For as long as he can remember, when Romain Jacquet-Lagreze has found himself walking in the forest, he’s always had the inclination to look up, searching for patches of sky poking through the foliage above. So when the French artist moved to Hong Kong a few years back, he was surprised by something he quickly noticed: the urban landscape provoked much the same urge.
“When I arrived, I had this same feeling of being surrounded, like I was walking through another kind of forest,” he recalls. “So naturally I started to look up and saw the buildings from another angle. I found it interesting so I started to shoot a few photos like this. Then little by little I grew fonder of it and I decided to work more seriously on an extensive series to cover most of the district in Hong Kong.”
The resulting photographs, collected in the book Vertical Horizon, give us an interesting new perspective on the urban experience, especially as it exists in one of the densest and most vertically oriented cities in the world. In some cases, the images become powerful studies of form, with the buildings overhead slicing clean shapes into the sky. In others, they read as architectural portraits–low-angle documents of giants wrought in steel and glass. And sometimes, when the more mundane trappings of daily life creep into the frame, the snapshots can be enjoyed simply as a unique brand of travel photography.
For Jacquet-Lagreze, though, collecting the shots was a continual reminder that the city wasn’t just a grid of streets to navigate but an immersive ecosystem, bustling in three dimensions. “Hong Kong is not a 2-D place that follows the flatness of a map,” he writes, describing the project, “but instead a volumetric place, where elevators leading us to restaurants, shops, home or our working place should deserve their own street names.”
It sounds like an obvious thing–the simple notion that there’s more to see by looking up–but the fact that Jacquet-Lagreze’s photos are so striking in the first place is some sort of proof that we keep our gazes fixed straight ahead far too often. Which is a shame. Think about all the action you’d miss in nature if you never looked anywhere besides the forest floor.