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The Hidden World of Hong Kong’s Rooftops

Photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze documents life on the rooftops of the world’s busiest cities.

Photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze has been living in Hong Kong for about ten years. His photography focuses on documenting the city, with recent series such as The Blue Moment capturing the meditative mood of Hong Kong at dusk. In his latest work, Concrete Stories, shot over four years, Jacquet-Lagrèze focuses his lens on the rooftops of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, in particular those aging buildings located in the very center of the city. “The vernacular culture of people living in such an extremely urbanised environment can be discovered through all these small stories that are forming a bigger one, a record of how people make use of available space in a cramped city,” says Jacquet-Lagrèze

“This series is a testimony of the lifestyle in these old buildings where the rooftop is usually not locked and accessible by all inhabitants. Such rooftops are a little bit like courtyards but in the air.” According to Jacquet-Lagrèze, such buildings are quickly being knocked down to make way for more modern and even larger structures. “Since these new buildings are made with luxury finishing, they drive the property prices up, making it unaffordable for humble people to remain in the district they used to live in,” he says.

More modern buildings are also less likely to have a freely accessible, open rooftop, meaning that the demise of these older apartments may also mean fewer pockets of green space carved out in the busy, polluted metropolis. Jacquet-Lagrèze’s images often show carefully tended gardens, children at play, clothes hung out to dry, and people relaxing in the sun—lively scenes that are at stark contrast with the surrounding architecture.

In Concrete Stories, Jacquet-Lagrèze aims to depict personal spaces rather than people themselves. “Being uncomfortable with the idea of invading people’s privacy, I pointed my lens only at what I saw happening in the open air, visible from anything from a dozen to sometimes thousands of windows in surrounding buildings,” he says. The human subjects in his images tend to be seen from very far away, appearing only as tiny figures dwarfed by the massive buildings around them; or else they are photographed from behind, absorbed in their gardening or an afternoon nap. This was a conscious decision by Jacquet-Lagrèze to avoid intruding on anyone’s privacy. But ultimately Concrete Stories questions just how much privacy one can expect in the public spaces of a crowded city like Hong Kong. Even a space that feels very personal and hidden, such as one’s DIY rooftop terrace, may be more public than private.

Work from Concrete Stories will be on view at Hong Kong’s Blue Lotus Gallery from May 12 through June 16, 2018. The series is also forthcoming as a print publication from Asia One Books, who have previously published three of Jacquet-Lagrèze’s photo books, as well as acclaimed work from the urban photographer Michael Wolf.

See more of Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze’s photography at his website, built using Format.

More urban photography:
Inside Tangjialing, a Chinese Village Demolished by Urbanization
Michael Wolf’s 5 Tips for Shooting Urban Landscapes
Photographer’s Guide to Beijing

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