Road Test: old photo exhibition reflects contemporary issues
Old lenses reflect current issues
Although the Hong Kong Museum of History has an extensive photographic collection of its own, many of the pictures on show in the exhibition "Images Through Time: Photos of Old Hong Kong" are on loan from the Moonchu Foundation.
The excellent quality of the images is testament to the fact that as commercial photography developed in Europe, Hong Kong became a natural home for foreign photographers travelling to the mainland.
Many stayed and established their own studios, leaving images depicting daily life in the bustling city. The eclectic range of photographs showing everyday life in old Hong Kong is interesting for all ages.
At the entrance is an opportunity to interact on a personal level via the Times Studio, an augmented reality photographic service that captures visitors in a Hong Kong street scene. The image is directly uploaded to a computer, and can be e-mailed to a personal account at no cost as a memento.
Other engaging measures include a light table "loaded" with digital photographic albums, like one showing photographs of the China Pavilion at the Paris Exposition of 1878, which can be viewed at will. Another "must do" is the interactive stereoscopic photographic equipment that gives an uncannily realistic 3-D feel to images.
The exhibition follows a meandering path, but care has been taken to create areas of interest with, for instance, enlarged images that recreate street scenes that capture the ordinary lives of people.
Each display comes with English and Chinese explanatory text, and an educational pamphlet suitable for older children is available online at the museum's website. But younger visitors have not been catered for. Colouring pages, and a short brochure or quiz targeted at stimulating interaction would make all the difference.
My 10-year-old daughter was taken with the striking pictures of historic architecture, especially one showing the Hong Kong harbour waters lapping close to The Cenotaph. She was also intrigued by an image of Empress Dowager Cixi wearing an intricate dress and elaborate shoes.
Other images showed women with bound feet, something which helped to bring the stories of that time to life. Photographs of typhoon damage and patients suffering in hospitals during the Hong Kong Plague of 1894 were also thought-provoking.
The images are not organised chronologically, but thematically. Photos from different times and places are grouped according to topics like education, disasters, and grand buildings. The lighting throughout is atmospheric but this makes it slightly difficult to read the text.
Daily life 80 years ago seems dramatic compared with today. The exhibition is the perfect opportunity to consider modern-day issues of city building, harbour reclamation, and culture.
Verdict: although not a sensational exhibition, it is still well worth a visit because of the issues it raises.
Images Through Time; Hong Kong Museum of History, 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, until April 21; HK$20 ($10 concessions). Inquiries: 2724 9042