Jonathan Michael Castillo

Jonathan Castillo is a photographer and visual artist based in Chicago working in the Midwest, Westcoast and in South China. His work focuses on people, place, cultural behavior & societal issues. Recent projects include work about immigrant owned small businesses in Chicago and a project about Chungking Mansions, a highly diverse immigrant community situated within one building in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula. Jonathan’s work has been featured with Wired, CBS: Los Angeles, Resource Magazine, Petapixel, and G1 Globo. He has appeared on the radio to discuss his photography with BBC’s Dan Damon on “World Update”, and local Los Angeles NPR programs; “Take Two” KPCC with Tess Vigeland and “Which Way, LA?” KCRW with Warren Olney. Jonathan is a regular guest lecturer at institutions with photography programs and was a featured speaker at ASMP LA’s 10X10X10 event. Awards and honors include the Stuart Abelson Graduate Research Fellowship, the Albert P. Weisman Award, a graduate assistantship at Columbia College Chicago, the Fine Arts Affiliates Scholarship in the Arts from CSULB, the Jim Sebek and Frank Sardisco Memorial Scholarships from Moorpark College. His education includes a BFA from California State University Long Beach and MFA from Columbia College Chicago. (May 2019)

Chungking Mansions: A world unto itself

When I first arrived at Chungking Mansions I had no idea what to expect. Like many people, I was looking for the cheapest room I could find for a couple nights stay in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a city that is famous for its wealth inequality and record-high cost of living that outpaces any American city. I found much more than affordable accommodations at Chungking Mansions.

As I would return over time I began to discover that Chungking Mansions was more than a building. Chungking Mansions has a rich cultural history that features prominently in the city’s collective memory. The building is often described by local Hong Kongers as dangerous, or a place one should remain on their guard. These descriptions I’ve found stem from portrayals in TV and cinema and are propagated by people who often have never set foot inside the building. In reality, this building houses a variety of cultures, people from all across the world, and is safer than many of the places I have lived in the US.

If you read stories and articles about Chungking Mansions it often runs towards the sensational. The focus is often on the dilapidated condition of the building, the perceived danger of its inhabitants and the frenetic nature of the place.

When I decided to make these photos I envisioned a series of portraits that would speak to the diverse and rich community that I value in Chungking Mansions. The portraits focus on the individuals who make up the community: those who own businesses, those who work in those businesses, and finally those who live and gather there. This includes shop owners, guest house workers, restaurant staff, money changers, building management, asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless people. There are millionaires who live or work in Chungking Mansions and there are people who subsist on meager government allowances due to their immigration status, as well as many others whose status falls between those societal extremes.

Without all of these voices, there would be no Chungking Mansions.

Jonathan’s most recent project Chungking Mansions: A world unto itself, is on view in Chicago until April 26th at 618 South Michigan at The Arcade Gallery on the second floor and is viewable Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. Gallery walkthroughs for classes or groups are possible with special arrangements (schedules and building hours permitting). More information can be found here.

To view more of Jonathan Michael Castillo’s work please visit his website.