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Photographer showcases striking images of East and West

By Cecily Liu in London  (Xinhua)

15:49, October 20, 2012

Mike Tsang is curious about his identity. As a London-born second-generation Mauritian and third-generation Chinese, the mix of cultures in his upbringing has prompted him to search for his roots.

This curiosity has inspired the 30-year-old photographer to showcase an exhibition entitled "Between East and West" in London next month, documenting the stories of 15 British-born Chinese and their families' lives in the United Kingdom.

Combining photographic portraits, interview excerpts and archived images, the exhibition is a striking portrayal of Britain's Chinese community, which traditionally has had a modest profile in the country.

Tsang took 18 months to complete the project after receiving financial support from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. He found his first interviewees through personal connections, but as word about the project spread, many people volunteered to be participants.

"The challenge then was to make sure I interviewed people who were not immediately visible," said Tsang, adding that he wanted to steer clear of public figures with media exposure.

His efforts were rewarded, and he managed to draw interviewees from a range of occupations – an actor, policeman, medical shop owner, music producer and artist, to name a few. Like Tsang, many of them also had families that lived elsewhere before moving to Britain.

The stories drive home the message that the 650,000 people who make up the UK's British-Chinese community are diverse individuals with their own personalities, thoughts and ambitions.

Tsang says he hopes to promote this diversity. "Most people in Britain have what I would consider a limited understanding of what the Chinese diaspora is.

"We are not just from China, but can also be from Malaysia, Singapore and other places. We are still Chinese, but British as well," he said.

Tsang said that working on the project has helped him to better understand his own identity, and that of his Mauritian-born parents. "I think it has helped me to connect with my parents more. My parents think they are Chinese, absolutely! But I find that quite interesting, because they've never been to China.

"So one of the interesting things I've learnt about my own family is that cultural values have been passed down."

Like many second- and third-generation British-born Chinese children, Tsang's upbringing made him value academic achievement. After completing a mathematics degree from the University of Warwick, he worked in professional services for five years, before deciding to become a photographer.

He has completed several projects, photographing people as diverse as CEOs of hedge funds to actors and dancers for their promotional headshots, before starting his project on the British-Chinese community, which he says is important to him from a personal and professional standpoint.

"Between East and West" will be staged from Nov 6-16 at SW1 Gallery in Victoria, London.
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