Book Review: ‘Vivid Hong Kong’ Taps iPhone Photos



A new book by veteran photographer Palani Mohan captures magical moments in Hong Kong through the lens of an iPhone 4

By Anita Surewicz

With smartphone cameras becoming increasingly more advanced (Apple’s iPhone 4S sports an 8-megapixel camera), photography enthusiasts are beginning to utilize the gadgets as tools for self-expression. Some professionals are also experimenting with the technology, foregoing their bulky SLRs for the immediacy and spontaneity of hand-held devices.

Indian-born Australian photographer Palani Mohan’s new photo book, Vivid Hong Kong, is a collection of snapshots of the metropolis captured through the lens of his iPhone 4. This is not Mohan’s first volume to document aspects of life in the city; a decade ago, he produced the aptly named Hong Kong Life–An Intimate Portrait. But while that was shot on black-and-white film, this time the award-winning photographer opted to look at the city from a fresh, colorful perspective..

“A lot has changed since I first lived in Hong Kong 14 years ago. I now have a family and look at the world in a different way,” Mohan says. “Having returned to Hong Kong after living in other cities around the region, I wanted to embrace the idea of transformation, and look at the same city through new eyes.”

The rise of mobile-phone photography seems to be leading to a brave new world of possibilities: a world where photographers are no longer defined by the equipment they use, and the ability to improvise is just as important as an eye for aesthetics.

Mohan says that his iPhone is a tool that enables him to tell stories that would be impossible to capture with a conventional camera. Despite its limitations as a photographic device, it gives him the advantage of being able to snap away while remaining relatively inconspicuous, which he has clearly done with scenes as diverse as a neighborhood mah–jongg game and a lone fisherman trying his luck on Victoria Harbour’s Sheung Wan waterfront.

“Shooting with mobile phones allows the kind of intimacy you could never get with a big, conventional camera. Plus, it’s something that you always have on you,” Mohan says. “Using a small camera has allowed me to see and capture splashes of color in a place that is normally very gray and somber. These magical moments are what this book is about.”

The medium clearly satisfies Mohan’s zeal for the ephemeral, and his book is full of candid pictures of fleeting, everyday scenes that capture the energy, drama, and can-do enthusiasm of city life. Whether viewed as art or social documentary, the images celebrate raw authenticity, depicting shadows, light, and color as elements of Hong Kong’s multi-dimensional character.

The images in Mohan’s book stand testament to the theory that equipment does not make a photographer. Success still comes down to conventional skills and craft. In Mohan’s case, it’s more than 20 years of experience, over which time his work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Geo, the New York Times, and Stern.

“With all the applications on the market today, there is a fine line between being a photographer and a digital artist,” Mohan says. “The challenge is not to get carried away, and that’s why I chose a very basic app to take my iPhone photos. I have done my uttermost to keep myself honest as a photographer.”

To purchase, visit palanimohan.com.

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