We meet Romanian expat MIHAELA TUDOR and learn about her photography work in Hong Kong, including a recent project about pets!
Hong Kong is the only place Mihaela has lived outside of Romania, but she’s happy to call it home. “This can be a very captivating place,” she says. “To me, Hong Kong is a unique mix of everything: urban jungle, ‘remote’ nature, the blend of cultures, the diversity of people, the food, the opportunities.”
Amongst those opportunities was the chance for Mihaela to set up a professional business in freelance photography and art direction, using her experience in fashion, portrait and product photography as a springboard. And, while this wasn’t without its challenges, Hong Kong’s reputation as a relatively easy place to put together a start-up came to the fore.
“I had to quickly get up to speed on how the market moves here. We didn’t know anyone when we came, so I had to build everything from scratch. The surprise, though, is that it was a lot easier than it looks!”
Today, she’s trying to focus more on documentary photography, and making space in her schedule to build a portfolio for it. That’s when she can squeeze in the time.
“My days are ever-changing, but it’s always breakfast and coffee first. Then, I get on with it, either heading off to the studio to shoot a campaign or an outdoor portrait, doing some product or on-location shoots, or spending days on end in front of the computer retouching.”
Portraits of pets
Mihaela recently completed a fascinating photography project in Hong Kong – one with some warm and colourful results. It’s called “Collective Portraits of South Lantau Pet Owners” – and it’s exactly what it says on the tin: a series of photographs of people in her community alongside their beloved dogs and cats.
“It was such a fun thing to do, and there was an amazing energy around it,” she says.
This energy was something Mihaela felt had been missing from her photography. “For a while, I pretty much stopped taking photos for myself; I was only doing it as a job. I wanted to change that.”
Prompting the change was her new neighbourhood and community in South Lantau. “My husband and I moved to Mui Wo from Hong Kong Island a bit over a year ago and we were amazed by the community spirit we found here, and the warmth of the people. I feel like I know everybody by now. It’s a big contrast to the life we previously had living in Tin Hau. With my project, I wanted to give back to the community by doing something so simple but bearing great joy. I also wanted to show a lesser known part of Hong Kong that my husband and I find so charming.”
The art of photographing animals
With all of this as inspiration, Mihaela got underway with her project in late 2020. She spent December photographing 31 families and their pets across South Lantau. As you can see from these pages, the results are nothing short of joyous.
“It was a happy ending to a year that was challenging for all of us,” she says. “Plus, it was carried out during the Christmas month, a celebration of love and togetherness.”
Of course, a photo showing a family in a loving embrace with their pet is great in theory. But presumably an inquisitive puppy isn’t the easiest subject for a photographer to shoot – nor a cat with an independent spirit, for that matter, Mihaela concurs.
“Taking photos of animals definitely requires a certain amount of patience,” she says. “But it can also be so much fun as they’re so goofy! I love capturing their facial expressions (which, to many of us, seem so humanlike). Only, they have no filter, so it’s pure emotion.”
Mihaela likes to start a photography session with some playtime with the pet; it gives her a chance to snap a few in-motion images, but it has the added advantage of tiring them out a little before she starts on the sitting portraits.
“With the portrait images, the best-case scenario is to have a pet that is food-driven; you can use treats to lure it into position. If a pet isn’t motivated by treats, that’s where things can get funny. Together with the owners, I do whatever comes to mind to keep the animal’s attention – crazy noises and anything else. Of course, this all varies depending on each individual pet; some are natural posers while others turn our photo session into a proper chasing game!”
The move to Lantau
Clearly, setting up home in a new part of Hong Kong has been a happy experience. “We were in Tin Hau for two years and it was a good spot to enjoy living in HK for the first time. But we decided to move closer to nature. Mui Wo is amazing; I love living in a place that feels so remote and yet is only a 30-minute ferry ride away from the centre of one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The landscapes are just gorgeous, and we are minutes away from the beach and hiking trails, while still having convenience.”
Mihaela describes her home as warm and cosy. “It has a beautiful mountain view; and we have the best alarm sound to wake up to – the birds in the valley.”
She’s also a fan of her big kitchen. “I love cooking, especially baking and making anything that involves a dough and pastry. I’ve actually started working on a cooking and lifestyle book together with my talented friend, Novy Lodder.” When she doesn’t have her nose in a recipe, Mihaela can be found in Hong Kong’s great outdoors – she’s an enthusiastic hiker and outrigger canoe paddler. And, when travel comes onto the radar again, she’ll get back into skiing.
Oh, and there’s one other thing that occupies Mihaela’s time.
“Last autumn, we adopted a six-week-old Chinese village dog through TAILS Lantau (tailslantau.org), and it has been bringing joy into our lives ever since. Her name is Mara and she has her own Instagram account: @mara_ the_village_dog. She’s the friendliest dog I know (though, to our despair, a proper scavenger!). If it wasn’t already obvious, it’s thanks to her I started doing pet photography.”
Good girl, Mara!
We asked Mihaela about some of her favourite Hong Kong things…
Our go-to places in Mui Wo are The Kitchen, China Beach Club, Southside and Deer Horn. Date-night restaurant? I wouldn’t call it romantic but I have a recent obsession with the New Punjab Club!
Thing to do with visitors?
Show them different faces of Hong Kong so they can get the vibe of the place – for example, experiencing nature on one day, the luxurious parts of the city on another, then a ride to Mong Kok, and so on. Some friends for whom I’ve arranged a visiting schedule have said, “It’s like we’re in a different country every day!” I like this approach to exploring our city of densely packed contrasts.
Nearby holiday destination (when we can travel!)? Oh, where to start?
First to come to mind are Japan and Sri Lanka. I’m also very eager to go somewhere in the Himalayas.
To see more of Mihaela’s work, visit mihaelatudor.com.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.