With its gray concrete skyscrapers butting against leafy evergreen hiking trails, and its conspicuous displays of wealth cheek-by-jowl with visible signs of poverty, Hong Kong is a playground for photographers — especially ones like Miguel Marina Rodriguez, who revels in the contrasts of the city he’s called home for nine years.
A hobbyist when he first arrived, Marina has since become well-known in the city’s photography community, turning out quirky and visually striking black and white candid shots under the moniker Miguelitor. Starting off in Hong Kong as a PR flack, Marina started teaching Spanish in 2013, and before long branched out yet again to offer street photography classes as well.
Marina calls his style of photography “locally grown,” and says Hong Kong’s denizens and street scenes were what inspired him to start pursuing his hobby more seriously. It paid off: in 2017, he landed his first exhibition at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club called “La Calle,” or “The Street,” in Spanish.
Now he’s trying to make the leap into a new format, seeking crowdfunding to publish Ping Pong, a book of 80 black and white photographs presented as diptychs, or opposing pairs. The idea is that the observer is encouraged to look at the photos from left to right, then back to left, then back to right, and so on — almost as if they’re watching a ping pong match.
The 80 images featured in the book were culled from seven years’ worth of photos taken in Hong Kong, South Korea, Spain, Portugal, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines.
The pairing of the photos featured in the book’s diptychs was deliberate — some share a striking similarity, like a shape, pose, or use of space; some suggest a sense of direction; others exhibit stark contrasts.
One of Marina’s favorite pairings comes in the first pages of the book, and incidentally features the first street photo he ever took. It shows, on the left, a boy on a grungy street in the Philippines throwing a flip-flop in an improvised game, and on the right, a boy looking at his phone on an empty football pitch in Hong Kong with an abandoned ball.
“It’s great,” Marina joked, because “people in the Philippines have nothing but friends and they’re playing, but in Hong Kong they have everything but friends and they don’t play!”
Prior to sitting down with Coconuts HK yesterday, Marina had been walking around the area with the camera that he takes most of his photos on, a pocket-sized Sony digital camera, which he explains is perfect because it allows him to masquerade as a tourist and capture candid moments in seconds.
“I have more now, but this is my favorite because people aren’t scared of you — it’s very fast, very light, not heavy at all,” he explained.
Shooting photos for the book’s diptychs required a lot of quick thinking and observation, as well as remembering which photo from his archive of a thousand shots an image could be paired with, Marina said.
“Sometimes when I see something, it’ll remind me of another photo I took before,” he said.
“Like in Japan I had a photo of a lady with an umbrella, and a broom. I took that photo because here, in Causeway Bay, I took a photo with one guy and a weapon, a rifle. So that’s a good combination.”
Marina said that a number of his photos were taken on his way to work, and that he’s been late more than once trying to capture the perfect shot.
One such shot — and one of Marina’s favorites — is a wide shot of Hong Kong MTR station with a large billboard of smiling children who, because of the perspective, appear to be giants laughing at the scurrying commuters. Amid the bustle, however, is perfectly still woman seated on a bench in the bottom left corner.
“I knew exactly what I wanted; I took this photo without the lady and I thought, ‘hmmm,'” said Marina, adding that he felt something was missing. He waited 10 minutes until a woman sat down on the bench and took the photo again, later pairing it with another shot of on-the-go commuters crowding an escalator at Causeway Bay MTR station as a man on the stairs nearby nonchalantly leans against the wall.
Towards the end of the interview, Marina explained why he picked Ping Pong as the title for the book, as opposed to tennis or volleyball or even badminton — all sports with balls or birdies being batted back and forth.
“I wanted to name it [Ping Pong] because it’s an international [word], and also I wanted to thank Hong Kong, because it’s like a national sport here — a lot of people play ping pong,” he said.
“I wanted to thank Hong Kong because Hong Kong made me a photographer.”