Hongkonger wins National Geographic world photo contest with Ocean Park snap

Hongkonger’s study of woman lost in digital world wins him US$10,000 from magazine

A Node Glows in the Dark was shot on a train ferrying visitors around Ocean Park. Photo: Brian Yen (Click to enlarge)

A Hong Kong stay-at-home dad has won US$10,000 after taking the top prize in an international photography contest with an image of a woman lit by the glow of her smartphone on a packed train at Ocean Park.

Brian Yen was at the marine park with his daughter when he decided to take the photo, which won National Geographic‘s grand prize in the “people” photography category.

His photo beat more than 9,200 entries from 150 countries.

Called A Node Glows in the Dark, Yen’s photo shows a woman looking at her phone, completely absorbed in her own world while surrounded by people on a four-minute train ride that takes visitors from the waterfront section of the park to the summit.

Yen, who has a physics degree, told National Geographic that the image was a juxtaposition of ideas.

“I feel a certain contradiction when I look at the picture. On the one hand, I feel the liberating gift of technology. On the other hand, I feel people don’t even try to be neighbourly any more, because they don’t have to.

“The picture is also a reflective one. I also feel a bit guilty, more and more, that I’m just like that lady in the middle of the train, lost in her own world.”

In the caption Yen wrote for the image, he said: “In the last 10 years, mobile data, smartphones and social networks have forever changed our existence. Although this woman stood at the centre of a jam-packed train, the warm glow from her phone told the strangers around her that she wasn’t really there.

“She managed to slip away from ‘here’ for a short moment; she’s a node flickering on the social web, roaming the earth, free as a butterfly. Our existence is no longer stuck to the physical here; we’re free to run away, and run we will.”

Yen said he almost always carries a compact camera with him and that most of his photos are taken at night, because he has to wait for his young daughter to go to bed.

He doesn’t have a particular genre that he likes to shoot and is open to all styles.

“Everything around us, every second of the day, is a fresh source for interpretation,” he told the magazine.

“So, if I’m in the woods, I may shoot some landscape; if I’m in a subway, I’ll shoot the people around me; if I’m in a stinky alley with a dying cockroach, heck, I’ll shoot that, too.”

Apart from the cash prize, Yen also won a trip to National Geographicheadquarters in Washington for a photography seminar next month.