“O que foi, não volta a ser…”, photo-album by Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro

The Leal Senado (Photo: Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro) The Leal Senado (Photo: Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro)

Development came to Macau relatively late and the city is therefore reasonably well-preserved by East Asian standards. But much, inevitably, has nevertheless been lost, as any perusal of old photographs immediately indicates. Photojournalist Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro spent a year collecting old photos and then tried to match them to present-day Macau. The result is an intriguing photo-album.

O que foi, não volta ser..., Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro, Maria de Belém Roseira (preface) (Ipsis Verbis, November 2022)
O que foi, não volta ser…, Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro, Maria de Belém Roseira (preface) (Ipsis Verbis, November 2022)

The book, he writes in the Introduction, is “a meeting between past and present”. The title “What was, won’t be again” (which reads somewhat more elegantly in Portuguese) encapsulates the conclusion: so much has changed that only a minority of photos—sourced, he says, from “auctions, the Internet, individuals, in stores and even in Portugal”—could be matched to their present-day surroundings.

Photo: Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro
Photo: Gonçalo Lobo Pinheiro

The book is an accompaniment to an exhibition. The concept, one supposes, may not be entirely unique, but it is nevertheless clever and well-executed. The black and white past floats ghostily in the full-colored present, a sort of historical augmented reality made concrete.



The photos run from Coloane up to the Portas do Cerco border crossing and include images from the Lago do Senado, Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, the A-Ma Temple, the Praia Grande, the São Paulo ruins and the Porto Interior. But some of the most touching are those of people in ordinary poses.

The book is is in Portuguese and Chinese, but the text is limited to a brief introduction and preface, hardly crucial to the appreciation of the volume by the English-language reader.

Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.