Monk (NIKON D5100 1/1250--f/4 17mm)

Monk (NIKON D5100 1/1250–f/4 17mm)

This is one of my favourite street photos from Hong Kong ! It was made in the Ladies Market on a very overcast day. The street was packed with customers and vendors, and we had a tough time moving from stall to stall with the children.

What do you see when you look at the photo? Do you see a solemn figure of serenity surrounded by the chaos of commerce? I certainly did at the time. The Monk cut a striking figure amidst the gaggle of people fighting for a bargain. Or so I thought…

I’ll tell you the real story, and you’ll see how a photo can lie; how it can manipulate reality to be something else; how the camera can surgically remove a moment in time and place it in a whole new context in order to create new meaning.

Like I said before, we were in the Ladies Market, fighting to move from vendor to vendor. I looked up and saw the Monk walking slowly down the centre of the street. In that moment, I was struck by the image of a figure of spirituality making his way through the noise and confusion of this modern world. I raised the Nikon to my eye and quickly pressed the shutter. Moment captured. Photo stored. And then the moment moved on and the story changed…

He caught my eye and dingled a delicate bell. An empty cup was offered, and I surmised that he wanted money. Rather than move on after I shook my head, he was insistent. The bell dingled and dingled and he waved the cup right under my chin. It made me feel very uncomfortable. Moments later, the crowd pushed in and he was gone. We moved quickly on.

I’d not heard of it before, but so-called fake Monks are quite common in Hong Kong. In fact, there are now even a few in Australian cities, I’ve recently discovered! Real Buddhist Monks don’t walk the streets asking for money from people. Now…look at the photo again. What do you see?

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