It is the most populous continent and its urban geography has interested several artists and scholars. We are talking about Asia and its relationship with a Canadian photographer: Greg Girard.
Greg Girard was born in Vancouver, he started taking pictures in high school, he was interested in the effects of artificial light on colour film. When he was 18 years old he travelled to Hong Kong by ship, he took eighteen days to get to the port of Hong Kong. All the youngsters in that period went visiting Europe, but he wasn’t interested in the old continent. For someone, like him, who was interested in the underside of the city, Hong Kong surely presented a huge material. Asia become his home, he lived in Hong Kong, Okinawa, Shangaii.
In East Asia population has started growing in the 70s, specifically in the cities that weren’t ready to host all those people. Girard shows how every single space is turned into accommodation with a vibrant reality which has nothing pleasant, underlined by a gritty aesthetic revealing social and physical underside of the cities that were about to grow vertically.
City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City is a record of life in a parallelogram, where more than 35.000 people live and work there in 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, constructed without architectural, engineering or health and safety oversight. This large city block in Hong Kong is represented in his pictures as dramatic but also a matter of fact. When he first saw this high-rise agglomeration, he thought “How can something like this be allowed?”, hallways were turned into communal kitchens, car garages into homes, storage spaces into bedrooms. Girard’s pictures tell of an unexpected city, Hong Kong was alive at night in a way that other places weren’t. Showing what modernity looks like without edulcorating it and the growth of cities aren’t the only themes of Girard’s photography. His recent book Hotel Hokinawa depicts a unique social and physical landscape created by decades of living alongside the US military, in fact, Okinawa hosts more than a half the 50.000 US troops stationed in Japan. If we leave art aside for a while, the study of the relationship between the US military bases and their host communities is a visual sociological essay. Phantom of Shangai, Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong 1974-1989 make you feel overwhelmed by these overcrowded crumbling buildings, the totally unenchanting interiors, the tired faces of the working class, the dramatic tones. Many of these works were commissioned by important magazines, the point was to show how city life was expanding vertically those years and there is not even a grain of sweeten view.
All images © Greg Girard
Written by Anna Trifirò