Mikko Takkunen

Book Review Mikko Takkunen – Hong Kong

© Mikko Takkunen

Hong Kong, the debut book by Finnish photographer and New York Times Photo Editor Mikko Takkunen, is a melancholic ode to his adopted home city.


─── by Josh Bright, April 11, 2024
  • Mikko Takkunen spent more than five years (between 2016–2021) in Hong Kong as the NYT International desk’s Asia photo editor, covering major news stories in 25 countries across the region.


    2020-2021 was a strange period for Hong Kong. It was the aftermath of the mass record-breaking demonstrations that took place in response to the proposed bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China in 2019, and for many of the city’s denizens, there remained a sense of unease. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic had gripped the world, creating further fear and uncertainty.


    In the midst of this, Takkunen took to the streets and captured a city with which he had developed a close connection, yet one that felt increasingly fragile.

    Those who have had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong, understand the visual spectacle it offers: a vibrant metropolis teeming with over 7 million inhabitants, that stands among the most densely populated cities globally. It’s a captivating blend of towering skyscrapers and bustling street markets, offering limitless inspiration to photographers.


    Before he was a photo editor, Takkunen was a photographer, whose gaze was shaped by his time living in London. Inspired by avant-garde innovators Louis Faurer, Louis Stettner, and Saul Leiter, all of whom called New York City (where Takkunen also spent several years after London) their muse, Takkunen strove to capture his adopted Hong Kong in a ‘fresh’ way. His eye for color, light, and composition, honed both through his work as a photographer and photo editor engenders captivating, beautiful images that leave a lasting impression.


    Owing to the pandemic restrictions, the streets seen in these images are calm, a striking departure from the bustling scenes typically associated with Hong Kong. Although there are people in the images, the usual chaotic hubbub of the city is nowhere to be seen. Instead, people are often depicted alone, isolated among the towering buildings.

    His masterful framing creates unique perspectives of these well-documented streets, photographing through condensation or dust-covered windows, utilizing shadows, unusual angles, reflections, or natural geometric lines and shapes to create unique, painterly compositions that immediately bring to mind Leiter’s wonderful depictions of his beloved Manhattan (a place that shares much of that claustrophobic, intense, freneticism of Hong Kong).


    They are, as pointed out by Geoff Dyer (the award-winning English writer and author) in his compellingly written essay that opens the book, a huge contrast to those Takkunen selected in his role as photo editor for the New York Times, which are often ‘teeming with information’, such as those depicting clashes between police and protestors captured by Lam Yik Fei.


    Takkunen’s images evoke a quieter, more introspective atmosphere, tinged with nostalgia and perhaps a hint of sadness—a sentiment understandable amidst the pandemic-induced isolation. Yet, they may also reflect the photographer’s contemplations, hinting at the possibility that even then, he knew these moments could mark the end of his time living in a city that had profoundly impacted him in a relatively short period. As he eloquently puts it: “These photographs are my last embrace of Hong Kong. They are also my farewell.”

     

    ‘Hong Kong’ – Takkunen’s first monograph is published by Kehrer.

    All images © Mikko Takkunen