NEW! Allison Haworth West | Taxi Art Hong Kong
NEW! Allison Haworth West | Taxi Art Hong Kong
After many years of shooting and the many adventures and that went with it - Allison Haworth West has produced a book of images that portrays the ‘worlds’ that are created inside their taxis by taxi drivers on their dashboards and hanging from their rear view mirrors.
It is a cultural phenomenon - whether it is a superhero, a cartoon character, a religious icon, a plant, some fresh jasmine or just a line up of multiple phones the dashboards of Hong Kong taxis tell a story. Sometimes carefully curated, other times haphazardly placed, they are part of the driver's world that they share with their passengers. This comes in contrast to the uniformity of their exteriors.
“TAXI ART seeks to preserve and recognize a part of daily life in Hong Kong that we may take for granted,” said Haworth West. “The importance of TAXI ART is evident in the slow disappearance of these cultural icons – with the emergence of UBER and the consolidation of ownership in taxi licenses it appears TAXI ART might just be becoming a ‘dying art.”
DIMENSIONS: 112 pages, 210mm x 210mm
PUBLISHED: December 2015
PUBLISHER: Asia One Books
EDITION: English and Chinese
“This project was born while I was sitting in the back of a Hong Kong taxi a few years back. Over the years of living in Hong Kong I had spent thousands of hours sitting in the back of taxis looking at and observing what the drivers had on their dashboards and the worlds they had created for themselves. Since I started shooting I have noticed the decline in the number of taxis that have ‘art’ on their dashboards and hanging from their rearview mirrors and this has spurred me on even more to want to publish this book. It seems there are a number of forces at play to facilitate this – one of the main ones being the consolidation of ownership away from owner drivers, and of course, there is the emergence of Uber. ‘Taxi art’ might just be becoming a ‘dying art’.
Despite the many hours it has taken to get to the point of publishing (finding the taxis and taking the shots is not as easy as you might think), I still feel like it is only a drop in the ocean. However, a line had to been drawn in the sand, Hong Kong taxi art needed to be celebrated! You will see that the images vary in quality – this book is a visual journey and a record, it is not meant to be a perfect pictorial representation – rather a dynamic reflection of an ever changing cultural phenomenon.
Over the past few years Hong Kong has gone through somewhat of a renaissance in art – particularly modern art – with the emergence of many more galleries, the art fairs, the building of the West Kowloon cultural district and the general expansion and growth of the cultural scene. But all the time the art of everyday, the one that surrounds all of us, has been slowly been disappearing – the art of the Hong Kong taxi.
The Hong Kong taxi driver is unique. He (or in a smaller number of cases she) is usually hardworking, tenacious and pragmatic. Over the years I have engaged many in my extremely limited Cantonese and asked many questions. Sometimes there comes nothing – just a pragmatic focus on getting me to my destination. Other times a few words and, on those more rare occasions, one gains a special insight into Hong Kong from what the drivers have to say. The many and varied reasons they drive, the stories that led them there and their view on the Chief Executive and politics – often the most colourful! However usually it always comes back to the same famous Hong Kong theme ‘I don’t care, I just want to make money’. It seems that in many cases the things they have on their dash boards are placed there in pursuit of this and good feng shui.
A Marine Biologist on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia once told me that underwater you need to look for the small things because the big things will always show themselves. The same applies to Hong Kong. There is so much fabulous detail everywhere you look that sometimes you have to make yourself focus to truly experience it fully.
Whether it is a superhero, a cartoon character, a religious icon, a plant, some fresh jasmine or just a line up of multiple phones in stands – many of the dashboards of Hong Kong taxis tell a story. Sometimes carefully curated, other times haphazardly placed, they are part of the driver’s world that they share with their passengers. It is something that means something to them and adds to the tapestry of the experience for the passenger whether they are cognisant of it or not.
Shooting for this book has been a colourful and interesting experience but I have to say quite challenging at times! Sometimes fast and rewarding, sometimes laborious and slow. Finding taxis with interesting dashboards has proven harder and harder as time has gone by and getting the timings and the locations right so that you can happen upon them is a bit of a puzzle.
Scorching heat and humidity, taxi lines, festering and overpowering roadside pollution and the fear of ‘getting told off’ each time as I went through the ritual of leaning over the centre of the seat focusing my lens on the visual joy in front of me trying to get the shot as the taxi sped off down the road and round random corners. Hong Kong taxi drivers are not known for their subtle use of the accelerator or brake. No time for camera setting adjustments or second thoughts – just an often hilarious mad frenzy of shooting. And then there were those frenzied moments of confidence where I would find a really good subject and jump out of the back seat into the front seat to get closer, often referring to myself (a six foot blonde Caucasian woman) as chee seen ah (crazy) to ease the driver’s fear, trepidation, confusion or just general shock!
Some of the shots have come randomly and by chance when I have been lucky enough to hail an art laden taxi through luck, however on occasion I have been seen stalking the taxi lines looking for treasures through the windscreens then trying to time my appearance as first in line just in time to get the right cab and get the shot.
As time went on I became more confident in approaching the task and the drivers and perhaps more brazen. As a non Chinese speaking expat my skills in sweet talking in English were not of much use. Various ice breakers were in use such as ‘ho lang ar’ (very beautiful) as I enthusiastically pointed at the dashboard, or ‘dang yat dang’ (wait a minute) whilst trying to impede departure for those few precious seconds to let the shutter open and close, or even ‘man di’ (slower) when I was feeling very gutsy.
Overall doing this project over the past few years has enriched my life in Hong Kong enormously. Sometimes happening upon ‘taxifacts’ by accident or going out looking for them – the journey has been a lot of fun.
I hope that you enjoy this small window into the many unique worlds of the unsung heroes of the streets of Hong Kong – the taxi drivers. I hope that you can celebrate and treasure the creativity and visual feast attached to dashboards that I have tired to capture and record.
I hope this is book makes you smile, welcome to the world of Hong Kong Taxi Art.”
Allison Haworth West