Vintage Photo Collector in Hong Kong

2017.02.23 00:30

Old photos

About 10 years ago, or even earlier, I started to realise that there were a lot of photos available at market stalls. Whenever I go shopping for some stuff from the stall, I also buy some of these old photos, especially those taken at the traditional studios. I started to find out that many of these traditional studios are no longer in demand and some are no longer in business. I found the old photos, especially the black and white ones, like family portraits, wedding and childhood photos very interesting. The early photos are in fact an important record. In the old days, only those people with status could afford having their pictures taken. They were well respected and provided with very good customer services like getting advice on how to pose etc. The post production was also important. Like this outer pocket, it was made of fancy paper and was pressed with decorations. Inside, there was a wax paper on top the photo. This, at the time, was a very important service to the customer. It’s not only about shooting a good photo, it’s about presentation too. Not to underestimate this press-on. It’s plated with gold with the name and the logo of the studio. I believe the photo is about 80 years old. Although it started to wear, this press-on is still very intact. The press-on still clearly shows its name, both in Chinese and English, and its address. I think it’s very exquisite.

In the old days, traditional studios were very popular. They were nearly everywhere. However, they started to disappear within these 20 years. Especially these studios, they are experiencing hardship in sustaining their businesses. It’s a digital century. Everyone can take photos. Some people are still using films to take photos. In fact, some people are still taking family portraits in the studios. I know a studio which constantly has one or two family portrait orders each week. It’s not many but it seems that more and more like reminiscing nowadays. They like to have their family portraits taken professionally in studios.

Normally there are several means (to get these old photos). Either trolling through rubbish or in demolition sites, you can find a whole album if you are lucky. Alternatively, you can get them from vendors or at Lascar Row (where there are lots of antique shops) in Sheung Wan.

Roughly, I have about 2000 photos. I don’t know if 2000 is considered as many, but I think whether they are exquisite is more important. Those with special presentation or packaging are rare and precious. The biggest issue for collectors is how to categorise and handle the collection. I normally scan the photos first and then have them categorised in the computer. This process is necessary for me to further study these photos afterwards. You will realise from these old photos that family was used to be big and often they were very happy. It shows the unity of a family. This sense of unity seems gradually lost in the modern families.

When we were babies, we took our childhood photos in the studios. Then we took our passport photos when we grew up, followed by wedding photos. When we started a new family, we took pictures with our children, and family portraits with parents and grandparents. When we got older, we might need to take a self-portrait for the funeral. That’s why I feel, apart from sickness, pictures are a record of our own life, capturing the moments of birth, ageing and death. There’s a close connection to studios.


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