Foreign Affairs

The Kiwi covering history at Hong Kong’s protests

As the people of Hong Kong take to the streets in protest against Chinese interference in their politics, a Kiwi photographer has been on the front lines documenting the chaos.

Thousands of protesters clad in black, chanting as one against foreign interference amidst clouds of tear gas and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

The striking images have been plastered all over the world’s media, and for Kiwi photographer Louis Trerise it was a chance to cover generational change that he couldn’t pass up.

Trerise’s decision to cover the protests was a fairly casual one: heading from a job in Australia to the United States, he had an opportunity for a nine-day stopover in Asia and knew a friend in Hong Kong.

“I just saw Hong Kong with everything that was happening and lined it up - I didn’t know too much of what I was getting myself into.”

Hong Kong skyscrapers loom over protesters as they take to the streets. Photo: Louis Trerise

Arriving the day after masked men dressed in white (suspected members of the Hong Kong triads) assaulted commuters and protesters at the Yuen Long mass transit station, tensions were running high.

Trerise spoke to friends and locals to gather information on the protests, shared through a group chat used by Hong Kongers, before heading to his first march - a condemnation of those involved in the Yuen Long attack.

Paranoid about wearing his black helmet in case it made him a target of the triads, he bought a construction helmet and some goggles to mitigate the effects of tear gas.

“I won’t lie, I was pretty nervous man ... it was eerily silent on the train, even though it was jam-packed.

“The Hong Kongers are quite casual but you could tell that they were ready for something.”

Protesters use umbrellas and makeshift shields to protect themselves as they move in formation. Photo: Louis Trerise

Heading down an escalator onto the street, Trerise looked out the window and saw thousands of people marching on the streets.

Protesters with metal poles and homemade shields would smash them on any other metal they could find, creating “a huge feeling just scrambling through your body - it almost felt like going to war”.

Many held umbrellas, a symbol of the 2014 Hong Kong democracy protests, and used them as a rudimentary shield.

“They would move forward, say ‘hold’ in Cantonese then drop down and put their umbrellas up. It was incredible to see, they were moving like a military force.”

Tear gas rains down on protesters in Hong Kong. Photo: Louis Trerise

Of course, umbrellas do little against tear gas, and Trerise got his first taste when he was trying to cut across a street to line up a photo, only to be forced to the ground when everyone around him suddenly dropped.

He copped worse the next day, when police fired three rounds of tear gas at protesters a few metres away from him.

“I just got this huge whiff of it, and one part of you wants to stay and get this amazing shot, but you’re just getting destroyed by this gas.”

Retreating to the main street and heading up to an overbridge for aerial shots, Trerise realised he was in the firing line of police snipers with rubber bullets.

Hong Kong police prepare to fire rubber bullets towards protesters. Photo: Louis Trerise

While media covering the protests were not targeted, in tense moments “if you are being a bit silly and getting out in front of them, they won’t hesitate on firing tear gas exactly where you are”.

But the protesters had “absolute respect and care” for both each other and journalists, running in to help Trerise back to his feet when he stumbled fleeing tear gas.

The protesters were motivated by “the absolute fear of Hong Kong losing its rights and becoming more like mainland China”, and were prepared to risk their own livelihoods to defend their rights.

“As soon as the protests end, they all run around to a hiding spot and get changed and ditch their whole outfit, all the safety equipment, shields and black shirts and put on these normal clothes and get back to their normal day jobs.

“It is quite a touchy thing: lots of them know that they'll lose their jobs or could get arrested if they’re noticed.”

Hong Kong protesters are taking to the streets en masse, despite the personal risks that entails. Photo: Louis Trerise

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