From a tourist’s camera lens, scanning the streets of Hong Kong for a memorable photograph of the city, typical subjects may include the sky-scraping glass giants, blurry crowds bathed in the neon night or the flashy Victoria Harbor skyline. However, for 20-year-old student photographer Louis Chung, true beauty lies in the city’s iconic rubbish bins.
“Don’t you think the rubbish bins look like [cartoon] characters?” Chung asks. “If you ask me, the characters are quite cute—chubby and round with a mouth.”
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This unique preoccupation began as a final-year project for his higher diploma in Advertising at the Hong Kong Design Institute—using rubbish bins as a subject was Chung’s idea, though they had originally thought to do brochures or sell merchandise. “Then, we said, ‘Hey, let’s try a promotional method and take pictures of rubbish bins every day to post on Instagram!’”
Now studying at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Chung has kept the Instagram account alive. The account, @motley_hk, is approaching 200 posts and has over 1,600 followers. Chung grades his finds according to their sanitary conditions, paying extra attention to ones with unorthodox appearances.
Goodbye, purple friend
“When I was a child, my mother would pretend that rubbish bins could talk. For example, she would say, ‘The rubbish bin is saying hello to you!’” Chung recalls to Coconuts, explaining just how far back his connection goes.
In 2008, when Chung was about seven years old, he noticed how the familiar purple rubbish bins that used to greet him after school were suddenly replaced by orange ones. Now, he says, he notices that even these have been replaced by a simple frame holding up a plastic bag. The disappearance is a lingering remnant of the 2019 demonstrations, when protesters moved rubbish bins onto the streets as roadblocks. “I wonder whether the orange rubbish bins will become a thing of the past in the future,” he laments.
“Now that I’m in the moment, I would think that orange rubbish bins represent my present, while purple rubbish bins represent my past. I like to record and remember them for when I’m older, or when they eventually disappear from Hong Kong.”
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More than garbage
Clearly, for Chung the everyday object holds more meaning than surface appearances would suggest. “For many people, rubbish bins are just rubbish bins, but for others, rubbish bins can be quite special,” he reflects. “Children may think that it’s just a hole. Smokers use it as a place to gather and socialize. For the grandpas you see collecting cardboard in Sham Shui Po, it’s a treasure chest.”
Although Chung feels embarrassed capturing rubbish bins in the middle of a busy road, sometimes blocking passersby from tossing their trash away, keeping his page running is a way to salvage bits and pieces of the Hong Kong he knows.
“There are some things that are always with us, but we tend not to notice them,” Chung says. “When they disappear, even then we might not notice they’re gone, but you know that something’s changed.”
For now, he has two goals in mind: First, he wants to keep the Instagram page running; and second, there’s merch. Chung recently released his T-shirt collection of black-and-white trash bin caricatures.
“I don’t know when this page will come to an end,” Chung chuckles. “Maybe when I’ve collected all the rubbish bins in Hong Kong.”
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