Hong Kong – Two years since the umbrella became a symbol of revolution, Hong Kong’s youth have been at the forefront of political activism in the city. The 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement and the wider political awakening of a generation have been inspired and perpetuated by shared stories, artworks, photography, video, songs and slogans.
This energy affects all of Hong Kong’s young people – their friends are involved, their social media feeds are full of debate and calls to action.
Streets are decorated with politicised graffiti, and there’s a host of new youth leaders and political tribes to choose from.
For rooftoppers and urban explorers worldwide, breaking the rules and sharing their exploits online is simply part of the game, but for Hong Kong’s rooftoppers, defying the authorities and photographing adventures is informed by a deeper rebellion.
In this crowded city driven by financial markets, where every square foot has a monetary value, rooftopping and urban exploration are a reclaiming of public space and a rejection of the status quo. The rooftoppers’ jaw-dropping stunts and clandestine adventures on the tops of the city’s skyscrapers have not only made them internet stars but also allowed them to occasionally use that fame to make political statements.
An image of rooftopper Airin T dangling a colonial flag perched above pro-democracy protests was a strong statement of solidarity with the fight to protect Hong Kong’s cultural identity against a creeping Beijing hegemony. It went viral.
Rooted in years of building tensions between China and Hong Kong, worsening wealth disparity, and worries of eroding press and individual freedoms, these rooftoppers – like other young creatives and activists – are showcasing their frustrations by creating their own imagery and by celebrating disobedience.
These images of and by rooftoppers Airin T, Andrew Tso, and Benjamin Y explore the trajectory from the Umbrella Movement to today’s increasing popularity for more “radical” localist politics where parties demand that the interests of Hong Kong’s people come first, and the territory’s autonomy and distinct Canton culture are defended. The rooftoppers explore with their cameras and smartphones, and these photographs show a side of the revolution as captured by the young people behind it.