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A new pictorial history reveals just how much of Hong Kong's heritage architecture has been lost forever
15 February 2009
South China Morning Post

Pictorial works structured around "old Hong Kong" themes usually disappoint: either poor-quality reproduction wastes wonderful images or trite, cliché-laden captions drag down high-quality photographs. Soft-focus colonial nostalgia and urban mythology pad out the rest. A Sense of Place: Hong Kong West of Pottinger Street, edited by Veronica Pearson and Ko Tim-keung, avoids most of these shortcomings.

This worthwhile book grew out of an extensive photographic survey of Central and Sheung Wan undertaken by the local branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) in the mid-1970s, when much of Hong Kong's built legacy was threatened by redevelopment. More than 2,000 images resulted and a slim volume - Hong Kong Going and Gone: Western Victoria - was produced in 1980.

Regrettably, however, the society chose not to become publicly involved in key heritage conservation issues then or subsequently. Public interest has grown in recent years but little significant built heritage remains. As the photographs in this book mutely attest, most has been obliterated.

Worthwhile buildings often fall victim to Hong Kong's combination of private- and public-sector collusion, indifference and apathy from those who should know better, as well as the staggering mediocrity found within Hong Kong's small-pond professional heritage world. The fate of Wan Chai Market and the disgraceful vandalism permitted at King Yin Lei Mansion on Stubbs Road graphically underscore these sad trends.

Veronica Pearson is a public health expert who lectured at the University of Hong Kong from 1981 until her retirement in 2004; Ko Tim-keung is one of Hong Kong's best-known independent local history authors. Heung Kong Kum Sik, his illustrated history of Hong Kong, remains the standard popular Chinese-language work.

In 2006, Pearson and Ko were invited to collaborate on a new Central and Sheung Wan book intended as a companion volume to two others produced by the RAS: Beyond the Metropolis: Villages in Hong Kong (1995) and In the Heart of The Metropolis: Yau Ma Tei and its People (1999).

The authors say selection of photographs was surprisingly easy, despite their having so many images to choose from. "We tried to include common scenes, including occupations and livelihoods and ordinary buildings that have disappeared since the pictures were taken," Ko says.

"We included major structures like the Mid-Levels synagogue because the surrounding areas have changed so much: now dwarfed by the surrounding high-rises, it still dominated Robinson Road in the1970s."

"We agreed the book should be a celebration of ordinary people's lives and an acknowledgment that Hong Kong was built on the backs of the working poor," Pearson says.

The content reflects the social institutions that have a major impact on people's lives, notably those concerning housing, spirituality, sex, education, town planning and health; also included are articles about Tung Wah Hospital, assorted Chinese temple and business committees and the University of Hong Kong.

"Tim and I knew each other only slightly before we became joint editors of the book," Pearson says.

"For the book to work it really mattered that we shared the same vision. We come from different disciplines - social policy and history - and one of us is Hong Kong-born and the other isn't; Tim is fascinated by images and I like words. We complemented each other's knowledge and shared many points of view and I think the book is much richer because of the good working relationship we developed."

Ko's extensive knowledge of the SAR and scholarly generosity was a major plus. "I learned a great deal about Hong Kong from working with him," Pearson acknowledges.

The book's reproduction quality could be better, meaning the smallest photographic details can be hard to distinguish.

But A Sense of Place, scholarly in scope and free of fashionable academic buzz-phrases, offers profound rewards for the educated general reader with a serious interest in Hong Kong. A Sense of Place: Hong Kong West of Pottinger Street, edited by Veronica Pearson and Ko Tim-keung

Joint Publishing, HK$380

Related :
http://www.rthk.org.hk/rthk/radio3/hongkongheritage/20090322.html
RTHK : Annemarie talks with Professor Veronica Pearson, co-editor of "A Sense of Place: Hong Kong West of Pottinger Street" about the history of treatment of the mentally ill in Hong Kong.(R)
 

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Photographer on mission to save Asia’s lost images
29 July 2009
The Saigon Times Daily

HONG KONG - Hong Kong’s colonial architecture and early street life may now have largely vanished, but a new foundation in the city is aiming to revive these bygone times by hunting down a trove of old photographs hidden overseas.

Tens of thousands of rare historical images from Hong Kong and other countries across Asia are now believed to lie buried in the vast collections of universities, libraries and individuals the world over, largely hidden from public view.

“Photos such as these deserve to be given a fresh audience today,?said writer and photographer Edward Stokes who set up the Hong Kong Photographic Heritage Foundation in 2008 to unearth, contextualize and publish such images.

The foundation’s first book “Hong Kong As It Was?features the striking black-and-white images of German photographer Hedda Morrison depicting everyday life in the 1940s.

“Morrison has 60,000 negatives held at Harvard and Cornell. About 10,000 have great historical, cultural and social meaning, yet only about 1,000 of them have ever been seen, have ever been published,?Stokes said.

“They show a Hong Kong so far removed from what we know today; a place struggling with its sway of refugees, its squatter shacks and its early public housing.? Since he accidentally stumbled upon Morrison’s photos in a local university library, Stokes has traveled the world trying to dig up more vanished images.

The foundation’s list of future projects runs long. Apart from reviving the works of a little-known 19th century Chinese photographer, Stokes also plans to publish other forgotten photographs from China, India, Singapore and Malaysia.

?These photographers) set out to record Asia on film, yet despite the quality of their work ... many remain little published today and that surely is a loss today to the place they portray,?Stokes said.

Urbanisation

For Hong Kong, Stoke’s mission carries added poignancy given the city’s rampant urbanization. The recent demolition of the Star Ferry Clock Tower and Queen’s Pier sparked a massive public outcry and forced the city’s leader Donald Tsang to pledge to make it his “personal mission?to improve heritage conservation.

“Are we sacrificing too much for another skyscraper??Tsang asked during a recent speech on the issue.

With many old Hong Kong photos now scattered, some say a solution could be to create a centralized facility similar to the government-funded Hong Kong Film Archive -- where thousands of vintage movies are now stored.

“To a certain extent, it is more convenient to work with a public body status,?said Richie Lam, the archive’s director.

For the likes of Sylvia Ng, the former editor of Hong Kong’s oldest photo magazine “Photo Pictorial,?finding a secure public facility to store the countless images its built up since 1964 hasn’t been easy.

“I really want these photos to have a good home, like how a mother will want her daughter to settle in a good family.? While the Hong Kong Museum of History and other public archives are home to at least 20,000 historical images, these numbers are dwarfed by initiatives elsewhere. In Singapore, around 4.6 million images are stored in its National Archives.

Other experts can’t overemphasize the importance of Hong Kong’s old photographic legacy as a unique testament to its remarkable transformation from a cluster of fishing villages to the teeming metropolis of 7 million people it is today.

“I specialize in the history of the area and they (these photos) fill in a lot of the gaps, in particular albumen photography from the 1860s to the early 1900s. They’re very popular and they’ve literally disappeared,?said Jonathan Wattis, an established dealer in historic maps and images in Hong Kong.
 
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