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12 photos of Hong Kong's cemeteries that show how the city is running out of space for its dead

Micaela Garber , Business Insider US
 Sep 29, 2019, 12:28 PM
Steep, hillside graveyards house the remains of thousands of Hong Kong residents.
Finbarr Fallon
  • Singapore-based photographer Finbarr Fallon spent five years photographing Hong Kong's vertical cemeteries.
  • His photo series, titled "Dead Space," highlights just how complicated dying in such a crowded city can be.
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Architectural photographer Finbarr Fallon captured images of Hong Kong's expansive, mountainside cemeteries for a series titled "Dead Space."

Over the course of five years, Fallon visited nearly every graveyard in Hong Kong and realized how complicated, and expensive, dying can be in a city that lacks space.

Keep scrolling to see his striking photos and learn the inspiration behind them.

Photographer Finbarr Fallon spent five years capturing Hong Kong's expansive hillside cemeteries, which are home to thousands of remains.

Finbarr Fallon

The 27-year-old professional, who moved to Singapore from the UK three years ago, found himself exploring different graveyards each time he visited Hong Kong over the span of five years.

As an architectural photographer, Fallon told Insider that he is fascinated "by the way cities are reshaping themselves given the issues of rapid urban growth and land scarcity."

The inspiration for his photo series, "Dead Spaces," came after Fallon encountered a monumental cemetery during a hike in the Chai Wan district.

Finbarr Fallon

"The scale was unlike anything I had seen before," he added.

Built into the mountainsides of Hong Kong, these terraced cemeteries appear next to the many skyscrapers that make up the densely packed city.

Finbarr Fallon

In making this series, Fallon told Insider that he wanted to demonstrate how the dead "inadvertently live on to shape the landscape that the living continues to exist in."

"I found it fascinating that extreme density and verticality are a defining characteristic of Hong Kong's dwellings for both the living and the dead," Fallon said.

Finbarr Fallon

As someone who graduated with a Masters in Architecture, Fallon was also captivated by "the repetitive rhythm of the unusual terraced designs."

To capture each photo, he used a telephoto lens to tightly frame the cemeteries, a technique that also allowed him to compress the foreground and background of the images.

Finbarr Fallon

The photographer explained to Insider that he wanted to emphasize "the sheer proximity of residential towers to many of these graveyards." In such a crowded city, the living and the dead find themselves existing side by side.

Fallon also deliberately shot his photos on overcast days to create "a muted, hazy, almost melancholic atmosphere."

Finbarr Fallon

The composition and mood of the photos reflect the unease surrounding death in a city that is running out of space for its deceased.

During his time in Hong Kong, Fallon witnessed the construction of additional tiers in a Chai Wan cemetery in order to expand up the mountain.

Finbarr Fallon

With a population of almost 7.5 million people, residents of Hong Kong find themselves paying sky-high prices for what little space they can find, and the reality isn't any different for the dead.

Read more: One picture shows how absurdly tiny apartments are in Hong Kong - and people are paying a premium for them

However, Fallon also points out that cremation is becoming an increasingly popular option across Asian countries.

Finbarr Fallon

Around 90% of the deceased in Hong Kong are cremated, but even the search for an open spot in a public columbarium can take years.

In Japan, descendants can now pay their respects through virtual graveyards, where a headstone will appear on a screen surrounded by colorful flowers.

Not only is the available space to be buried limited, but dying in Hong Kong is also expensive.

Steep, hillside graveyards house the remains of thousands of Hong Kong residents.
Finbarr Fallon

The cost of burial space for the dead in Hong Kong has become more expensive than a home for the living.

CNN reported that a permanent plot in a private cemetery is currently listed at 280,000 Hong Kong dollars ($36,000), but can sell for four times that.

Death isn't only complicated in Hong Kong, though.

Finbarr Fallon

Fallon told Insider that his next project involves documenting the shifting cemeteries of Singapore.

"Space in Singapore is incredibly scarce and land for the dead is increasingly being lost and redeveloped for other uses," Fallon explained.

Finbarr Fallon

The photographer says he recently witnessed a highway being built through Bukit Brown Cemetery, where over 4,000 graves were exhumed.

"Over the past 50 years, many graveyards have been built on, and as more become lost, I hope to document these changing landscapes of death and question how we value space," he said.

Finbarr Fallon

Check out more of Finbarr Fallon's work on his website.

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