Ward Roberts

The photographer Ward Roberts captures the patterns and colors of Hong Kong’s playgrounds.

In cities, outdoor basketball courts teem with people: groups challenging each other to games of pickup, lone players making their way around the perimeter, perfecting their shots.

The photographer Ward Roberts would wait on the sidelines for the games to clear, then set up his camera and capture the empty scene. Drawn to the city’s pastel hues, Roberts photographed mainly in Hong Kong, but also sought out courts in Melbourne, Bermuda, Hawaii, and New York, where he’s currently based.

Ward Roberts

Roberts spent his childhood in Hong Kong, and grew up playing basketball and tennis. When he returned to the city as an adult in 2007, Roberts intended to photograph Hong Kong’s parking lots; he told Dezeen that he had hoped to imitate the photographer Carsten Meier, who captured such spaces completely devoid of cars. But over the course of his two weeks in Hong Kong, Roberts stumbled across an empty basketball court. “I was just drawn to it,” he says. That intrigue led Roberts through the next four years, to the completion of his first series, Courts 01.

For a photographer “obsessed with color palettes,” Hong Kong is a dream landscape; there, shades of greens and blues and reds are woven into the architecture and the streetscape. “It’s interesting to see how color connects the whole city,” Roberts says. For his second series, Courts 02, he spent a full two months in Hong Kong, immersing himself in the layout of the city and photographing the courts he found through a combination of Google searches and serendipity.

Ward Roberts

Though Roberts’ work documents standardized spaces—basketball and tennis courts, after all, follow the design principles dictated by the sports—his images testify to the specificity of each playground, and how it fits into the landscape around it.

Roberts noticed that while the lower-income neighborhoods of Hong Kong were awash in colors, the wealthier, Westernized areas stuck to a more monochromatic palette. “My interpretation is that life in Hong Kong can be quite difficult,” Roberts says. “Adding a bit of color to these areas makes it a little less monotonous.”

Ward Roberts

In the urban landscape, basketball and tennis courts exist mainly as functional spaces: places that, without people making use of them, tend to be overlooked. Roberts’ work flips that narrative, and makes the case for the aesthetic value of playgrounds in and of themselves.

Ward Roberts
Ward Roberts
Ward Roberts

Courts 02 book, $40, at Editions Publishing.

H/t: Dezeen

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Environment

    A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day

    This year-long journey across the U.S. keeps you at consistent high temperatures.

  2. Transportation

    Why New York City Stopped Building Subways

    Nearly 80 years ago, a construction standstill derailed the subway’s progress, leading to its present crisis. This is the story, decade by decade.

  3. a photo of a NYC bus
    Transportation

    Why the Bus Got So Bad, and How to Save It

    TransitCenter’s Steven Higashide has created a how-to guide to help city leaders and public transportation advocates save struggling bus systems.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. a photo of bikes on a bridge in Amsterdam
    Transportation

    Street by Street, Amsterdam Is Cutting Cars Out of the Picture

    Armed with a street-design tool called the knip, the Dutch capital is slashing car access in the city center, and expanding public transit hours.

×