Photographic series by born-and-bred Londoner, Charlie Kwai, provide sneak peeks into the various neighbourhoods and cultures which inhabit this giant city. From businessmen to behind-the-scenes at fashion shows, Charlie’s work may allow us to be nosey from afar, but the way he takes the photographs is very much in the subject’s face. With a flash always clamped to the top of his camera, if you hang around anywhere interesting for long enough, you might just spot him darting around, particularly if you’ve been in Chinatown recently.
Charlie’s latest series – and book – True Love dives deep into the enclave on the border of Soho. Spending numerous long days in the district, the photographer started to notice the locals and businesses not every budding tourist tends to spot. In turn, Charlie describes the series as a little flirtatious; fleetingly liaising with “a seductive facade of Chinatown told through the men and women that frequent its streets”.
The result of his time spent in the area, Charlie’s photographs document all of the details you’d expect but they offer an unseen side of Chinatown too. From millennials glued to their iPhones who only to look up startlingly because of Charlie’s flash, to restaurant workers putting out the rubbish and having a cheeky ciggy, True Love also captures the strange, yet consistent advertisements for female models: “slim, tanned brunettes…” or just “M-O-D-E-L” written out in black whiteboard marker.
By wandering around the streets most would stop by on a quick afternoon’s visit, Charlie’s own opinion of Chinatown has shifted slightly. To him there’s nothing true about True Love, describing the series’ title as a visual metaphor for how the photographer sees “Chinatown after spending so much time there". In publishing the photographs with no written description, Charlie instead leaves it up to the viewer to form their own perspective of Chinatown by peeking “beyond the glaring veneer of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets to present a speculative gaze into fleeting intentions and alluring behaviour of its residents and visitors alike.”
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