Forget New York, Asia actually never sleeps and is best viewed at night. And after the sun sets, Hong Kong-based photographer Derry Ainsworth heads off, armed and loaded with his camera, roaming the streets and capturing the futuristic aesthetic illuminated by the neon nightscapes of Asia’s vertical cities.
His story echoes that of many expats that find themselves in Asia for the long run: six years ago, Derry booked a one-way ticket from the UK to Asia hoping to turn his life upside down. What he found was something that he’d never seen back home — architecture, culture and new scenery. And considering he arrived without much more than a camera, it really worked out for him.
Though the first stop was Tokyo, he soon set his sights on Hong Kong and after he arrived, he spent 111 days living in a youth hostel. 98 applications later, he landed a job in architecture and it was through this role that his eye for angles and perspectives developed. Meanwhile, he was low key teaching himself photography, which he was melding together with his aforementioned eye. He eventually threw himself into photography full time, and down the rabbit hole he went (really, he slingshotted himself down that proverbial rabbit hole). He taught himself every field of photography he could (which was at least partially driven by his desire to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world) and created fantastical images that capture the emotions, aesthetics, mood and electricity of some the world’s most iconic cities, people and cultures. The output of that you’ll find in the gallery above.
Being that you’re from the UK, what about Asia has kept you here and feeds your inspiration when it comes to photography?
"I love the vibrancy of places in Asia, countries here are all visually very unique and have a lot of rich cultures. The architecture and the streets here feel very different to me than in the UK. It’s these interesting differences that keep me drawn to capturing thee places on my camera."
Your background in architecture runs strong through your photos. What cities in Asia excited you the most when you look at them through a design lens?
"I’ve always been drawn to cityscapes and architecture I guess due to my studies. For me my first stop in Asia was Tokyo and I still find it one of the most interesting places that I’ve shot. The look and feel of every street were completely different from anything I’ve ever seen — very clean and vibrant. The buildings and city had a good balance of chaos and organisation. However, still, my number one favourite place to shoot is Hong Kong. It is truly an amazing place to photograph, it's a modern dense city with skyscrapers and an amazing skyline, but it has also got a raw underbelly of authentic Hong Kong streets budding with real Hong Kong life, history and culture. From an architecture perspective, it has a huge variety of things to keep you interested.”
I understand your work is spread out over multiple fields, disciplines and styles, but it’s your after-dark photos that are the real showstoppers when it comes to depicting what life is like in Asia after the sun sets. What is the relationship between Asia and after dark?
"I love shooting night scenes in Asia, and after dark is when the streets really come alive. The colours you get from neon signs, the street food vendors, the glow of building lights and the scenes in little alleyways. Cities in Asia never seem to sleep and I find it fascinating to see what goes on in the streets at night."
When you travel to a new city or place, what elements do you look for to capture culture?
"When I travel to a new place I try to shoot a variety of different types of shot. I’m usually drawn to things that I haven’t seen before, and follow a natural sense of curiosity. In particular, I like seeing the raw reality of people lives in places, I like seeing the streets and what happens within them both day and night. So it means taking long walks through neighbourhoods and little adventures to places, camera in hand, waiting for those eye-catching moments to unfold. Every place in Asia feels like it has its own unique visual identity shown in things like the colours of buildings, the historical architecture, the food, the transport, the activities that people do, the things they wear. Maybe the best advice I can give is to shoot what you personally find interesting about a place, but do it in your own way. Having that motivation to capture something you are genuinely interested in will allow you to develop your eye for a place and its culture over time."
Going deeper than standard event photography, how does you work in particular intersect with music and nightlife culture?
I also do a lot of nightlife photography too, where I like to bring in some of my street photography styles into my shots — I feel like capturing low light images of people dancing, candid moments of people lost in the moment, hold similarities to capturing people and shadows in the night of the city. I love capturing real moments, whether it's the scenery of a city, or the people and events within them, capturing a specific moment in time in one frame allows you to visually tell a story of a time or place."