While many traveling photographers capture beautiful landscapes and the beaming faces of locals, New Zealand native Jonathan Van Smit offers a uniquely dark view of the scenes he became witness to on his ventures in Hong Kong. Rather than sugar-coating the poverty he was met by, the photographer chose to truthfully document the people and the less than desirable conditions they live in.
Van Smit’s growing collection of images offer a human element to the larger-than-life city that is so often glamorized. He approaches people with heartbreaking stories of abuse (self-inflicted or otherwise) and abandonment, capturing their portraits amidst their decaying environment. With walls crumbling around them, each individual offers a visual narrative that translates through the surroundings and their sullen faces.
For Van Smit, there have been countless stories of men and women who have each had their demons and unfortunate setbacks. He says, “Hong Kong is either heaven or hell depending on who you might ask.” His portfolio focuses primarily on the darker side of the city, revealing its struggling residents.
He’s come across lonesome drug abusers getting their needle ready, streetwalkers looking for their next client, and those who have essentially been reduced to living in confining enclosures, giving them the unfortunate title of “cage people” whom the photographer describes as people who are “barely able to make ends meet and end up begging in the busy streets or living off meager social assistance if they can get it.”