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Courtesy of Chan Dick

The Minimalist Photography Of Chan Dick: An Interview

Picture of Sally Gao
Sally Gao
Updated: 12 October 2016
Chan Dick is a Hong Kong-based commercial and fine art photographer. His photo series Chai Wan Fire Station was awarded first prize at the Hong Kong Photo Book Awards, and has been showcased in exhibitions as far as Japan and Cambodia. Shot entirely from a single upstairs bathroom window, each photo in the series documents the daily occurrences taking place in the courtyard of a fire station in Hong Kong‘s Chai Wan district.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

How did your passion for photography start?

I’m a commercial photographer based in Hong Kong. I’ve been shooting still life, architecture and interior spaces for over two decades. Recently, I’ve devoted a lot of time creating personal works – something I’ve always wanted to do – and recently published my first book, the Chai Wan Fire Station series.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

How did Chai Wan Fire Station come about?

I shot the series from my workshop’s bathroom window. My workshop was on the 14th floor of an industrial building, which was a street away from the fire station. I would climb onto the toilet bowl several times a day to check whether there were any scenes from that little spot of land that would interest me. The series was the result of a lot of waiting, and a lot of trying.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

How much time did you spend on this project? Did you have to wait a long time to find a good composition?

I would check several times a day and if I sensed that something was unfolding, I would usually wait for 30 minutes, or even up to an hour, to try my luck. In the first six months, I would shoot whatever I found interesting but, as time went by, I became more selective and would only take out my camera when the scene was new or unique.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

How did the restricted vantage point of the bathroom window help or hinder your work?

Due to the narrowness of the window, I had to hand-hold my camera and stick it out of the window pointing down. This angle happened to be a perfect window into that little patch of land.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Why do you think the activities in the fire station were so fascinating to you?

I was mesmerized by the minimalistic arrangement of objects, living and nonliving. While none of the firefighters noticed me shooting, a few of them discovered my Facebook page. One of them messaged me, identified himself as one of the firefighters, and asked if he could share the album with his other firefighter friends. He told me that he and his colleagues were thankful that their sweat and labor had been captured in a way that was still, calm, artistic and passionate (in his own words). They enjoyed seeing themselves from the mirror of my lens. I’m equally if not more grateful for their words.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

What do you want viewers to think about as they look at these photos?

Other than being a subtle tribute to our firefighters, this series is about my appreciation for minimalism and the many possibilities it offers, and the stories it tells, if you can find them, with a bit of luck.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Do you have a favorite shot from the series?

The one with kindergarten kids visiting the fire station. It happened only three times during my 15-month shooting period. I had to wait the longest time for it to happen, but I was lucky enough to eventually get a shot with every element aligned perfectly. It’s also my favorite because the characters are people other than the firefighters themselves, giving the pictures a whole new level of meaning.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

You must have taken a lot of photos that didn’t end up in the series. How did you choose which ones would make the final cut?

Indeed, I took over 1,500 images before editing down to less than 50. After each day of shooting, I would pick the best ones and keep them in a special folder. I would then filter them by content and select my favorite for each scenario. I aimed for variety and would always pick the ones that were in line with the feeling of the overall series. The process was more tiring than the shooting itself!

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick

What’s your next project?

I’m finalizing a new series called Who Moved My Trees? Here‘s a sneak peak.

Courtesy of Chan Dick

Courtesy of Chan Dick