The first time I traveled all by myself, I was 16 years old. At the airport my mom gave me a big hug and immediately broke into tears. As a teenager, I naturally thought that she was just being dramatic. It was only a short trip, to visit relatives nonetheless. Yet, for my mom it meant so much more. It was a rite of passage for her little boy. I was to head out into the world for the first time without her to hold my hand or protect me from any wrongs. She would have wanted me to stay her little boy forever, while I couldn’t wait to become of age.
I was recently hired by the Hong Kong Tourism Board to photograph with dancer Brittany Cavaco for a campaign promoting different local arts venues. The day before my flight I received a call from my mother. Her voice determined and purposeful, she wanted to make sure I knew before leaving how proud she was of me and my achievements. She cried again.
After we hung up, I remembered vividly that time she cried at the airport. This trip for her represented the fruition of many years of my own struggles. Much as she loves me, I know she has had moments of doubt regarding my professional choices. Yet, here I was once again at the gates of another rite of passage, flying across the world for business like a grown man.
It took us about 20 hours of flight to land in Hong Kong. Sleep deprived, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the textures…everything felt magnified…Almost like tripping on shrooms(tho I wouldn’t really know, mom). I told myself it’s just the jet lag talking. Yet, a few days after settling in, I still felt extremely compelled and amazed by what I was experiencing. Hong Kong could be felt by all my five senses, almost simultaneously. It was overwhelming and beautiful.
My job for the Tourism Board was short but intense. We covered about 15 different locations in just 3 days. It was rather exhausting, but just as exciting and the Tourism Board crew was a pleasure to work and spend time with. Some of the locations we shot at were simply otherworldly like the Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design building by architect Zaha Hadid. All in all, it was a terrific experience.
Once the job was done, I contacted a few local dancers and threw myself once again into my element, the streets. Much as I appreciate great architecture, there’s no other feeling in the world for me than that of shooting where the locals walk everyday. The markets, the sidewalks, the alleys…that’s where I love to be. The main idea behind portraying dancers in urban spaces is not to disrupt these settings but to compliment and harmonize with them. The visual cacophony of the city cries out for an opposite in order to find balance. That is what I am trying to achieve by juxtaposing the dancers’ beautiful, subtle and soft lines against the hectic and chaotic jumble of the city.
Hong Kong didn’t disappoint at all in that regard. The signage hanging off the buildings, the crisscross yellow patterns at the intersections, the bamboo scaffolding, the loud beeping at the crosswalks, clothes hanging out to dry from the windows. Neverending mazes between the narrow alleys. The markets, the many many markets open day and night flooded by crowds and smells and lights and sounds…
Everything felt louder and larger than life. The sensorial overload of the city abruptly brought me to a childlike wonder. Like I was staring at this huge playground. The dancers taking the roll of my figurines performing fantastical feats all across this very surreal topography. All choreographed by my own imagination.
I realized then, how much time we spend trying to convince others and ourselves that we have grown older, wiser and stronger. However, at that very moment, faced with this realization, I felt proud of myself. Proud to not have completely lost my sense of play and fascination. I understood why my mother would have wanted me to stay that same little boy. After all is said and done, achievements, accolades and such are of no use if you are not at the very least having fun.
All images and text ©2017 Omar Z Robles. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or use with out written consent from Omar Z Robles.