Photographer Tommy Fung on His Iconic Instagram Project, My Surreal Life in Hong Kong
July 11, 2022
No other Hong Konger has had as great of an impact within conversations concerning Hong Kong’s social issues, ingrained oneself in the socio-cultural fabric of the city, or driven commentary on the absurdity of our home as Tommy Fung, the designer, photographer, and Photoshopper behind the uber-popular @surrealhk account.
Starting in 2017 after Tommy returned from his adopted country of Venezuela, the page is filled with Photoshopped images, edited in a surreal fashion to raise consciousness on a local issue, comments on a city-wide craze, and pokes fun at the surreal aspects of our daily life in the city, a place new to the creator as a returning Hong Konger.
With an excited Tommy happy to share his life stories, as well as connection to his town and what makes it surreal, The Beat Asia primed the designer with our queries on how he finds his creative juices, what makes him tick, how he photographs and shapes his zany pictures, and the future for the Hong Kong legend.
Tommy Fung was born in Hong Kong in 1979 but emigrated with his family at the age of nine to the north-western city of Maracaibo in Venezuela in 1988 for his family’s work.
Raised in South America, Tommy enrolled in a graphic design degree at La Universidad del Zulia, pursuing a freelance graphic design career after graduation and maturing a passion in photography, specifically the theory of design and framing.
In 2016, as a looming social and economic crisis took hold in Venezuela, choke holding the cultural life of the country, creative jobs, and rising inflation, Tommy fled back to Hong Kong.
A year later, with a passion to celebrate his former childhood home, Tommy began his photography project, My Surreal Life in Hong Kong, recreating surreal and absurd situations surrounding Hong Kong life using Photoshop, and sharing them on the eminent @surrealhk.
“I wanted to do something different that has never been done before,” Tommy answered when asked of his motivation to begin his Surreal HK project.
“When I [moved] back to [Hong Kong], I wanted to cover this place. In my process of learning everything about the life of Hong Kong, I found it fascinating, and I decided to use this photographic manipulation style to express what I see.”
Tommy admits he thinks in a “very surreal way,” thus, using Photoshop to describe the “very surreal Hong Kong” he lives in is a form of recounting the city’s differences and sourcinge an explanation for its absurdities from his perspective as an outsider. “Why not try to use this tool to express my point of video so people can understand what I am seeing!”
Having only spent nine years in Hong Kong prior to returning, Tommy’s world in Hong Kong was undoubtedly surreal to him. “I think Venezuela was normal to me, but Hong Kong is very surreal, because everything is moving so fast, and the buildings are so high. Normal for locals, but for me very cool.”
The creation of his page in 2017 and the curation of his series of Photoshopped images was an aim to “amplify the [funny] feeling” Tommy had when moving to the city. “I try to let people see the world from my eyes. Life doesn't have to be so boring or so stressful and why not put some humour in normal life?”
Tommy explains that the images he produces – red taxis climbing Lion Rock, beaches existing on the Central Harbourfront, boars, cats, and giraffes roaming the city streets –- come from a particular Venezuelan and South American humour of deconstructing the world. “At first, people didn’t understand my humour. But now people accept my artwork.”
“Everything that happens around me inspires my work. I pay a lot of attention to what happens in daily life. For example, the news [in early June] of the Jumbo Ship sinking.”
Tommy takes most pictures himself and edits on his computer using Photoshop, a tool he is beholden to, where the process begins. “First of all, I want to catch people’s attention. The image must be eye- catching.
“In this social media world, people push and pull images very fast. If something doesn’t catch your attention, they won't stop and read the caption or pay attention of it. You have to create something that people at the beginning will say,. ‘wow, is this real or is this Photoshop?’”
One of Tommy’s favourites is The Infinity Choi Hung Estate image and NFT he released in October 2021. “It is a very colourful building, and everybody go there to take photos. Everybody take the same photo but there is nothing new.”
“I used this iconic place and put a message behind it, saying this is a very small place that many people live in. It is a very good contrast. Outside is very colourful, but the meaning of the photo is deeper.”
When a city fever came following Tommy’s page in 2019, companies began reaching out to him pitching campaign advertising services and products with his signature surreal artwork. “At the beginning, I just started [Surreal HK] for fun, just to do for myself and nothing more. When the opportunity came to collaborate [with brands], it was a good way to work on this full time and [pay] rent.”
Tommy said that when he began his page, it was “just for fun,” not expecting fanfare or reactions. “I just created artworks that express myself and nothing more. Then people began following me and commenting on and liking my photos. It was very interesting!”
When asked about his future in Hong Kong’s enthralling art space, of which he has made a name for himself, Tommy doesn’t like to think too much: “I just let things happen.” He is currently represented by 13A New Street Art Gallery, a Sheung Wan modern art powerhouse.
In early June, he completed an exhibition at the ARTAVERSE presenting never-seen-before artworks as part of a series of NFTs. He is set to have an exhibit at the Affordable Art Fair in Hong Kong in August and is constantly searching for opportunities outside of the city to bring his art to an international level.
“I just try to keep my creativity as most original as possible. It’s hard to keep doing this for so long and sometimes you feel like you’re running out of ideas. I try to keep everything fresh!”
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