How one Mainland Chinese postgraduate overcame the culture shock of moving to Hong Kong by picking up a camera, and making a career out of it.
That photography has become one of the most potent instruments of communication with the power to break down all kinds of cultural barriers is something Jingya Liu knows all about. Having arrived in Hong Kong in 2006 with no previous experience in the medium, by 2014, the creative from Nanchang, Jiangxi province had opened her very own independent studio in her newfound home, propelling her from eager hobbyist to full-time photographer in one stroke. Today, she boasts an impressive portfolio of big-name clients that includes well-known fashion houses like Shanghai Tang and Diesel, Grana and The Joyce Group.
Inspired by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai and English film director Ridley Scott, Jingya left her home in Nanchang in 2006 in order to follow her passions and complete a Master’s Degree in Film and Media studies at City University, Hong Kong. It was during her postgraduate course that she picked up photography. The medium helped her feel connected to her new environment and provided the fiery and somewhat unpredictable photographer with a newfound means of communicating. Laughing, she explains, “when I first came to Hong Kong, I didn’t even know what YouTube and Facebook were, as everything runs so differently in China. I managed to pick up Cantonese pretty quickly but I never really got a hang of the accent, meaning that my local friends would often laugh when they heard it. But it’s fine, I’m just happy to bring the entertainment”.
Armed with an eye for cinematography and a natural flair for storytelling, the young creative often finds herself envisioning objects as full-fledged characters whilst she’s shooting. Whether it be a piece of clothing on a stranger ambling by, or a seemingly unremarkable portrait hung at a slightly awkward angle, she seeks a connection between people and the environment around them. She explains, “When I see a space, I can feel its energy, its history – there’s always a story that I want to tell. For me, people and places have that kind of magic that triggers me to think and also inspires me to create.” This natural curiosity is what led her to then pursue her second Master’s Degree, which focused on Cultural Studies at Lingnan University in 2010. Slowly but surely, Jingya worked her way up the freelance photography ladder, learning how to enable her clients to successfully reach their targeted demographic through her lens. “They have ideas about how their image is supposed to look like,” she explains, “and it’s my job to carry that out from an artistic point of view.”
Whilst Jingya’s fondness for her hometown is obvious, the fact that her business is based in Hong Kong is purely accidental. She says, “I know that many expats move to Hong Kong with the specific interest of basing their business here, but I personally never gave much thought to this. As my career flourished with every new freelance opportunity, it became only natural to register here.” Since then, she has found many benefits to settling where she has. “Working as a photographer in Hong Kong is very efficient and convenient. It is also a transparent place. In China, there are these underground rules that come into play — there are a lot of external factors that influence how you get hired and what you do.”
When asked about what the biggest take-away of her career has been so far, the photographer says it was the moment she decided to stop worrying. “The biggest transition I’ve made is actually not creative but in understanding that I really enjoy doing this.” She credits this shift in mindset as being vital to her success. By deliberately choosing not to worry about the little things, she found that everything became easier. “That was a big mental energy shift for me. I no longer worry about whether I can make it or if I’ve reached success. Instead, I just focus on enjoying what I do and embracing the lifestyle that comes with it. With this mindset, it becomes really fun.” Couple that with hard work and diligence – another touchstone of her climb up the ladder she is sure of, explaining, “if you produce great work, are professional, and learn how to communicate well with clients – people will notice.”
Feature Image & Image 1 by Tyler Jackson