Blog, TC 2019

Urban Co-habitation in Disappearance: Street Cat Photography and Animal Advocacy in Hong Kong

Dr. Fiona Y. W. Law, Department of Comparative Literature, University of Hong Kong

In the age of digital photography, online social media has been devoted to sharing and circulating ‘cute’ images of the animals we encounter every day. Responding to this urban phenomenon, this talk addresses the relationship between visualization of street cats, aesthetic trends in animal representations, global consumerism, and urban renewal through examining various street cat photos taken in Hong Kong. While taking photos of street cats is often understood as a habit voyeuristic pleasure (like the cat version of moekbang, live streaming cats checking out food areas), many of these image also capture the difficult lives of street cats who struggle to survive in the concrete jungle (especially in times of tear-gazed neighbourhoods).
The talk also discussed how these images often juxtapose the fragmentary (omni)presence of these feline residents and ruin-like environment of the old districts, resulting in a photographic critique of both the city’s ignorance to animal welfare and a visual reminder of how the city itself has been undergoing mutations

While John Berger claims that the photographic medium evades the animals, this index of ideological power of knowledge may not be always exploitative. By exploring selected visual examples, this talk attempts to explore how the photographic representations of street cats have illuminated issues such as the emotional experience of the photographer and spectators in connection to animal advocacy, and the bonds and ties between visual cultures, animal welfare, urbanization, and collective nostalgia.

Furthermore she discussed and raised questions concerning the general relationship between humans and non-humans/animal species: Is seeing knowing? Are animals visualized, marginalized and eventually disappearing? Quoting John Berger “The more we know, the further away they are”, she asks whether the more we see, the more they disappear? Animal representation (in literature, film and cartoons) and presentation (in zoos, domestic and urban settings) is ubiquitous. Children grow up surrounded by animal imagery such as toys and cartoons. In order to understand alien/other species, we give them human features and personalities: anthropomorphism. But at the same time, by giving them human traits, is the animal species not misrepresented and misconcepted? Does anthropomorphism go hand in hand with anthropocentrism and speciesism?