Zaki Abdelmounim is a Qatar-based 3D artist and photographer. The haunting Neo Hong Kong series captures Hong Kong’s city streets bathed in hypnotic neon lights, while capturing the artist’s imaginative vision of a thriving metropolis basking in a radioactive glow. We interviewed Abdelmounim to find out more.
How did you first get into photography?
I’m a 24-year-old 3D artist from Morocco. Currently, I’m based in Qatar and I work for Al Jazeera. I got into photography because I wanted to enhance my visual library. The idea had been lingering in the back of my mind for a while, and last year I finally got my first Sony A7S camera and took a trip to Asia with my friend and mentor. He’s a photojournalist, so thanks to him I was introduced to the fundamentals of photography.
Where did you get the idea for Neo Hong Kong?
As a CG artist, I’ve always been bewitched by neon-noir dystopian universes, including the film Blade Runner, as well as anime such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. In these cyberpunk worlds, there’s always something happening in their dark alleys, visually and narratively. Hong Kong was the perfect place to shoot this series because of its iconic neon signs, dense architecture and busy streets.
Which neighborhoods did you visit as you were shooting this project? Was it all planned or did you discover them along the way?
I had a couple of ideas about where to go. During the day I scouted out locations like the Temple Street Night Market, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po and Nathan Road to get a feel of the place before coming back to shoot at night. However, I also discovered some places, like Fa Yuen Street and Apliu Street, by accident by getting off at the wrong station.
You mentioned the film Blade Runner as source of inspiration. What is it about the atmosphere of that film that attracts you to it?
I think Blade Runner is a visually enticing subject for many digital artists. My main influences were the Blade Runner paintings by the neofuturistic artist Syd Mead and the French comic magazines Métal hurlant. No matter where I am, I perceive reality through my imagination. I use my camera to capture the streets as I imagine them, not the way they are in reality.
Can you talk about the look you were going for in the touch-up process?
As I mentioned earlier, the artbooks of Syd Mead heavily influenced my style. Intricate details, vibrant and daring color palettes were dominant in each of his pieces. I shifted my grading technique from dark to colorful. Mostly, I let my intuition take the lead.
Do you have a favorite image from the series?
If I had to choose, it would be this one with the futuristic MTR station entrance; mostly because the shiny, reflective chrome contrasts with the grungy street.
What have you learned as you become a more experienced photographer?
For a scatter-brained person like me, learning how to shake off surrounding distractions and staying creative in the midst of all that chaos was very important. To me it wasn’t just another solo trip, it was a rite of passage. Additionally, the trip enhanced my work as a CG artist. Here’s a 3D environment I made right after my trip:
What advice would you give to other urban photographers?
My advice is to employ your photos as windows into your mind. People are more interested in how you see something than what it actually looks like. Use your camera as a medium for self expression, and don’t feel guilty for twisting reality or breaking the rules. You’re the protagonist of your own world.
What’s your next project?
I just came back from Japan, so currently I am working on another experimental photography series. I’m going to start thinking about directing a short movie next year, inspired by Seth Ickerman – I love his work for Carpenter Brut. I think it would be a good opportunity to hone my CG skills and discover myself through storytelling.