If you’re looking to buy a goldfish, a harbinger of good luck in Chinese culture, there’s no better place than a cluster of shops known as the Hong Kong Goldfish Market on Tung Choi Street in the Mong Kok area. It’s also a feast for the eyes.
Three years ago, on his way to the Philippines, Janus van den Eijnden and his girlfriend had a two-day stopover in Hong Kong. As they wandered the city, they passed by the market, and van den Eijnden was instantly captivated by the sight of the colorful creatures, which are displayed in plastic bags on cluttered fences for up to three days.
“I just made some holiday snapshots, but when I returned home from my holiday, I couldn’t stop thinking about this market. Often, I thought of the idea of going back and making a documentary series about the market,” he said via email.
He finally had that chance this January when he stayed for 10 days in an apartment in Mong Kok. When he arrived at the market, however, he was surprised to discover that most of the shops sported “No photography” signs, and their camera-weary owners weren’t keen to make an exception for him.
“I had to do my best to win the shop owners’ trust, and sometimes I had to be a bit bold and just come back time after time after they sent me away. After the fourth day, people started to recognize me, and most of them no longer sent me away,” he said.
During his stay, van den Eijnden made wide shots of the rows of fish for sale. He also made a series of portraits of individual fish against a neutral background in a small popup studio tent, which emphasize the bold handwriting on the plastic bags indicating the price—as low as $1 and as high as $50—and species of the fish inside.
“The thing I really wanted but couldn’t do because of lack of time and the language barrier was to photograph the people at their homes with their fish tanks. Maybe I will go back somewhere in the future to photograph this subject,” he said.
Van den Eijnden’s series, “Hong Kong Goldfish Market,” is currently on display at The Fence at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
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