Hong-Kong-based photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagreze’s series Concrete Stories captures sensitive and humble scenes on the rooftops of the densely populated capital. Over here, the word “rooftop” can bring to mind pools slapped atop Soho bars, or palm-fringed penthouses barely occupied by oligarchs. Romain’s Concrete Stories explores another kind of resilient rooftop-dweller, one intent on not letting luxury buildings and high rises take away their community and culture.
“I see this series as a testimony of the lifestyle in these old buildings where the rooftop is usually not locked and accessible by all inhabitants,” says Romain of the magic of these rooftop dwellers. “Such rooftops are a little bit like courtyards but in the air. Nowadays, these buildings are disappearing at a fast pace given the scarcity of land [in Hong Kong] which forces the authorities to pull down all the low-rise buildings in order to leave space for taller and more modern ones where rooftop are either totally unaccessible or well-secured to be accessed only by their owner. And since these new buildings are made with luxury finishing, they drive the property prices up making it unaffordable for people to remain in the district they used to live in.”
“My main goal with this project is to record a seldom seen side of people’s lifestyle in the older districts of the city, especially in Kowloon which has the biggest density of old buildings,” the photographer explains to It’s Nice That. “In Hong Kong, apartments are usually very small and it forces people to adapt and find outside some space for doing what people in other city would do in their garden, on balcony or in parks. For me this series illustrates the spirit of the city that lies in the resilience of its people and the soul of its old districts.”
Always keen to explore sides of Hong Kong that are not usually well-documented or known about, Romain, since moving to the city, has been traversing high and low to find scenes that inspire him with their difference to the accepted norm. “It can be a vertical view through skyscrapers, a tree growing on the facade of an old residential buildings, or a cityscape of the city from a high vantage. It’s discovering such scenes and capturing them that triggers the curiosity to find more of it and thus to explore more. So in a way we can say that my inspiration comes rather instinctively rather than conceptually.”
All of the images from the Concrete Stories series were taken from eight to ten different rooftops, and saw Romain develop his patience and dedication to capturing life on life’s terms. “The biggest challenge of this series was to capture the good moment,” he puts forward. “Since all these photos are non-staged, I never knew when there would be an interesting scene happening on a roof. I needed to spend hours for each shooting session during which I waited on a rooftop observing the other surrounding rooftops. It requires a lot of patience and also to be fast enough to capture the scene before it disappears. But I enjoyed that process of waiting and shooting, I find it relaxing and it forces me to be in a contemplative mood.”