Photo: Marcel Heijnen
Photo: Marcel Heijnen

Busy traffic, loud noise, constant passers-by? Not a problem for Hong Kong’s cats.

Four-legged “assistants” can be found perched in countless shops around the territory, keeping a nonchalant eye on business while Hong Kong does its non-stop bustle past their storefronts.

Their presence has inspired Dutch photographer Marcel Heijnen to make them the subject of a book and recent exhibition, capturing their unique character in some of the city’s most traditional neighbourhoods.

The pictures show cats of all shapes and colours: masters of their domains whether on sacks of goods, countertops, or almost in camouflage as they blend into displays.

“Well, they’re very chilled, They’re very zen. They see people coming in and out every day, they have trucks unloading, people walk around with boxes, they’re very unfazed, they sit on top of everything,” says Heijnen.

None are as famous as Hong Kong’s celebrity shop cat – Cream Brother. The British Shorthair has nearly 200,000 followers on Facebook and draws masses of fans, even after his shop closed this year.

He has also given his name to several books, starred in advertising campaigns and has his own “Cream Bro” foundation that helps less fortunate felines. Now semi-retired, he still has regular visitors.

“I think he is a very special cat, very handsome, very cute,” says Solid Ng, a bank teller who visits him twice a week at home.

“It’s not just about cats, it’s about the stores. And these are very traditional stores, they’re very timeless. These photos could have been taken in the 60s”

Such fame was unexpected, says his owner Ko Chee-shing, but it’s a life that came naturally to the former convenience store cat.

“His character is really like a star. He would sit down and let you photograph him. Everyday there were hundreds of people coming to our store to take photos of him, he would stand up and pull a cute face, or just sleep and let people take pictures of him.”

For Heijnen, the photographs also point to a nostalgic pause in a constantly changing city.

“I think the uniqueness in the photographs is that it captures the background,” he says. “It’s not just about cats, it’s about the stores and in many of my photos you see that… 90% of it is the store and the cat is very small. And these are very traditional stores, they’re very timeless. These photos could have been taken in the 60s.”

(Text by Justine Gerardy, Agence France-Presse)