Most book milestones are measured in time—six months to deadline!—or word count. For Nicholas Kitto, author of Trading Places: A Photographic Journey through China’s Former Treaty Ports, the pertinent metric was step count: in the process of searching out the subjects for his photographs, Kitto walked 2,784,010 steps in the course of fifty-one different journeys from his home in Hong Kong—which must have amounted well over a thousand miles on foot.
Two men stand in front of a vegetable and fruit stall, completely absorbed by their own private conversation. Behind them, two other, younger men intimately shake hands on leaving the “Cafés Salonu” while a boy next to them is trying to wipe the water and trash from the sidewalk. The whole setting appears cinematic, the characters shimmering in the moody atmosphere engendered by the beam of the street light.
In 2007, Londoners found a new magazine on the stands called Monocle. Thirteen years later, as we are informed on the back cover, it grew from a fairly modest debut as “a briefing on the world, from diplomacy to design, business to travel, culture to hospitality” into “a fully-fledged media company with a 24-hour radio station, a website, films, shops and cafés—and books.” This book is just what one would expect from such a source—its emphasis is on modern and contemporary Japan rather than on historical aspects (although these are not entirely neglected), and is perhaps an ideal book for younger people who want to know what Japan in the 21st century has to offer.
In 1865, the eminent American journalist and abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a lecture called “Pictures and Progress”, in which he discussed the role of photography in exposing the evils of racism and slavery. Referring to Louis Daguerre, he pointed out that “men of all conditions and classes can now see themselves as others see them, and as they will be seen by those who come after them,” and that “man is the only picture-making animal in the world. He alone of all the inhabitants of earth has the capacity and passion for pictures.”
Liam Wong’s debut collection of photography, the eponymously entitled TO:KY:OO, brings together several trends that someone more au courant with the cultural zeitgeist than I perhaps would have already been familiar with. I had, for example, to look up what “cyberpunk” actually meant and can’t myself say whether the photographs in this collection are “cyberpunk-inspired” or are instead influenced by other, more mainstream, traditions. I am perhaps on firmer ground saying that they are vibrant, pulsating and hypnotic.
My books all begin with photos, photos from my collection that show Hong Kong in the late 19th and early 20th century. I choose each photo for the stories it has to tell—some obvious, others that need a closer look to uncover.
Earnshaw Books, an independent publisher specializing in China matters, has recently issued two books featuring westerners sojourning in China over a period of a century and a half. Frances Wood, a respected scholar of Chinese history, presents the account of Aeneas Anderson, who served as a valet to Lord Macartney when the latter led an embassy to the court of the Qianlong emperor (1792) and Graham Earnshaw introduces a book of photographs taken by Isabella Bird on her travels through China in 1898.