RICHARD MARK DOBSON
The Red Corporation
FR: What inspired The Red Corporation? How did you get the idea for this project?
 
RMD: I have lived on and off now in Hong Kong since 1989. I watched the lead up to and witnessed the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997. There were, and still are big questions and concerns about how mainland China will attempt to ‘influence’ the political landscape (one country two systems), stymie press freedoms and intimidate and quite often snatch and whisk people away who are deemed a thorn in China’s side. Chinese efforts to reach beyond the mainland to silence the country’s critics or their enablers, no matter where they are or what form that criticism takes is becoming widespread. People simply disappear.
 
I started to read about the workings of the Chinese secret service, the Ministry of State Security, and buzzwords that were coined to describe how they operated fired my imagination. Words for Chinese intelligence-gathering methods like “human-wave” or “mosaic” collection. They really piqued my interest. Also newspaper headlines in the South China Morning Post helped me get in the mood. ‘H.K. still active as spy hub of the east’, and ‘Arrest of ex-CIA agent fuels Hong Kong’s reputation as spy hot bed’.
 
FR: Can you talk a bit about your approach to creating The Red Corporation, photographically speaking? What kind of images were you looking for?
 
RMD: It’s important I mention ‘fired my imagination’, because The Red Corporation like another Hong Kong series I created called Neonopolis, fall into what I call my ‘quasi-fictional’ narratives. The ‘figment’ series. Projects that arise out of figments of my imagination. I simply let my imagination run wild and take to the streets. I slot these works into a link on my website called ‘quasi fiction’. The definition of quasi-fiction is a fictional story, written within the context of historical fact. So for example, Horatio Hornblower is a fictional Napoleonic Wars-era Royal Navy officer. The battle of Waterloo he finds himself in, is a historical fact. My interpretation of quasi-fiction within the context of The Red Corporation, is that I am creating a fictional narrative or espionage vibe from the streets of Hong Kong. The streets are the fact.
 
Now it’s important that I expand on the word ‘vibe’. Whether it sound cheesy or not I have decided to make ‘vibe’ a part of my artist statement. It goes something like this; ‘I call myself a ‘vibe’ photographer simply because I don’t attempt to cloak my projects in any sort of intellectual pretense. I don’t consider myself an intellectual so I don’t try intellectualize. I merely attempt to develop a ‘vibe’ or vibration or resonance that appeals to peoples emotions. I forge this resonance from the street. The ‘vibe’ is the narrative. Each project has it’s own unique tone, hue, mood, texture and vibe!
 
It might take some time before I begin to see the nuances of place = style = image = vibe. I like to let what I’m seeing and feeling decide the visual narrative/style of the pictures. Actually what  I find fascinating is that it feels almost as if my camera dictates to me how this is going to emerge stylistically. Yes the ‘look’ almost has a life of its own. I don’t ‘try’ to force anything. And I don’t mean the story! Because as mentioned, a lot of what I do today is less about story and more about vibe. The vibe is the story, the narrative is the vibe. The construct of the picture and how I frame eventually becomes central to the way the series emerges photographically speaking.

Somehow the cameras finds the frame and vibe for me. At least it seems that way to me. I find that a fascinating process. Hence my love for street photography.
 
FR: Did you have any specific references or sources of inspiration in mind while working on The Red Corporation?

RMD: I’ve always loved spy books and films. The Bond series as a kid. And stories by the great Graham Greene, The Third Man, Our Man in Havanna, and of course the real life spy John Le Carre.

FR: How do you hope viewers react to The Red Corporation, ideally?
 
RMD: Possibly we all have a minds eye view of the espionage world. Certainly I do. I guess before I talk any further I would simply say that I want the viewers to feel a vibe I create within the imagery, a vibe that smacks of ambiguity and mystery. If I have achieved that, then I think I have achieved what I set out to do. I mean that’s all I can do, because it’s highly unlikely I will ever be able to probe or penetrate the clandestine world of MI5 or the CIA for example. Artists such as Trevor Paglen are trying. But even someone of Paglen’s immense talent and insight, a lot of what he does is based on inference. Nope in my humble capacity all I can do is forge fantasies from the street.

I have repeatedly watched the youtube video compiled by the Dubai police of the Mossad operation in Dubai to assassinate the Hamas leader, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh. It’s fascinating simply because for the first time ever, an entire operation conducted by a highly secretive intelligence agency, the dreaded Mossad, was video recorded in great detail from start to finish. We get to see all the key players in the hit, how they looked, how they went about their craft. Without prior knowledge, if you stopped the footage at any juncture, you would have no idea from looking at the scene what was happening and who these people where. Such is the clandestine world. We don’t get to see it, even though we are surround by it. Yes that person on the bus beside me could be a spy, sleeper agent. We just don’t know. I find that rather fascinating.

There probably is a much greater intellectual way to explain why I do find this interesting, and what my work is ultimately about, but I haven’t the foggiest on how to explain, other than I go out and look, and let the street and the magic of place, light and subject create these ‘spycraft’ moments. As from a legal perspective, insinuating that a member of the public is a spook, I haven’t yet thought about the ramifications. Probably best I don’t. I keep the corresponding captions extremely vague to deflect any possible litigation. I know there are stringent privacy laws in place, certainly in Europe hobbling street photographer. Possibly the simplest explanation would be, I am a travel photographer, I go to Hong Kong and instead of photographing tourist attractions and other cliches I have some fun with some existential ideas. I am becoming increasingly interested in forging worlds out of worlds. Worlds of my imagination.
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