Bright neon lights, night life, busy mornings – architect and film photographer Ace Chong is known for his street photos of Hong Kong and the Philippines, having been born and raised in the latter while currently calling the former his home.
In December last year, we had the opportunity to join a photowalk in Makati, Philippines, where we met Ace and learned a bit about his background. In this interview, we got to find out more about the artist and his vibrant images.
Hi, Ace! Welcome to the magazine. First off, can you tell us about yourself? How did you start shooting film? And why do you continue shooting on film now?
Hi! I am Ace. I go by acelearnsfilm on Instagram, and I am currently based in Hong Kong as an architect. I was born and raised in Manila, and I moved to Hong Kong six years ago. I started my photography as a hobby back in my university days when we had a photography course.
The hobby just went on. It was only in 2022 when my close friend in Hong Kong let me try her Contax T3 loaded with Cinestill 800T during our night photo walk in Causeway Bay. After seeing the scans, I was so amazed with the results, more specifically how it turned something so mundane to be so cinematic.
That was the turning point that made me buy my first film camera and color film. Aside from the film camera’s crisp mechanical shutter sound, the film colors and overall feels in each photo inspire me to continue doing this as a hobby. I find that experience hard to replicate in digital cameras.
What do you like shooting and what's your creative process like?
I like to capture daily life on streets, play with light and shadows, and find hidden street pockets and angles. I am intrigued by neon signs as well. I usually add an entourage element (either a person or vehicle) into the composition for scale and to add life into the photo.
Do you think architecture has affected your photography, especially the subjects you find interesting?
I think my architect side rarely influences my photography subjects, because I only enjoy photography as a hobby and outlet from the stress in my work. When I take photos of buildings, it is not because they are architectural but because they are old.
I am captivated by anything vintage and old, may it be toys, houses, buildings or towns, because they have become rare and extinct in our modern world.
You travel back and forth from the Philippines to Hong Kong for work, what's it like taking street photos of the two countries? Are there similarities or stark contrasts?
Looking back at the time I spent in the Philippines, I find myself taking a lot of photos of jeepneys, kalesas (horse-drawn carriage) and motorized tricycles (two-wheeled motorcycle fused with a one-wheel carriage), which are cultural features unique to the Philippines.
In Hong Kong, I take photos of neon signs, iconic classic red taxis, older buildings and estates, and I try to capture the daily life of local people.
Film photos I take in the Philippines and Hong Kong usually have different subjects, but these subjects are usually the attributes that are special and unique to each country.
What's your current film photography gear like? Any favorite cameras or film stocks?
Most of my photos are shot with my reliable Minolta XE plus a combination of different lenses. I find myself using quality zoom lenses the most for versatility like the vintage Tamron (01a) 35-80mm F2.8-3.8. My favorite film stocks are three of the Kodak Vision 3 cinefilms (200T, 250D and 500T) and some of the high ISO tungsten films like Reflx Lab 800T.
I have not tried any Lomography films yet, but I am waiting for the right moment to use LomoChrome Turquoise. I am excited to try other Lomography films!
Do you have a favorite photo and can you tell us the story behind it?
One of my favorite photos so far is the one below. I want to narrate how I was able to come across this subject. There is a big neon signage in North Point just above the historic Cantonese opera theatre along the main road. It is a remarkable icon in North Point as it provided a sense of identity to the city and it became a popular subject among local photographers.
On the adjacent side of the building lies the lesser photographed/recognized smaller sign of the theatre. It took me quite long to find this composition even though I pass by here every day.
As a photographer, I often miss interesting subjects that are right in front of me, but even so, I am still able to capture other interesting subjects in the area. Sharing your point of view with other people through photographs is the essence of photography.
Lastly, do you have any plans or projects you'd like to share with us?
I am looking to work on my photobook sometime this year. It is a great opportunity to share my work to an audience who are interested in my photography.
We'd like to thank Ace for sharing his perspectives with us! To view more of his work, visit his Instagram page.