culture and characters that are visually presented, which draws me into wanting to learn more, find out more and of course documenting what I experience there with photographs. And then it’s the people there whom I love and enjoy spending my time with. Their innocence, their authenticity: it’s one of the rare places where I see humanity still exists.
17. You focus on shooting in only Black & White. What attracts you to this medium and how do you aim to use its aesthetic and qualities in a photo?
I just see in black and white. Also, I shoot a lot with black and white films, and I love to spend time in the darkroom self developing and printing my work. To me, the range of grey tones fascinates me more than the RGB colours.
18. One photo project you’re especially known for is photographing the Crabs Seniors. Tell us what that’s about and your experience working on it. (And how much longer to do you plan on continuing it?)
This project started last summer 2016. It started out with documenting the seniors who happen to gather together at a pier in Wu Kai Sha at around 6am in the morning every day. Some go swimming, some go there to do underwater stretching, some go there to socialize, etc. As I ride along with this project, I am exploring a lot with- e.g., underwater photographic techniques, how to interact and shoot with the seniors at the same time, the texture and the visibility of water in Hong Kong, etc. Currently, I’m trying to dive deeper with this project – create images that are more personal and hopefully touch something within. I’m guessing it’ll take me another 5 years or so, haha.
Behind a photo:
19. Pick a photo of yours that you remember capturing and share any memories you have attached to it.
Her name is Goo Ma. I think she has become internet famous now, haha. She wears this face mask and goggles and hats to protect herself from the sun while swimming at the pier. The first time I saw her I thought she looked awesome, like some sort of alien coming to town. She told me about her family, and how she always loves to swim, yet her children would worry about her because she’s getting too old. They all live away from her and she’s now living alone with her maid. Sometimes she feels lonely so that’s why she likes to go to the pier and swim.
The Final Question:
20. You have only 3 photos left on your last roll of film.
- In the first direction, you see children climbing a wall covered in graffiti
- In the second direction, you see a large religious ceremony gathering
- In the third direction, you see a group of drunk business men in suits
- And in the last direction, you see a protest with everyone wearing masks and holding signs
The light is perfect at all 4 locations. What do you do?
Children move really fast, by the time I get there I think I would have lost the scene. So direction to no. 1 is crossed out. Drunk business men in suits is not that interesting to me, plus I might get harassed or hit. So no to direction no. 3 too. I would weigh out which scene (2 or 4) looks more appealing to me. But instinct says that for protests it’d be difficult to shoot my dreamy type of work when there’s realistic signs all over, so likely I’d go to direction #2. Now 3 photos are precious so I would emerge myself in the religious gathering and shoot when needed. And when I ran out of film, I will use my phone or my digital camera to shoot.
Another big thank you to Michelle for the Interview, and for anyone who would like to see more of her work, check the links below!