2020年欧洲杯赛程

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Date
27 January 2020
Reading Time
7 minute read
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“I wasn’t prepared”: Thaddé Comar documents the Hong Kong protests

Having spent years photographing the Black Bloc movement in Paris, Thaddé won a grant to continue the project, leading him to the febrile streets of Hong Kong.

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Date
27 January 2020
Reading Time
7 minute read

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On 9 June 2019, more than a million residents of Hong Kong – nearly one-seventh of the population – took to the humid streets, peacefully demonstrating against a proposed bill in favour of extraditing Hong Kong inmates to mainland China. Over eight months later (and counting), the protests continue and there have been multiple violent clashes between police and protesters. Having achieved the abolition of the proposed extradition law, the people’s aims have since grown more ambitious with regard to political reform and police accountability. Amidst thousands of rounds of tear gas, countless blows of the baton, an anti-mask law and several deaths, there is still no sign of surrender from the demonstrators, whose unyielding pro-democracy spirit has been reported on worldwide.

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Thaddé Comar: Smart Eyes from How was your dream?

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Thaddé Comar: Smart Eyes from How was your dream?

In less than a year, as onlookers followed the jolting handheld footage now synonymous with the protest movement, the world turned to Hong Kong for a conversation around what it means to be a pro-democracy nation today. As tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China increased, and summer rolled into autumn, the DIY tactics of the protesters developed. The Hong Kong movement began to pique the interest of active protesters from other corners of the world, who were familiar with some of these strategies of organised protest. This was certainly the case for Thaddé Comar, who saw scenes broadcast to the world that were curiously reminiscent of his own city: Paris.

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Thaddé Comar: How was your dream?

“You might know this,” Thaddé says in a characteristically French timbre over the phone. “Protesting is a big thing in Paris.” As a child, the recurring protests for which the French capital has become notorious scared young Thaddé. With time, however, he came to understand it as an elemental part of the Parisian expression. When he later developed an interest in photography, he used the medium as a vehicle to explore the rich activist history of his birth city.

Over the past four years, while Thaddé was studying for a degree in photography at the prestigious Swiss arts university Écal, his friends back in Paris became involved in the Black Bloc – a left, anarchist social movement recognisable for its all-black and face-concealing garments, adorned to protect the protesters’ anonymity. Unable to join them while in Lausanne, Thaddé became increasingly interested in the group and its values, and joined the movement in his own way – by photographing it.

GalleryThaddé Comar: How was your dream?

GalleryThaddé Comar: How was your dream?

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Laser Guns: At a police press conference, the protesters’ lasers were described as “laser guns”. Since then, the term has been used with irony.

“I agree with them on some points and that’s why I tried to work with them and explore this fascinating subject area, although it’s also a bit scary,” says Thaddé. “But I think it is what makes photography exciting, this relationship with violence and how you can photograph it.” Instead of adopting the stance of the photojournalist or reporter, Thaddé’s approach is artistic. That isn’t to say that he glamorises his subjects through a stylish, easy-on-the-eye aesthetic; instead, he seeks out “a new visual language,” seeking out subjects and photographing them in a way which “allows viewers to understand the situation in a different way.”

2020年欧洲杯赛程In Paris, Thaddé achieved this through his insider knowledge of the Black Bloc. In comparison to places like Hong Kong, where the presence of the camera is a welcome asset of evidentiary support, in Paris, Thaddé experienced the opposite. “The relationship between photographers and protesters in Paris is very different,” he says. “They don’t want to be photographed. You have to know them, you have to be accepted. If you are not, you might get your camera broken, or if you are photographing faces, you become a problem.” With the trust of his friends, who granted Thaddé unlimited access to the Black Bloc, after graduating, he moved back to Paris and started working as a freelance photographer. Three years later, Thaddé won a grant from Pro Helvetia to continue his protest photography, allowing him to embark on a new adventure, leading him to Hong Kong.

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2020年欧洲杯赛程Thaddé Comar: How was your dream?, Blossom Everywhere: A motto used to invite protesters to attempt actions anywhere in the city.

2020年欧洲杯赛程Once in Hong Kong, Thaddé felt overwhelmed by the towering hubbub of Hong Kong’s dense cityscape. What he had only seen on screen or through social media had suddenly blown up to reality and he found that the protests were only “a very tiny window” into what was happening there. From Thaddé’s perspective, “daily life [was] very different to what you’ve seen on screen,” but nearly everywhere he went, he experienced the evidence of an island turned upside-down in the fight for political reform. Protest anthems played out from restaurants, marked buildings were everywhere, and vandalised subway stations all hinted to the deepening effects the protests were having on everyday life.

From June to October 2019, adopting methods of formal documentary photography, Thaddé created a portrait of the Hong Kong protests with the intention that “the viewer would be able to form a picture in their mind and an opinion of their own.” Though he has his own ideas about China and its involvement with Hong Kong, overall, Thaddé tried to maintain a neutral point of view throughout. He wanted to avoid being too militant with his perspective, but over time, as he took part in more and more protests, he couldn’t help but be swayed by the events at hand and the stories he heard. “I saw the violence of the police, I saw the Triad’s people, I heard about people committing suicide in the Hong Kong bay, so my political ideas went through all this information and in the end, I was praying for the protesters and wishing them the best,” he says.

