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    The story of Hong Kong is one of almost constant change. From a sleepy fishing community, Hong Kong – now a Special Administrative Region following its return from Britain to China in July 1997 – has grown into one of the most significant financial and trading centres of the world.

    Hong Kong Island itself has witnessed massive rebuilding over the years, with the result that much of the colonial-era architecture has been swept away and replaced by skyscrapers. Moreover the first high-rise buildings constructed from the late 1950s onwards are now themselves under threat as the constant requirement for more accommodation – both for people and for businesses – continues.

    The Kowloon peninsula and the New Territories have also experienced development, whilst the construction of the new airport saw the destruction of an entire island to create the foundations of the new facility. The pressure for land has seen reclamation schemes extend the coastline of Hong Kong Island far to the north.

    Over the years photographers have recorded the changing face of Hong Kong: its street scenes, buildings and people. This new book – drawing upon images from a wide range of sources, many of which are previously unpublished – is a pictorial tribute to this lost Hong Kong. Once familiar but now long-gone scenes are recorded, offering a tantalising glimpse back at an era which in chronological terms may be relatively recent, but given the rapidity of change, seems like a distant age.

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    The book you are holding contains secrets and stories about Hong Kong that have never before been published. Prepare to have your preconceived notions of this bustling Asian financial hub butchered as you journey through crevices, enter hidden portals, clamber over barbed-wire fences, evade security guards and infiltrate derelict structures to travel back in time. Your hosts are an anonymous grassroots squad of explorers who will show you a side of Hong Kong only a specialist minority know about.

    Although the city has some of the most expensive property on the planet, an unknown world awaits beyond the shimmering skyscrapers and under the glitzy malls. This is the hidden kingdom of non-spaces: environments and structures that lie fallow, usually abandoned and left to rot, or suspended in limbo awaiting evictions and demolition. The HK Urbex crew – a covert collective of urban explorers whose exploits merge archaeology, ethnography, historiography and anthropology – unearth dead zones on the periphery of the city. They invite you to explore haunted schools, rummage through old crime scenes, reconnoitre condemned buildings and uncover the scraps of modernisation which won’t be recorded in history books.

    So come inside, confront the aesthetic of loss, discover the value of dead architecture and see Hong Kong as you’ve never seen it before.

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    Squatting amid the luxury hotels and malls of modern Kowloon, Chungking Mansions resembles the dirty vent of a giant subterranean machine. This Hong Kong landmark is a hotbed of criminality and home to pimps, hookers, thieves and drug pushers. The five 17-storey towers also offer the city’s last low-rent refuge for asylum seekers and immigrants coming to start a new life.

    Nepalese guesthouse owners rent out rooms to Bangladeshi workers, and Pakistanis sell mobile phones to Nigerian traders who hire Indian cargo companies to ship them home. Food stalls fill the air with the savoury aromas of international cuisine, and more than 200 guesthouses, as well as two floors of shops selling black-market, counterfeit and bargain goods, establish this unique place as a global hub of trade and multiculturalism.

    In 2009, shortly after a Canadian tourist disappeared from Chungking Mansions without a trace, photographer Nana Chen began wandering the corridors. Using her camera as a guide, she discovered the Chungking Mansions not visible to the naked eye: the beating pulse that gives this notorious destination its hypnotic appeal. With compassion and courage, Chen sought to craft a portrait of Hong Kong’s last ghetto and its inhabitants before its vibrant character is erased forever by the inevitable march of progress.

    I grew up in the vicinity of Chungking Mansions. Nana Chen's intimate, visceral pictures of the Mansions are so unsentimentally authentic and beautiful that I am speechless and deeply moved.” – Chan Koonchung, author of The Fat Years

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    For more than a century, trams have plied their trade along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island. During that time, they have witnessed the transformation of the local economy from a colonial backwater to the massive financial centre that is the modern city. The post-war years, from the 1960s onward, have seen the radical redevelopment of mu