Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Introducing the Chinese metropolis of Honkey Kong.
The Romans tried to imitate the sculpture of the Greeks; Christian Aslund is attempting to resurrect the aesthetic of 80's video games.
Aslund, a photographer in Sweden, has channeled the side-scrolling levels of Super Mario Bros. et al. in the most difficult way imaginable: by photographing real-life models from the top of Hong Kong skyscrapers. He calls the series: "Honkey Kong."
"We wanted to shoot it live on location in Hong Kong," he wrote in an email. "The feeling of the images being shot in the field is more authentic and very difficult to resample in the studio." So, after pitching the concept as a campaign for the shoe company Jim Rickey, he traveled to Hong Kong with a small production team.
Getting the shots proved more difficult than he had thought when visiting a local rooftop with a friend a few months earlier. To overcome the language barrier, the team hired a couple of Cantonese speakers. Finding and accessing rooftops was also a challenge. All scouting, location testing and shooting took place in just four days.
By using a telephoto lens from great heights, Aslund manages to flatten the scenes, strengthening the visual link to 2D games in an urban context that's more GTA than Donkey Kong. Instead of hiring models, he used crew members in the photos, with whom he communicated by walkie-talkie, helping them fine-tune their poses.
"It was possible to create the feeling of the model being the player's alter-ego, the character, and the actual image would be the player's perspective," he says. "We've all been up on a higher point looking down, but perhaps not thought of it in that way."
Speaking into his walkie-talkie, Aslund could also inform the models of the risks of oncoming traffic -- they were often lying in the middle of busy streets. And this was not, after all, a video game.
All images courtesy of Christian Aslund.