Between 31 December 1994 and 1 January 2000, I took at least one black and white photo every day. These images form a sort of photographic diary or subjective photo-documentary record of the last five years of the previous millennium, or a period of two and a half years on either side of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
Hong Kong Nocturne features a selection of nighttime images of Hong Kong drawn from this project. Like other images in my photo diary, they were for the most part discovered rather than deliberately stalked down, since I tend to take photos in the course of my normal trajectories through the city instead of setting out to document in a more programmatic way. I tend to photograph that which is familiar or close at hand, localities and situations where I am an inhabitant or participant rather than those to which I feel an outsider. I reject the claims to truth and objectivity that photography of a documentary nature often makes, and deliberately produce images that declare a certain allegiance or reveal a specific personal viewpoint.
In this exhibition the city itself is the main subject, but rather than offering panoramic urban views I have assembled a collection of fragments – details which sometimes evoke the broader transformations the city underwent during the five years I was making it the subject of visual examination. The spaces of commerce and consumption, those parts of the city on which Hong Kong’s reputation as a trading hub and a shopper’s paradise is based, feature in a number of images: these are not always my most favourite places to be, but after dark when the daytime crowds have largely disappeared the commercial districts can seem to become more legible. Temporarily abandoned, the buildings may continue to broadcast their commercial messages with the aid of illuminated signs, but somewhat forlornly.
The commercial districts of the city are potentially alienating, and tend to enter my images only in an oblique way, cut against the grain as it were. Happily, however, there are other aspects of Hong Kong’s nocturnal life where a poetry is more easy to find, and where a direct and empathic engagement is possible. In this exhibition I find such positive moments primarily with cultural events – both traditional and contemporary – but also with the occasions of collective political expression which occur every June 4th in Victoria Park.
This exhibition coincides with the publication of my latest book, Reclaimed Land: Hong Kong in Transition (Hong Kong University Press, 2002), which also draws upon my photo diary project, featuring a total of 334 images. In this book I attempt to offer a detailed photographic examination of five crucial years in Hong Kong’s history. Copies of the book are available for browsing in the exhibition – please make use of the seating provided to read at your leisure. Sales and other enquiries concerning Reclaimed Land may be directed to Hong Kong University Press at 2550 2703 or email@example.com. Secure ordering is available from the Press’s website at www.hkupress.org. Original prints are available of all the images featured in the exhibition and book. Please address enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to me c/o Department of Fine Arts, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong.
This exhibition is presented by Goethe Institut Hong Kong, whose kind support is gratefully acknowledged. Certain aspects of this project have also been supported by an Earmarked Grant for Research from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (project number HKU 7176/OOH).