“My dad was an amateur photographer and we always had a dark room at home…Photography was always there in me. I am living my passion in a way…” Marcel Heijnen, a native of the Netherlands thus starts our conversation in his exhibition ‘Hong Kong Market Cats’ housed in a beautiful space typical of the Chinese tenement buildings of the early 1900s.
Arrived in Asia 26 years ago living essentially a major part in Singapore, this is Marcel’s second stint in Hong Kong. A graphic designer by professional background for more than 25 years, Photography became a profession about 5 years ago when he came out with his first book Residue in 2013 and later 'Hong Kong Shop Cats' in 2016. Marcel continues to marry his graphic designer skills in his photography. “The skills of being a designer comes in when you take a photo. The rhythm, the composition and the balance in my photographs…all these things that are intuitive to me now come from my design background but they also help me as a Photographer and as a Publisher.
Marcel lives in Sheung Wan, in a walk-up studio apartment on New Street. He especially likes its closeness to Sai Ying Pun which is where he noticed the cats on the counters on Queen’s Road West. It was the trigger and inspiration for the whole ‘Chinese Whiskers’ book series. “Sai Ying Pun is where these cats are all are” Marcel says. He also loves the village feeling of the area where you keep bumping into people in the area and form relationships. Marcel’s recently photographing the Prince of Sweden came about exactly this way. “A Journalist working in the area was introduced to me by his brother in Singapore. I keep bumping into him, he comes to my events. When he was looking for a photographer he thought of me….”.
I am fortunate that every project of mine takes me to different neighbourhoods. For my first Chinese Whiskers book HK Shop Cats I stayed close to home, the second project took me to Mong Kong street market, Yau Ma Tai fruit market, Shek Tong Shui wholesale market etc, and the Garage Dogs project (his next potential book) brings me to neighbourhoods in New Territories. “I photograph these photo because of the background. For most of my photos you don’t immediately see the animal… its all about what going on outside the animal. I take the animal as an inroad to my photographing Hong Kong life...”.
Marcel thinks that the idea behind LocalHood is very good way to connect with people in your neighbourhood and indeed important for a dense city like Hong Kong. “You meet people in events which can be an ice breaker and then you might meet for a coffee to get to know them better…,” Marcel says. He would like to see is more regular meet and greets and suggests an agenda of local events.
Our interview ended but our conversation continued with Marcel speaking about Uncle Pork, the iconic character on the cover of his second cat book and one of my favourites ...
Marcel Heijnen on IG: @chinesewhiskers
Marcel Heijnen on FB: Marcel Heijnen