Protesters in Hong Kong use masks, umbrellas and top-to-bottom black outfits not only protect themselves from physical threats such as the riot police’s teargas and rubber bullets, but also from the invisible dangers of government identification and tracking. By obscuring their faces, individuals melt into a sea of plastic canopies, anonymous and united in a shared distrust of the authorities.

A protester who identified herself as Morty

In smashing, spray-painting and shining lasers on surveillance cameras across the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, the demonstrators say they are fighting back against an omniscient state security apparatus that already envelops mainland China.

A protester who identified herself as Sonia.

For more than five months, they have led a mass protest movement that prompted Hong Kong’s government to withdraw a controversial extradition bill. After that victory, they have persisted in advocating for their four remaining demands, including calls for democratic reforms and an independent inquiry into police tactics.

A protester who identified herself as Cindy.

Police have arrested more than 3,000 protesters since June, on charges such as illegal assembly and rioting. An attempt last month to impose a city-wide ban on face masks only further inflamed the demonstrators, who now cover up in defiance.

A protester who identified himself as Tom

Curious about the young protesters behind these masks, Associated Press photographer Felipe Dana set out to take portraits of them. Because many were afraid to bare their faces to the camera, Dana projected on them photos taken during previous demonstrations, inserting an extra layer between them and his lens.

A 14-year-old protester who identified herself as K.C.

Armed with a portable projector, Dana photographed his subjects on the sidelines of street protests, sometimes with teargas still thickening the air and clashes metres away.

A 24-year-old protester who identified herself as Kathy

They expressed fears that the ruling Communist party’s watchful eye might be exported abroad via technologies like Huawei smartphones or TikTok videos. In China’s far western Xinjiang region, a comprehensive surveillance network complete with facial recognition cameras and phone scanning devices closely monitors members of the Muslim minority groups.

A 24-year-old protester who identified herself as Josephine

“At the beginning, not everyone wore masks,” said Josephine, a 24-year-old who sported a turquoise surgical face mask.
“But after the police started abusing their rights and arresting more people, we decided to protect ourselves [with the masks],” she said.

A protester who identified himself as Jason

“We are afraid of the [mask] law, but we are still coming out because we need to find hope, to find the future of Hong Kong.”
Like the other portrait subjects, Josephine asked not to be identified by her full name because she fears government retribution.

Wong Ho poses for a portrait next to a barricade


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