Photograph by Laurel Chor, National Geographic
Photograph by Laurel Chor, National Geographic
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How do you show a place that is losing its freedom?

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

It’s surreal to feel the sting of tear gas at a protest and later go to a gym on the same block. Photographer Laurel Chor lives the strange incongruity of democracy-loving Hong Kong’s slide toward authoritarianism. But she is far from blasé.

“What does it mean for a city to die? How do you mourn the loss of a place in which you are still living?” Laurel writes. And how do you make images that get at these questions?

For Nat Geo, she has tried to show, not tell. In her photo above, a woman lights a candle at a makeshift memorial commemorating the death of a pro-democracy protester. One light box reads: “RIP rule of law.”

How do you just watch authoritarian China end the guarantee of democracy until 2047, shaving 27 years off a city’s freedom? How do you live with Beijing discouraging the vital, slangy, irreverent native Cantonese in favor of Mandarin, the primary language of a nation eroding Tibetan culture and jailing a million members of its Muslim minority in its northwest?

The hardest part of the change, Laurel writes, is that residents don’t want to flee. They really love crowded Hong Kong and the green hills above it. Please take a look at these images below—and here's Laurel’s full story.

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Freedom: Above, a woman and a man tear up while singing “Glory to Hong Kong,” the protest movement’s anthem, at an event commemorating one year of pro-democracy protests.

Expression: At left, the remnants of posters can still be seen on this former “Lennon Wall”—where thousands of pro-democracy messages once blossomed in a giant show of spontaneous free expression. At right, graffiti of umbrellas—a symbol of pro-democracy movement—are still visible despite attempts to clean them up.

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Show of force: Police walk through the YoHo Mall on July 21, the first anniversary of an attack on subway passengers and protesters by masked men. Last year, the police did not appear at the scene for 39 minutes.

Healing? Laurel says Hong Kong residents “lament the disappearance of ‘dai pai dongs’ (street food stalls), ‘si do’ (mom-and-pop stores), and neon signs.” At left, Au Kit-chun poses at the “si do” where she has worked for 31 years after immigrating from the mainland. Having lived through China’s deadly Cultural Revolution, she says she is “more cautious of what I say now. … You don't know if the people around you are your friends or a snitch.” At right, Bryan Ng feels most connected to the city in the relatively sedate section of Sai Kung, where he owns a water sports club. “When I am out at sea, it is the place with the least conflict … the sea has the power to heal."

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Today in a minute

Best wildlife photos: The first batch of images is out from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 awards—and they include possums, primates and endangered habitats. The photos are among 68 images selected by judges for an exhibition opening October 16 in London, CNN reports.

Hunger—and the fear of hunger: Nearly one in eight American families don’t have enough to eat, and photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally crossed the nation to show the crippling effects of food security. In her essay for the New York Times, Kenneally shows families pooling funds for a joint meal—and depending on free school lunches to get their kids at least one good meal.

What do people do on their smartphones? That’s what photographer Jeff Mermelstein wanted to know. For two and a half years, he focused not on people’s faces, but on the mini-dramas going on in their texts. These snapshots of stories became a book, #nyc,. The images, Mermelstein admits, that were taken without people’s knowledge. (He says they were taken in public places). New Yorker writer Naomi Fry writes that she “became enmeshed in the texts,” but also nostalgic—of a time when it wasn’t a crime to sit less than six feet away from someone.

Your Instagram of the day

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Who wants ice cream? Here’s photographer Kris Graves’s images of Mister Softee on a hot night in the Queens neighborhood of Astoria Park. Graves was raised around Queens and returned after graduating from college in 2004. “Most of my work has focused on the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in western Queens, which lies one stop from Manhattan on every subway line and is growing twice as fast as any other neighborhood within New York City,” Graves says.

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The big takeaway

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Sharing the work: How do we find animal stories we can’t usually get to? Let animals help out, with a strap-on camera. Above, a camera-wearing penguin approaches an ice hole in Antarctica. The equipment gathers environmental data and helps scientists study the impact of climate change on the penguins’ world.

Subscriber exclusive: Strapping in to see a hidden animal world

In a few words

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On Mondays, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.

The last glimpse

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True love: “I became a mahout because I needed work, but now I have a true love for my elephants,” says Duve Nahore, who bathes the animals in an elephant park in Thailand. Photographer William Albert Allard documented the sanctuary’s elephant caretakers for a 2005 Nat Geo story.

What attracted our senior photo archivist, Sara Manco, to this image? “I love the tranquility on the man’s face as he is surrounded by the bathing creatures. Many of these elephants were once part of the tourism or logging trade and abused as they were put to work.” Manco notes the photo is 15 years old, but adds that Nat Geo has kept an eye on wildlife tourism practices to this day—including the abuse and exploitation of animals.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!