Photographer on mission to save Asia's lost images

Tue Jul 28, 2009 3:34am EDT
 
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By Venus Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Hong Kong's colonial architecture and early street life may now have largely vanished, but a new foundation in the city is aiming to revive these bygone times by hunting down a trove of old photographs hidden overseas.

Tens of thousands of rare historical images from Hong Kong and other countries across Asia are now believed to lie buried in the vast collections of universities, libraries and individuals the world over, largely hidden from public view.

"Photos such as these deserve to be given a fresh audience today," said writer and photographer Edward Stokes who set up the Hong Kong Photographic Heritage Foundation in 2008 to unearth, contextualize and publish such images.

The foundation's first book "Hong Kong As It Was" features the striking black-and-white images of German photographer Hedda Morrison depicting everyday life in the 1940s.

"Morrison has 60,000 negatives held at Harvard and Cornell. About 10,000 have great historical, cultural and social meaning, yet only about 1,000 of them have ever been seen, have ever been published," Stokes said.

"They show a Hong Kong so far removed from what we know today; a place struggling with its sway of refugees, its squatter shacks and its early public housing."

Since he accidentally stumbled upon Morrison's photos in a local university library, Stokes has traveled the world trying to dig up more vanished images.

The foundation's list of future projects runs long. Apart from reviving the works of a little-known 19th century Chinese photographer, Stokes also plans to publish other forgotten photographs from China, India, Singapore and Malaysia.   Continued...