HK:PM is Greg Girard’s ode to nocturnal Hong Kong between 1974 and 1989, the earliest work of the photographer’s long relationship with Asia. A journey exploring the underside of a city he first visited as a teenager in 1974 and and later lived in for 15 years. The photographs in HK:PM are imbued with the noir allure and seedy pastels of Hong Kong in its prime. “I started taking photographs at night as soon as I picked up my first camera. I never really thought of them as “night” pictures. It was just a different kind of light, whether neon, fluorescent, moonlight or the light of the city reflected off an overcast sky. But Hong Kong was alive at night in a way that other places weren’t,” says Girard. Alive indeed, when darkness falls another world comes out to play and these photographs capture just that.
HK:PM shows people at work, people at play, and simply getting on with their lives, mostly with the particular atmospheric backdrop of Hong Kong at night. A world onto itself, a place where jetliners almost touch the buildings when they come in for landing, where your desires can be met at an instant, and where people from all over the world pass through. Not portraying the glamour that some may associate with the city, instead we are invited to see how this place may have been tough for some, however driven by the hope that is the “Hong Kong Dream.” Attracted to the hidden and often dark beauty in everyday life, Girard is a champion of the common man as he explores “the often overlooked features that define daily life for its residents.”
Girard always captures his subjects and surroundings with a non-judgmental eye and genuine interest paired with a journalistic/anthropological approach to accessing and documenting what may not last, and the sense to see it at the right time. Born and raised in a suburb of Vancouver, Girard began taking photographs as a high school student in the 1970s, spending days and nights in the downtown districts surrounding the port. In 1974 Girard first travelled to Hong Kong, where he later settled and found work, first as a sound recordist for the BBC, and then eventually as a photographer. For many years Girard produced editorial work for publications such as National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, Elle, Paris-Match, Stern, and New York Times Magazine. More recently his photographs have been exhibited and collected around the world, with shows for example at the International Centre for Photography (USA), PM Gallery (UK), the National Gallery of Canada, the Yixian International Photo Festival (China), and numerous other public and private institutions.
As for HK:PM, part of the motivation behind this series is clear when Girard explains, “at the time (1970s and 80s) I wasn’t seeing anything, apart from a rare scene in a Hong Kong gangster film perhaps, that was visually registering the place I was living in.” He is famous for capturing what may be lost in history but he also admits to the failures, the photographs that got away: “There used to be ballroom dance clubs where patrons could pay per dance with a hostess. The patrons were older gents. All rather genteel from what I could tell. Long gone I assume now. I would poke my head in but was never able to make a picture.” Girard still gets a “thrill” when arriving in HK and loves “wandering aimlessly around the streets,” but admits to feeling some sense of loss about features of the city that have vanished, like “the filling in of the harbour, certain buildings and neighbourhoods, and especially Kai Tak airport of course”.
A personal “letter” to the artist by the iconic Ann Hui, one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated “New Wave” film makers, acts as a fitting foreword to the new book. Girard photographed the director in 1986 and, although they hadn’t communicated since, Hui generously agreed to to contribute a foreword. Hui focuses on social issues in her work: human migration and displacement, ongoing change and the innate human strength to adapt. Girard for his part has always been attracted to the social and physical transformations of places. And it would appear that both artists share an interest in society’s uncelebrated and overlooked. For example, the acclaimed book “City of Darkness” (and its updated and expanded re-issue, “City of Darkness Revisited”), a five year project co-authored with Ian Lambot, documenting the infamous Walled City of Kowloon: 33,000 people living in over 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, built without the contributions of a single architect and ungoverned by Hong Kong's safety and health regulations. Torn down in 1992, the book’s photographs, oral histories, maps and essays provide the most thorough record of this singular Hong Kong phenomenon.
Hong Kong is a sum of many parts, the seedy nightlife is but one, and this unglamorous underbelly makes for a rich and alluring world that attracted a young photographer from the first day he stepped off a freighter in Hong Kong in 1974.