Jimi Tsang Interview

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got into photography?
Hi, I’m Jimi Tsang, 37 years old, born in Canada, grew up in Hong Kong, and spent about half my adult life living in the US; 5 years in Rochester, New York (the birthplace of film!) and 10 years in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m a big city kid who came to age in Middle America. As a teenager, my father gifted a Contax T2 to me to help me get into photography, and I took it everywhere, snapping up all the shenanigans young adults get up to, but never truly mastered the camera. And when digital photography emerged, I stored the T2, and used a digital camera. My photography wasn’t serious at all at this point, just shooting friends, partying, and on vacation. It wasn’t until recently, one of my best friends; Lenny Kwong (who is way into snap, you can check out his Instagram feed @mr.olen7) urged me to dig out my T2, and try it again. The key was he introduced me to Output Pro Lab, a speakeasy film lab in the Prince Edward neighborhood, where the film supplies and processing are top notch and affordable! That lab is great; it’s a family business, tucked away upstairs in an nondescript tenement building from the 60’s (aka Tong Lau); you have to ring a bell, wait for the key to drop from the overhead PVC tube, and let yourself through the steel gate to access the 2nd floor lab. This led me to re-discovering film and falling in love with photography.

What is the film photography scene in HK like? What’s it like shooting there?
This personal renaissance of film has been ongoing for only one year, so I am still learning and discovering every day. I think there is a pretty serious photography scene here, from film fiends to insta-walk-iphone only people. I mean, culturally, picture taking is next level in Hong Kong, and most of Asia. It’s like the king of selfies here, and people snapping up pictures of their food was common place even before social media. But to be honest, I don’t know what the scene is like, as I only have a few friends who are into photography, and for them it’s a pretty personal endeavor. It’s the same for me; taking pictures is very personal for me, and it’s something I prefer to do on my own.

Hong Kong is an amazing city to shoot; it’s super dense, extremely dynamic, and there’s such a wide cast of characters. I read somewhere that Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers in the world! So just looking up, you’ll see a million angles and things to shoot. The juxtaposition is strong as well; in between exquisite and posh skyscrapers are grungy alleys where you see business people smoking and minimum wage workers traversing the narrow corridor with their cart of recyclables! The people come from all walks of life; some of the richest and poorest are sharing the same scarce pavements. It’s a street photographers dream. Hong Kong has also seen two significant eras; the rise of British colonialism and the rise of Modern China; both are photographic spectacles that are constantly reshaping the city.

Tell us a little about your creative approach. What makes a great photograph to you?
I feel like I’m pretty simple; I take the camera everywhere I go, and every time I’m on the street I have the camera in my hand; ready for a snap.  Photography has taught me to be ultra aware of my surroundings; so I am just looking for anything fascinating; whether it be a an interesting looking character, something that’s ironic, out of place, or peculiar and with appealing lighting.  To sum it up, I stroll, snap, and smile any chance I get. It’s a very instinctive process for me. I’m also drawn to capturing the old way of things in Hong Kong; wet markets, fruit stalls, street sections devoted to very specific needs; for example there are streets solely devoted to kitchenware, or sewing machines, or dried seafood to name a few. This centralization speaks to Hong Kong’s efficiency, which is a part of life here. But I feel like the old way of life is disappearing with high rent and a new generation who has higher aspirations.

Are the images that you sent part of a series or project? If so, tell us a bit about it.
I took a black and white dark room session about four months ago, and instantly fell in love with print making. The calm of the dark room, the smell of the chemicals, and the laboriousness of making a print somehow makes time melt away, and I truly feel at peace. Ever since then, I have been addicted to black and white photography; so you can see a clear shift in my work from experimenting with a multitude of films to now strictly black and whites. So to answer your question, I’m mainly trying to build a body of work in black and white that I want to make into prints.

What is your favorite film/camera combination? Why?
Again, I’m still a novice, and am in the midst of really trying to figure out my favorite combo. My T2 phase lasted about 8 months, whereby I was experimenting with film types, and composition. I found a Yashica Electrolux 35 cc at a great second hand camera shop in Sham Shui Po (which, by the way, is a great old school neighborhood for shooting), and got more into manual focusing, aperture setting, and experimenting with pushing film, but I had no idea what shutter speed I was taking. This led me to my current setup which is a Voigtlander Bessa R2, so I now have full control of all parameters. I have a Color-Skopar 35mm/f2.5 and a Nokton 50mm/f1.5 lens, which I have only been utilizing for 2 months. My ideal setup so far is a Contax T2 with Kodak Portra 400 film, and my Bessa / 50mm Nokton / Rollei 400 RPX film. To be honest, I haven’t had access to my T2 in a little while because I let my wife borrow it, but I am hoping to shoot that more soon. I love both cameras for their compactness and portability, yet not sacrificing on ergonomics.

Do you have any goals or projects coming up in 2016?
My goals: make 12 photographs worthy of good prints, put together a small run zine for friends, learn more about great photographers of the past, and setup a good system to organize all my negatives!

Anything else you would like to add?
Just a thank you to Lenny Kwong for nudging me into the rabbit hole, and to all the photographers I follow for their inspiration.

Please drop by Jimi’s Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/jimitsang/) for more of his great work!