Beautiful 19th-century images of Hong Kong life: opium, empty streets and old buildings through the eyes of Chinese photographer Afong

This rare collection of images – all taken by Afong, then China’s most prominent commercial photographer – offers a glimpse into life in mid- to late 19th-century Hong Kong, China and Macau

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 6:40pm

An exhibition of rare photos by Lai Fong, better known as Afong and considered the most significant Chinese photographer of the 19th century, is on show in Hong Kong until July 21.

Born in 1838 in Foshan, China, Afong established Afong Studio, one of the first photographic studios in Hong Kong, and operated from 1859 to around the 1940s (the studio was taken over by his son after Lai died in 1890).

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Curated by Wattis Fine Art as part of the studio’s celebrations marking 30 years on Hollywood Road in Central, the exhibition comprises posed portraits, landscapes, cityscapes and images of daily life. It features original album prints, all developed between 1860 and 1890 and taken in Hong Kong, Macau and Canton (now Guangzhou).

All of the following photographs were taken by Afong. Dates are included when known.

“He was one of the most talented of all the international photographers working in Hong Kong and China in the second half of the 19th century,” says studio owner Jonathan Wattis, who acquired the images from a private collector. “As a dealer, making new discoveries is a joy – a fine reason to curate this exhibition.”

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Wattis says some of the photographs from Afong’s early period (c.1873) are rare and in exceptional condition.

“In the past we found it difficult to attribute photographs of Hong Kong and the Pearl River, as few were signed and we didn’t know the significance of the numbers in pencil on the reverse. Fortunately, in 2013 a well-researched book History of Photography in China, Chinese Photographers 1844 -1879 by Terry Bennett, helped us identify the images.”

Afong, A Photographer in Hong Kong c.1860 – 1890, Wattis Fine Art Gallery, 2/F, 20 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, tel: 2524 5302

Open: Mon to Sat, 11am to 6pm. Until July 21.