GalleryThaddé Comar: How was your dream?

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Black Police: A term used by demonstrators alluding to the suspected collusion between the police and the Triads (also called black society).

2020年欧洲杯赛程Often, he discussed the similarities and differences between Paris’ protests and Hong Kong’s. “I had a lot of people telling me, ‘I’ve been watching the videos of what’s happened in France and we’re trying to use the same techniques.’ But there was also a lot of small talk, we weren’t always talking about the protests.” It was important to keep talking about other things in life – family, friends and so on – so those heavily involved could be reminded of the life that lies beyond 12-hour working days followed by an all-consuming protest.

2020年欧洲杯赛程“The first time I entered a big riot, I wasn’t prepared,” says Thaddé. “I had just arrived a few days before. It was crazy. So many people geared up, lasers everywhere, tear gas everywhere, it’s really, really crazy.” Despite the overwhelming situation, surrounded by haze and anxiety, emotionally, Thaddé explains, “I felt very, very strong, to be with them in that kind of situation.” Recalling the sense of solidarity embroiled within the crowd, he adds: “The more I went to protest, the more I became connected to the protesters.”

2020年欧洲杯赛程He thinks back to 28 September – at 2 PM to be precise. It was a Sunday, the established day of protesting for Hong Kong’s citizens and what soon followed became a pivotal moment in the bitter battle for political reform. The Chinese government was celebrating 70 years of Communist Party rule and it became the first time a policeman shot a protester with a live round. At two in the afternoon, Thaddé joined the protest at Causeway Bay, a “classic route” he had completed several times previously during his stay.

2020年欧洲杯赛程“Rumours say that police want to arrest a large number of demonstrators in view of it being the first of October,” he says, remembering that day, “and I have the feeling that we are in a more tense period than in previous weeks.” As the long procession stretched far into the distance, Thaddé found a place somewhere in the middle of the march. Around Admiralty – the eastern extension of Hong Kong island’s business district – he saw human chains starting to form towards the fore, feeding the front line with makeshift tools. They passed down umbrellas, which were quickly opened to act as shields, then masks for the tear gas, then helmets and medicine.

GalleryThaddé Comar: How was your dream?

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The Dream

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Teargas City: A term used by protesters since the beginning of the movement to refer to Hong Kong

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The Dream

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Teargas City: A term used by protesters since the beginning of the movement to refer to Hong Kong

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Teargas City: A term used by protesters since the beginning of the movement to refer to Hong Kong

“At the same time, injured individuals are being repatriated to the centre of the demonstration, which means the clashes have begun,” says Thaddé. “I finally join the frontline on an extremely wide two-lane avenue. There, I witness one of the most violent police charges of my stay. The Raptors [riot police] catch the protesters by surprise in a sea of tear gas.” By the time he managed to put his mask on, he realised that dozens of people were lying on the ground around him. He saw one demonstrator, pictured below in the dense smog, lying unconscious and mask-less just a few metres away.

Later that day, Thaddé chose a protest to attend at random. With dozens of demonstrations taking place on that significant day, he made his way to Wong Tai Sin, the only fully landlocked district in Hong Kong. “I have never seen so many Molotov cocktails,” says Thaddé, who recalls watching a procession of people readying to take a huge mall in the Kowloon area. “The tension is palpable, I can feel that the demonstrators want to mark the day,” he goes on. He noticed that the media presence was low, which generally isn’t a good sign for the demonstrators, who are often protected by the presence of cameras.

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Thaddé Comar: How was your dream?, Freedom Cunts: An insult first used in June by the police against protesters, and caught on camera. Since then, many Hong Kongers have reclaimed the insult as a badge of honour.

Tear-gas canisters rained through the sky, travelling up to 100 metres through the torrent of people and blinding unshielded eyes in their wake, as the protest was met with teams of riot police at the mouth of the action. From the sides, brigades of Raptors emerged from parked buses lining one side of the road and the heavily padded units charged into the crowd.

2020年欧洲杯赛程It is during one of these charges that Thaddé snapped the arrest of three young women, thrust on top of each other, one woman’s snorkelling goggles and another’s blue surgical face mask nearly touching as they are forced down. Hands pinned behind their backs, the Raptors attempt to detain them. Amidst the pinstriped straps of velcro, the tightened chest pieces and flashes of dark hair, somewhere within it all, a beam of sunlight pours through the centre of the image. Compositionally, it seems like a perfectly biblical moment, but instead of something angelic, it highlights a terrified young woman’s face. Thaddé says, recalling this moment, “I’ve never witnessed events of such importance.”

GalleryThaddé Comar: How was your dream?

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2020年欧洲杯赛程The Water Dance

GalleryThaddé Comar: How was your dream?

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2020年欧洲杯赛程The Water Dance

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2020年欧洲杯赛程The Water Dance

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Thaddé Comar: How was your dream?

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2020年欧洲杯赛程Thaddé Comar: How was your dream?, It's Raining: The tactic of hiding individuals behind an umbrella shell allowing demonstrators to preserve their anonymity during radical actions.

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

2020年欧洲杯赛程Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.

jo@pag-ipg.com

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