Hong Kong’s 1970s and ’80s neon landscape brought to life in Canadian photographer’s show at PMQ gallery

Greg Girard’s exhibition takes you through the neon-lit streets and into tattoo parlours, bars and hotel rooms of the ‘real’ Hong Kong in the 1970s and ’80s

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 5:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 5:46pm

Hong Kong’s iconic neon signage is sadly disappearing, making an exhibition at Central’s Blue Lotus Gallery in PMQ next month all the more important.

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“HK:PM” showcases images by Canadian photographer Greg Girard, taken during his nocturnal adventures in the city between 1974 and 1986.

Girard takes us through neon-lit streets and into tattoo parlours, dive bars and the hotel rooms frequented by soldiers and sailors. Other scenes depict the predawn emptiness of the city’s streets and alleys bathed in the colours of artificial light.

The exhibition coincides with the release of a book of the same title, with a foreword by award-winning Hong Kong director Ann Hui.

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“I started taking photographs at night as soon as I picked up my first camera,” Girard says. “I never thought of them as night pictures. It was just a different kind of light; whether neon, fluorescent, moonlight or the light of the city reflected off an overcast sky. But Hong Kong was alive at night in a way that other places weren’t.”

The photographer first travelled to Hong Kong in 1974, working as a sound recordist for the BBC and then as a photographer for publications such as National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Fortune and Forbes. Before arriving in the city, Girard had only seen Hong Kong when it appeared in gangster films. Once he actually saw the city through his own eyes, he felt compelled to capture the “real” Hong Kong.

“There used to be ballroom dance clubs where patrons could pay per dance with a hostess. The patrons were older gents. All rather genteel from what I could tell. Long gone, I assume now,” he says. “I would poke my head in but was never able to make a picture.” He still loves wandering aimlessly around the streets but admits to feeling some sense of loss about features of the city that have vanished, like “the filling in of the harbour, certain buildings and neighbourhoods, and especially Kai Tak Airport”.

“HK:PM” at Blue Lotus Gallery, Room 507s, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St, Central from Oct 27 to Nov 12.