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The Disappearing Neon Signs of Hong Kong

When a lot of people think of Hong Kong, one of the first mental images that comes to mind are busy streets with cascading neon signs glowing with colour and vibrantly energizing a lively city. I can recall my first experience encountering the neon signs of Hong Kong, which was a very big part of the reason I fell in love with this city in the first place. I had just arrived in Hong Kong after a long flight which had me landing late in the evening and I was in a taxi on my way to my friends place. This was my first time in Hong Kong and I honestly didn't really know what to expect, it was pretty much a last minute decision to spend a few weeks on my way to visiting some friends in England. As we drove around the city, my jaw dropped as I gazed out the windows and saw a city so much unlike anything else I had ever seen. Every corner and every street was painted with vibrant neon hues and everywhere I looked I was struck with similar scenes of wonder and amazement. This was in 2013, and as I write this 9 years later, I am saddened that nobody else will be able to have this experience again.

'How Long Before They're Gone?' A photograph taken in June, 2018, just a few months before every sign you see here was dismantled.

I moved to Hong Kong 6 months after this first encounter with the city and it was then that I started to hear about how the neon signs had been slowly but steadily disappearing over the years and that the incredible scenes that had me wide-eyed and gaping like a fool were nothing compared to what Hong Kong used to be like. Sure enough I hopped on google and had a look at some images of Hong Kong during the 80s and 90s and... wow. Still, Hong Kong when I first arrived and up until around 2017 or so was quite the site to behold.

Tsim Sha Tsui, 1987 - Photograph by Greg Girard (@gregforaday)

It wasn't until around that 2017 mark that I really started to take notice of how the streets were changing. The neon signs were being systematically removed due to government regulation. It seemed to coincide with growing political unrest in the city. I won't comment further on why I believe that these two things seemed to coincide, or whether they are related or not. What I will say however is what a shame it is that today, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find any street with a neon sign, whereas it used to be the complete opposite. It was around this time (2017) that I made the neon signs of Hong Kong the major focus of my photography. From this, my style started to develop and I became incredibly driven to capture as many scenes of Hong Kong during what I call the twilight of the neon era.

I'm incredibly grateful that my life journey allowed me to witness even the tail end of this neon era, although it's bitter sweet as I know exactly what was lost, at least I was able to witness and capture the majesty of Hong Kong in it's former glory. Having said all this, there are still some places in Hong Kong which boast impressive and gorgeous neon setups, they are just increasingly rare. I'll finish off this little post by imploring all who reside or visit Hong Kong to appreciate the neon signs that we have left. Take a few photos when you see them, you never know when it will be your last chance to do so.

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