Ethan Lo, based in Hong Kong, is a visual artist whose work focuses on the human-altered landscape and environmental issues in his home country. Today we feature his recent project Marching the MacLehose, a series following the longest hiking trail in Hong Kong, and the relationship between the city and its changing, disappearing wilderness.
Even though I was born in a concrete jungle, I don’t like being in the city. If you look at Hong Kong from above, you can see that it’s a city in between the mountains and the sea. I’m lucky enough to live by the sea; I spent a lot of my formative years in nature, either hiking or in the water.
Growing up, the only things I was good at were sports and art – those are the only subjects in school for which I would get high marks. Being from an Asian country, academia is hugely important, but I didn’t fit in and didn’t understand the education system. Then I was in Australia for the first two years of high school, and finished the rest off in England, where my sister was for university.
When I was twelve, I bought my first camera – a Diana F+. I wanted to take pictures of my friends and I going on adventures, BMXing and skating. However, the first few rolls of film weren’t exposed properly – I was frustrated at first but after much trial and error, I slowly learnt how to operate a camera and eventually developed an interest in photography.
What kind of art are you interested in?
I’m interested in fine art and conceptual photography. Photography is something that’s so accessible; anyone and everyone can take a nice photograph. I am more interested in giving the photograph a purpose, to create something that provokes questions.
Let’s talk about your project ‘Marching the MacLehose’
Hong Kong is a city surrounded by mountains and the sea. The only way for it to expand are either from land reclamation or land development. Seventy percent of the land is still considered nature; however, in order to meet the demand of housing, there are plans from the government to develop this green area in the next few years.
The MacLehose trail is the longest hiking trail in Hong Kong. It stretches over the New Territories, starting from Sai Kung through Kowloon, finally leading up to the Western tip before concluding in Tuen Muen. One hundred kilometers of connecting trail encourages hikers to discover amazing beaches, to climb the highest mountain in Hong Kong and to revel in mother nature atop Lion’s Rock Peak.
My intention for this project is to show just how close the city is to nature. Taking advantage of being able to walk on the trails that have been shaped by the human race, I saw how we are altering the natural landscape. Buildings and concrete structures slowly infringe onto the mountain, bringing the city into the natural landscape. We can no longer be removed from modern life. I believe it is my duty to document the trails as they are now, as there will undoubtedly be historical changes in the years to come.
What did you learn while shooting this work?
This project was well planned out before I started photographing, which became a problem; there were times I should’ve changed the direction of the project but I ended up sticking to the plan I had made. After seeking advice from mentors and friends though, I realised I did need to change the direction of the project and changed it into what it is today.
What are you recommending?
I have been re-watching Christopher Nolan’s film. I love the way he directs his films – there are so many layers for the viewer to read into. I really do recommend everyone to watch and rewatch his films.
Tell us about a piece of art that has strongly influenced you.
I’m sure a lot of photographers can relate to music, like how jazz had a huge influence on Lee Friedlander for instance. For me it’s Logic’s conceptual albums. I have been listening to Logic’s music for years. It’s the way he created his album; listeners have to listen to his whole album in order to understand the message he is trying to share.