Old Hong Kong
Keith Macgregor documented Hong Kong during the economic boom period from the 70s to the 90s, a time of immense prosperity, social development and general optimism. Nearing the end of its status as a British colony, these photographs depict a fascinating time where the visual contrast between British and Chinese culture, as well as what could be described as the old and the new, was still immensely visible and played into what made the city dynamic yet still mystical in nature.
The "Panoramas" body of work were all created between 2007 and 2016. Hong Kong is indeed a city of transformation and adaptation, this series expresses that through the comparison of before and after, old and new. Most cities see great change in infrastructure and real estate, however in Hong Kong, due to land reclamation the land itself has expanded as the harbour shrinks; Macgregor's "Panoramas" documents the changing landscape or a fluid city.
Neon lights are synonymous with Hong Kong where at one time there were over 100,000 neon signs that decorated the city. It would be almost impossible to remove this visual language from how the city is presented in art and culture, photography and films. Neon first became recognised in Hong Kong in 1920 and the first sign appeared in Shanghai in 1926. Flourishing in Shanghai in the 1930s, Hong Kong was, as always, quick to follow the trend opening a neon light factory in 1932. Seen as effective advertisements and signages, first lighting up the streets of Wan Chai (escorting the growing nightclub scene), followed by Nathan Road in Kowloon. Neon signs gain ever greater prominence in Hong Kong in the post World War II era and in the 1950s “neon boom” in Hong Kong. In the Wan Chai District, the neon streetscape of Lockhart Road emerges in sync with the flourishing nightclub business catering to the Marines as US warships made stops in the city during the Korean War. The emergence of more energy-efficient LEDs in the 1990s initiated the decline and by 2003 Hong Kong’s neon manufacturing relocates to mainland China; companies remaining in the city diversify to LEDs and light boxes. Between 2006 to 2012 a number of emergency reports on street signs are received, raising a public safety issue. The Buildings Department removes about 3,000 unauthorised signboards per year. In 2013, Hong Kong’s “Validation Scheme for Unauthorised Signboards” was implemented, furthering the disappearance of neon signs from the city’s streets.
Keith Macgregor’s “Neon Fantasies” series imagines a Hong Kong landscape where there are no restrictions on neon lights and where signs take over and cover all the darkness of the night. Where more is more and bigger is better - the works show the psyche of the city that never sleeps. Digital collage of photographs is used to present this alternate reality which also represents a new development in the work of the artist who primarily takes landscape and street photography. At the heart of the project is a nostalgic love affair with the disappearing neon lights, a longing for a bygone era before the city started to become “sanitised” and a deep connection to the place Macgregor once called home. "Neon Fantasies" expresses how the artist believes the city should look like today, abound in colour, diversity and optimism.
Keith Macgregor has been photographing Hong Kong for nearly 50 years. He comes. from a family with long term connections to Hong Kong and China, his great grandfather having arrived in Shanghai in the late 1850s where set up Caldbeck Macgregor Ltd, a wine & spirits importing business which eventually opened offices all over Asia, China & Hong Kong (1884).
Keith was educated in England from 1954, finishing up at Oxford University in 1964. In 1970 he returned to Hong Kong to set up as a portrait and later a commercial photographer which led to the creation of his publishing business, Cameraman Limited. The books, calendars and postcards published were very successful. “An Eye on Hong Kong”, first published in 1997, sold out 6 editions. His 2nd book: “Neon City, Hong Kong, at Night ” also sold out and became a collector’s item. A "50th Anniversary of photographing Hong Kong” edition is in the pipeline, as well as a book of his Panoramic images.
Despite having lived in London for the past 26 years he returns frequently to take photographs of Hong Kong's ever changing landscape.