"(Jonathan van Smit) knows how to bring you in a very intimate contact with HK city, its walls and streets, its men and ladies, its holes and decay, and sometimes its smell. He's catching the soul of this fantastic city though stunning bw shots"
"The King of HK Street. An epic journey into HK's Heart of Darkness... his stream humanises HK in a way nobody else does."
"I can’t do Jonathan van Smit’s street photography justice in words. Just a few sketchy notes.
At its best it’s raw, sometimes shockingly so, but never sensationalist. It’s full of boredom and sadness and lonliness and neglect.
Van Smit’s images need to be seen in the context of the series.
Viewing them in slideshows, repeatedly, is the most rewarding way to view them (there’s no printed book available, for reasons that remain unclear to me). They have a cumulative effect, each one adds a little detail to a large overall picture of street life, in his case, of Hong Kong, but I’d say they have universal appeal. Through a slow building up of familiarity certain themes and patterns are repeated and developed through the series and the sub-series of sets he has on his flickr.
They are also methodologically intriguing, I know from experience that doing candids can be intimidating; there is always the threat of violence. In van Smit’s work the risks he appears to be taking become one of his subjects. There is high drama in this.
He often shoots from waist or chest-height, and it must have taken a lot of practice to get this technique right. He does so because, as he explains, he’s tall and doesn’t want to be looking down on his subject. Correctly, he’s aware that shooting from on high visually “subjugates” the people he shoots. His respect end empathy for others is really evident in his images and gives his shots tremendous sensitivity. I’ve rarely seen the backstreets of Hong Kong this close up. The images’ documentary value is enormous.
Hong Kong is one of those cities that we all feel we know - there’s a great scene in Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man where one of the characters arrives in New York for the first time and has a strong sense of deja vu; his taxi driver points out that it comes from all the films he’s seen set there. It could equally be explained by still photography of these world cities being so popular. But the Hong Kong van Smit shoots is not the one we know from the ubiquitous cityscape photography of the city - I’m tempted to say it’s the opposite. Though don’t get me wrong, I love cityscapes, including the Hong Kong night photography of Thomas Birke, which couldn’t be a more different perspective of the city; it’s just rare to see what’s at ground, and sometimes it feels like underground, level (both physically and socially). Van Smit’s Hong Kong is not even the one we know from Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. While Wong Kar Wai films are “street” and “noir” they always felt a little too clean and shiny. They’ll do so even more if you spend as much time on van Smit’s photography as I recommend you do.
I wouldn’t want to attribute a politics to van Smit’s images without hesitation because I suspect that this is not a message the photographer consciously intends to make. However, one way of understanding his work, and I emphasise this is just one way, my own personal way, is to say that if cityscape photographers show us the awesome constructive power of capitalism, street photographers like van Smit (and I’ve seen very few like him) show us some of the terrifying social power that capitalism has over the multitudes who live in the shadows of all those beautiful, familiar, towers. Not just in Hong Kong, but everywhere in this city called Earth."