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Keith Macgregor, The Way We Were, pop-up at Usagi


THE WAY WE WERE

KEITH MACGREGOR

3-18 November 2018

Organised and Curated by Blue Lotus Gallery

 Keith Macgregor, Shanghai Street, 1980

Keith Macgregor, Shanghai Street, 1980

Pop-Up Venue: Usagi, G/F, Wah Shin House, 6-10 Shin Hing Street, Central, Hong Kong

Events:  

Friday November   2,  6–9 pm: Exhibition Opening 

Saturday November 10,  2–6 pm: meet and greet Keith Macgregor

Sunday   November  11, 4–6pm:  talk by Ian Lambot about his book project ‘City of Darkness’ followed by book signing 

Saturday November 17, 2–6 pm: meet and greet Keith Macgregor

Opening Hours: Everyday 11am – 7pm, on Fridays we will be open until 9 pm.

For further inquiries please contact:

English: Christina Jensen | christina@bluelotus-gallery.com

Chinese: Eunice Lam | eunice@bluelotus-gallery.com

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The Way We Were is a photographic journey down memory lane through the vast collection of work by the iconic Keith Macgregor that throws you back to Hong Kong during its prime: namely the 70s and 80’s.

The exhibition bursts with nostalgic street scenes steeped in colonial and local culture, city panoramas and images of life on the sea in full colour and black & white.

Importantly, this also marks the first exhibition showing a selection of Macgregor’s latest series titled ‘Neon Fantasies’; a passion project where the artist imagines a reverse reality where the city multiplies in illuminated neon signs.

The Way We Were expresses a city abound in colour, diversity and optimism, a documentation and flashback to a time where the ‘Hong Kong Dream’ was forged and people went ‘all in’ on the game of life.

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Hong Kong was a magic place to find yourself in the 1970s and 1980s; full of all the right ingredients to stimulate the senses and spur the imagination. The ‘Pearl of the Orient’, as it was often referred to at the time, was fertile ground for entrepreneurs, go-getters and adventurers, a place where you could dream big and play till your energy was spent. It was not a place for the faint-hearted. There is no doubt the ‘gung-ho’ attitude was immensely contagious and far reaching to all levels of society. The still colonial city offered the very real possibility for those from humble beginnings to reach incredible levels of success. This unique atmosphere encouraged people to try their hand at new trades or embark on unknown endeavours. From plastic flowers to presiding over a multi-billion dollar business empire… Hong Kong gave birth to stories like the one of Lee Ka-shing and many other rags-to-riches memoirs. At night, neon lit streets had anything and everything on offer from sailors’ drinking holes, mahjong, gambling & massage parlours to high-end gentlemen’s clubs and the most luxurious of hotels. 

Landing at Kai Tak Airport was an experience unto itself, the plane would take a sharp twist over the Hong Kong harbour before descending rapidly onto the runway on sea level, coming so close to the buildings that from the plane’s window one could catch glimpses inside people’s homes. Stepping off the plane, the hot and steamy air viscerally attacked you with smells that would come to signify this ‘place’ like no other. You entered a world of cheongsam clad women serenely gliding through the streets during the day alongside  rickshaw drivers transporting customers and labouring coolies. The night was ruled by the triads with nothing escaping their watchful eye, including the control of drugs, extortion, gambling and prostitution; during this period gang fights were regular as they battled out their territories. 

To escape the restless city, one only had to gaze dreamily at the rust red and patch-worked white sails of seafaring Chinese junks who shared the harbour with freighters, military vessels and an increasing amount of cargo ships. Hong Kong was still under British rule, even though it was soon to come to an end. Right at the very heart of the city, next to the Bank of China and the Hong Kong Club was a very large green field: the Hong Kong Cricket Club. This was next to the tallest building in Asia, Connaught Centre, now better known as Jardine House.

Keith Macgregor, born in Bangalore at the end of the war, was not the first family member to call Asia home. The history of the Macgregors reads like a series of James Clavell novels. His great grandfather, John Macgregor, was one of the first Scottish pioneers to venture out to Shanghai in 1858 when he arrived as a merchant seaman to set up what would become a successful wine and spirits trading business called Caldbeck Macgregor Limited. By the time Keith was born, Caldbeck Magregor had expanded to offices all over China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, London and later even Kenya. In Hong Kong the company’s business was run by ‘Uncle Jack’, Keith’s grandfather and then after he retired, by his father Robin Macgregor.


As was customary, Keith was sent to boarding school in the UK and then attended Oxford University. He originally longed to break free of his Asian heritage and as such moved to New York to find his own path. Yet fate had different plans for him and when his father passed away suddenly he returned to Hong Kong in 1969 to handle the family’s affairs and support his grieving Mother. The family business had been sold in 1967 so there was no future there and the prospects of joining one of the small number of British ‘Hongs’ or banks did not attract him in the slightest. As he had learnt the skill of printing photographs while working in New York he decided to try his luck at photography, starting by taking portraits of children and families whilst at the same time photographing Hong Kong and around Asia for personal enjoyment. His photographs of Hong Kong were first made public in the form of a solo exhibition at the Excelsior Hotel in 1974 which resulted in the publishing of his Hong Kong calendars a year later. The great success of these led his friends to persuade him to improve the quality of Hong Kong’s rather poor postcard selection at that time. Thus Keith created his own collection of iconic black bordered postcards which were sent out all over the world in millions and shaped how people abroad viewed Hong Kong during that period. Keith had arrived back in Hong Kong with the simple goal to help his mother, yet in a few years he had established himself as a photographer, publisher, business owner, husband and father. 

Those indeed were the days, the Hong Kong in the 70’s and 80’s.

Often Keith was found hanging out of helicopters flying over Victoria Harbour and the Lamma Channel shooting commercial vessels with his Hasselblads for big shipping clients like Maersk and Sealand. During those aerial sessions he was able to shoot wonderful images of China’s last sailing junks that looked like beautiful butterflies plying their way from Amoy to Canton in the South China Sea.

Apart from the postcards he also published many books that were very sought after. “An Eye on Hong Kong”, first published in 1997, sold out 6 full editions. His 2nd book: “Neon City, Hong Kong, at Night ” also sold out and has since became a collector’s item. 

Keith explains, “I’m very happy to stage my first solo exhibition in Hong Kong together with Blue Lotus Gallery. It brings back many good memories to me and I hope it does the same for our visitors. “

Keith will return to Hong Kong to make a special appearance at the exhibition and will give talks sharing his personal stories of Hong Kong during its hay-day. Maybe you remember that time and maybe you don’t, nonetheless The Way We Were will throw you back to what now seems a vanished world.