2008 Gareth Jones Memorial Travelling Scholarship
Stephen JB Kelly
My initial proposal for the 2008 Gareth Jones Memorial Travelling Scholarship was to produce a reportage solely documenting the hundreds of Indian migrant workers who are being severely mistreated and neglected, amidst the multi billion-dollar casino boom that has taken Macau by storm since 2002.
After arriving in Macau in October 2008 and meeting my fixer/translator: journalist Nishika Patel, I was introduced to one of the Indian workers called Praveen. After sporadic meetings with Praveen over the next few weeks, I began to understand the extent of abuse that was taking place within the workplace and living quarters of these Indian migrants. He explained that their situation had dramatically worsened since June 2008 when I proposed the project and his colleagues were extremely nervous about being photographed.
It soon became obvious that I was not going to be able to carry out my initial proposal to produce a reportage documenting these migrant’s lives in the way that I had anticipated because of the risk to themselves and their livelihood.
I decided that in order to tell their stories of suffering without putting them at risk, I would make portraits of a select few of these workers who were brave enough to tell their stories, concealing their identities and interviewing them about their current lives in Macau. I would then produce a larger body of work documenting life in the city of Macau, incorporating these portraits into the series.
I would not have been able to produce this body of work without the backing and funding of the 2008 Gareth Jones Memorial Travelling Scholarship and I am extremely thankful to the board of trustees and everyone involved with the scholarship.
Macau: China’s Sin City
In 1999, Macau, the first and the last European settlement on the China coast, reverted back to Chinese sovereignty after 450 years of Portuguese rule. Shortly after the handover, this once tranquil fishing enclave became engulfed in a multi- billion-dollar casino boom that has taken the region by storm.
Situated on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, this semi-autonomous region of China is the sole territory within the People’s Republic that permits gambling. Last year alone, gambling revenue from Macau's thirty casinos reached US $10.4 billion. In 2008, Macau was on track to top $13 billion, doubling that of Las Vegas. An astonishing figure when you consider that Macau is less than one-sixth the size of Washington, D.C.
Macau’s unbelievable growth in recent years would not have been possible without a heavy reliance on imported workers, needed to meet the astounding demand of the casino industry. The majority of the 98,000 foreign workers have come from mainland China, although a growing number of immigrants have been drawn to the city from South Asian countries, including the Philippines and India, to work menial jobs such as security guards and cleaners. They have come in the hope of earning better wages to support their families back home but are often abused and neglected by their casino managers.
In recent months, signs of a significant slowdown have begun to appear, as the boom that turned Macau into the world's gambling capital is slowing dramatically and the global economic and financial crisis is delaying new projects and damaging tourism. There are now travel restrictions on Mainland Chinese tourists. Guangdong residents are limited to entering Macau only once every three months and as mainland tourists are essential, accounting for more than half of the city’s revenue, this restriction is having a significant impact on economic growth.
Perhaps the clearest sign of this deepening crisis in Macau was the announcement by Las Vegas Sands in November that it had indefinitely halted construction on its Macau projects. This resulted in as many as 11,000 people being out of work. While an average of five casinos were built annually between 2004 and 2008, next year is most likely to see only one opening.
Macau is the most densely populated region in the world, with a population of 18,428 persons per square kilometer. Vastly overcrowded neighbourhoods surround the border gate with the city of Zhuhai, the gateway into main land China. Despite the huge economic growth over recent years, the lives of many of the local population have deteriorated and almost twenty percent live in poverty.
Although close in proximity, there is a striking contrast between the newly acquired wealth surrounding the casinos and the dilapidated northern districts of Macau which house the city's poorest residents. Regardless of years of spectacular economic growth, locals believe the area is little changed, having been left on the margins of the casino boom.
Macau has experienced an extraordinary level of rapid change over the last ten years. I have aimed to document the diverse effects of this immense casino boom and hope to reflect how it has transformed this once sleepy and quaint corner of the People’s Republic of China.
Stephen JB Kelly was born on October 18th, 1983 in West Cumbria, England. He spent his early childhood in Africa and the Middle East before moving to Hong Kong where he lived for ten years. Stephen returned to the UK to study, gaining a foundation diploma in Photography from the London College of Communication followed by a degree in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales, Newport.
Stephen has won a number of awards for his work, including the Gareth Jones Memorial Travelling Scholarship, the Observer David Hodge Photographic Award, the Reginald Salisbury Award and the 'Made in China' award at the Łódź Fotofestiwal, Poland.
Stephen’s work has been published in various magazines including The Independent Magazine, The Observer Magazine, D La Repubblica delle Donne, IL Magazine and The FADER Magazine among others.
Stephen is currently based in Hong Kong, China, where he contributes to a number of leading publications and continues to work on long-term projects.