In her first book The City and All It Holds, the Hong Kong photographer examines the relationships that keep us grounded during isolation and political upheaval
Hong Kong has been through a lot in the past few years: protests, police violence, political upheaval and a global pandemic to top off what seems like a never-ending cycle of bad news.
Around this time, Hong Kong photographer Roni Ahn had returned home from London to visit family and work on editorial features for fashion magazines. Unbeknown to her, she would be trapped and isolated during citywide lockdowns, unable to return to London. But it was during this period that afforded her moments to reflect and embark on her most personal project to date. “Being alone made me think about relationships,” says Ahn, who recently completed her first book titled The City and All It Holds. In it, she explores the values of relationships and the necessity of having a strong support system when the rest of the world seems to be falling apart.
Ahn spent almost half a year on this project that captures ten groups of subjects, most of whom were found by scouring Instagram feeds. The images are tender, joyful, rich in texture, showing groups of friends, lovers and family members sharing moments of affection through laughter or a gentle caress of a hand. Some shots highlight closeness and intimacy, while others reveal an expansive, tranquil space of Hong Kong’s outer suburbs where a group of carefree youth are seen leaping over a waterway. It’s not the Hong Kong tourists usually see, but it’s what Ahn wants us to see – the beauty in what is often overlooked.
“When you’re in the city centre in Central, the same people are walking around, dressed similarly, giving off the same vibes,” Ahn says. “But the youth I’m shooting are multi-dimensional, free-spirited and spontaneous. A group of boys I shot were school friends, and they came prepared with multiple changes of outfits and styled themselves. I thought it was adorable.”
Ahn also recently released a photo series of the friendship between a group of skater boys. That coming-of-age sentiment is very much alive in The City and All It Holds, where Ahn features another group of biker boys. “They just aren’t who you would expect them to be. They are willing to take on whatever comes their way.”
What makes The City and All It Holds so refreshing is not just the connections it documents, but what it chooses to leave out. The density, the skyline, and the somberness that’s enveloped the city in recent years is absent, giving the series of images a sense of ease – like Hong Kong has been untouched by the gloom and doom of dystopian headlines.
“I didn’t really talk any politics with my subjects,” says Ahn. “Obviously, it plays a part in people’s lives, but it doesn’t consume every minute of it. Despite everything, I think it's the relationships that are the most vital when things are tough.”
The City and All It Holds is now available for pre-order at roniahn.com/shop