Oct 09 2014

The Concerned Photographer: Dustin Shum

by Billy Kung

Dustin Shum is a visual artist born and bred in Hong Kong. Having spent a number of years as a photojournalist for the South China Morning Post, he is now an independent photographer who devotes time to his own photographic and self-publishing projects. In January 2013, he co-founded The Salt Yard in Kowloon, an independent artist-run exhibition space dedicated to photography.

Among the various subjects that Shum has been photographing, perhaps the most personal theme has been his exploration of the relationship between individuals and urban spaces, in particular, the public housing projects in Hong Kong. In conjunction, Shum also sets out to explore the rapid transformation of Chinese cities and towns brought on by the speedy rise in the country’s economy, which culminated in a book Themeless Parks (2008).

Perhaps, out of the influence from the strategies employed by the “New Topographics” group of photographers in the ’70s, Shum’s work resonates with the works of the German couple Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lewis Baltz and Stephen Shore. Through his lens, the dialogue he establishes with his subject seems, at first, cold and uncritical, but soon the overwhelmingly surreal quality and deadpan humor suggest otherwise. His work reveals the visual absurdity in the Hong Kong government’s attempts toward the “beautification” of public housing blocks, while belittling the harsh conditions of the residents living behind the ill-considered facades. This ongoing body of work will be exhibited in a solo show at the Salt Yard from October 17 to December 14, titled “BLOCKS Phase II”.

Seven years ago, Shum began documenting the plight of the mentally ill in Hong Kong, with the help of the local organization Society for Community (SoCO). An exhibition and a book ensued titled Live Alone a Life: People With Mental Illness (2007). He continues to stay in touch with his subjects and in early October, a follow-up exhibition “Life and Times” (2014) opened at Hong Kong Cultural Centre, and will continue at the SoCO269 gallery in Sham Shui Po from October 24 to December 21.

Cho Yiu Chuen, 4/2011, 2011, archival pigment inkjet print, 73 × 91 cm. Copyright Dustin Shum.
Cho Yiu Chuen, 4/2011, 2011, archival pigment inkjet print, 73 × 91 cm. Copyright Dustin Shum.

Find out more about Dustin Shum here.

Billy Kung is photo editor at ArtAsiaPacific.