Depth of Field: Hong Kong’s Flash Mob for Democracy

During the height of the 1960s American political upheaval, the Black Panther Party began using the phrase “All power to all the people.” In an interview from 1996, cofounder Bobby Seale provided insight into the group’s vast oeuvre of slogans—many of which, he explained, were mostly aimed at dominant structures that sought to rob the powerless of their humanity. “We were talking about the corporate money rich and the racist jive politicians and the lackeys, as we used to call them,” he said, “for the government who perpetuates all this exploitation and racism.”

For more than 100 days, the people of Hong Kong have demanded power from a government that wants to strip its citizens of autonomy. Protests began in June as a condemnation against a disputed extradition bill and have since set the streets of Hong Kong, and its surrounding districts, ablaze with rallies, sit-ins, and violent police encounters. Citizens even began spray-painting the Pepe the Frog meme across building exteriors as a working-class, pro-democracy symbol. “How this is going to play out is really hard to say,” Victoria Hui, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, said in an interview last month. “But Hong Kong will definitely never be the same.”

On Wednesday, inside a shopping mall in the Kowloon Tong district of Hong Kong, hundreds again gathered in protest in the form of a flash mob. With an appreciation for depth and dimension, photographer Philip Fong freezes the moment into something searing, intense, and altogether absorbing. The angle of Fong’s shot—particularly the inclusion of the mirrored escalators that reflect the immensity of the demonstration, with people looking on, phones raised, from higher floors—is a complex, gorgeous study in scale.

Depth of Field is senior writer Jason Parham’s weekly dispatch about culture’s most searing current images.

Each layer of the photo—I count four, possibly five—gives us something new. The eye wanders. The eye gets lost. The photo is thick with meaning and metaphor. I look at it and Seale’s words rattle in my mind. It was reported that the Chinese government, to more effectively quell protests, is shutting down public transportation and possibly even concealing rumored killings by police. The fight for power, for independence, is never an easy one. Fong affords us another reality, then: The people are many. The people will not go quietly into the night. It is an image packed with the spirit of hope.

I especially keep returning to the bottom right quadrant of the photo—the set of arms and hands raised with a forward bent. You can almost feel the people of Hong Kong reaching for a future that is right and just, for a future that is theirs.

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