ST photojournalists tell how they captured chaotic scenes of Hong Kong protests

The Straits Times photojournalists Lim Yaohui (left) and Chong Jun Liang at a talk titled The Hong Kong Protest In Pictures, held as part of ST's Through The Lens photo exhibition.
The Straits Times photojournalists Lim Yaohui (left) and Chong Jun Liang at a talk titled The Hong Kong Protest In Pictures, held as part of ST's Through The Lens photo exhibition.ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN
The Straits Times photojournalists Chong Jun Liang (left) and Lim Yaohui at a talk titled The Hong Kong Protest In Pictures, held as part of ST's Through The Lens photo exhibition.
The Straits Times photojournalists Chong Jun Liang (left) and Lim Yaohui at a talk titled The Hong Kong Protest In Pictures, held as part of ST's Through The Lens photo exhibition.ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

SINGAPORE - One day. That was how long Straits Times photojournalist Lim Yaohui had to ready himself when he was tasked to fly to Hong Kong to cover the protests in June.

With whatever time he had, Mr Lim, 37, searched for information on the growing unrest through Facebook groups and news outlets.

Even armed with basic information, he was still shocked by what he saw when he arrived.

Total chaos was what greeted him at the protests, which are the result of a proposed extradition law, recalled Mr Lim.

He was speaking to an audience of more than 150 people at a talk titled The Hong Kong Protest In Pictures.

"At Victoria Park, I knew I had to find a high vantage point to show the protesters. What I saw gave me goosebumps," he said of the sight of thousands of protesters marching along a road outside Victoria Park.

"The photo made the front pages the next day."

Mr Lim and fellow ST photographer Chong Jun Liang, 38, shared their experience and challenges documenting the Hong Kong protests during the talk held at the National Museum of Singapore on Saturday (Oct 26).

 
 

The talk is part of a photo exhibition organised by The Straits Times called Through The Lens.

Mr Lim has been a photojournalist for more than seven years, and Mr Chong for 12 years.

In Hong Kong, being tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed and even accidentally beaten up by the police was all in a day's work for the photojournalists.

While navigating the hazards of the protests, they still had to make sure they captured the powerful images of the scenes unfolding before them.

Often, they had to climb barricades, railings and even roof-tops just to get the perfect shot.

During his 17 days documenting the demonstrations in June and July, Mr Lim recalled how protesters broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1.


A protester smashing a glass panel of the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019, the anniversary of the city’s handover to Chinese rule. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI


Members of the media outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

 

"The protests were starting to intensify," he said. "Inside the building, it was total chaos. There were so many things to shoot, so I had to stay calm and see what photos to take."

He added that the protesters vandalised the wall, tore TV screens out and smashed other video screens with metal poles.

On July 6, Mr Chong took over from Mr Lim and spent about seven weeks in Hong Kong between July and October.

By then, Mr Chong had to wear a full-face gas mask and helmet at protests to protect himself against acts of violence from both protesters and the police.

He said that protesters trampled on Chinese flags and started fires in front of shops and in streets.


A protester sets fire to paper offerings at the exit of Causeway Bay MTR station in Hong Kong on Oct 1, to “mourn” China’s 70th National Day. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG


Hong Kong police fire in Yuen Long on Sept 21, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

 

Hong Kong police firing tear gas to disperse protesters was an everyday occurrence, he added.

One of his most shocking moments was when he was pepper-sprayed in the face at close range by riot police outside Mong Kok Police station in late September.

He and other journalists had just documented a protest when riot police fired the spray indiscriminately.

Passers-by and journalists, including Mr Chong, who had just taken off his protective mask, were hit by the spray.

"I felt like my eyeballs were burning. I thought I was going to go blind," he said. "Thankfully a medical team helped me out."

 
 

Pictures taken of the Hong Kong protests by both photojournalists can be viewed at the Through The Lens exhibition, which features the works of Singapore and international photojournalists over the past two years.

The free exhibition ends on Sunday and also includes the World Press Photo Exhibition, which features 157 prize-winning entries from around the world submitted to the non-profit organisation's annual competition.