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.
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.
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.”
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.
Courts 02 book, $40, at Editions Publishing.