Hong Kong's skyline has become the epitome of the ultra-modern cityscape: a cinematic cluster of sleek glass skyscrapers jostling for space along the shore of this tiny island. Shigeichi Nagano's latest book transports us back in time to reveal a very different city before the dazzling shine of metal and glass — a cruder landscape, but one which was already inhabited with an overwhelming intensity and raw energy.

Nagano (b. 1925) is one of Japan's most prolific documentary photographers. Since the end of World War II he has photographed all across Japan, and the streets of Tokyo, his adopted home, have been his greatest muse. This book reveals a lesser-known series that he took on his first overseas trip to Hong Kong in 1958. This is the first time that a book of these 'classic' black-and-white street photographs has been published, fifty years after they were taken.

The book immediately plunges into Nagano's natural environment as a photographer: the streets. In Hong Kong they form an intricate maze which is constantly surging with frenetic activity.

The first few cityscapes highlight the sheer visual chaos and capture the energy and the density of its streets. The images then lead us slowly through the streets of the city, across rooftops, through jam-packed streets and bustling markets, past children crouching in doorways, catching the odd glimpse of the harbour along the way.

Nagano's camera dwells on the hundreds of refugees that poured into Hong Kong daily to escape communist China, following them to the shanty towns where they lived on the rocky hillsides of the island. Day eventually turns into night and the photographs move into the altogether darker and more oppressive labyrinth of the infamous Kowloon Walled City (Ryuji Miyamoto's series, Kowloon Walled City is also well worth hunting down for a fascinating study of this incredible architectural anomaly that has now been destroyed). In one of the few short texts in the book, Nagano describes how he was taken to see the legendary opium dens of the Walled City. The shots that he took on that visit aroused suspicion both with the underworld and the government and it was over ten years before he would be allowed to return to Hong Kong.

In the 1995 exhibition catalogue Tokyo, City of Photographs, Nagano wrote the following about the process of photographing the city: "I don’t intend to capture some essential 'Tokyo'. That’s too big an idea for me. What I can do is to use my camera like a knife to dig out fragments of the city, the bits and pieces that make up this accidental, complex whole." This collection of visual fragments reveal a Hong Kong which has all but disappeared and they are a timely reminder of just how sharp Nagano's photographic gaze has been for over sixty years.

— Marc Feustel is an independent curator and writer based in Paris (www.studioequis.net)



Hong Kong Reminiscence 1958
by Shigeichi Nagano
Hardcover, 124 pages, 108 plates.
Printed in a limited edition of 700 copies.
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