When I think about Hong Kong, one of the things I picture is the bright streets lit up with neon signs. In its early days especially the 1980-1990s, Hong Kong was filled with neon signs as the warm glow of these lights served as a selling tactic for restaurants and businesses to attract customers. However, with the rise of more practical and energy efficient alternatives such as LEDs, there has been a decline in neon signs over the decades. With stricter building regulations and concerns about light pollution and energy costs, neon signs seem to be on the brink of extinction as the government has been removing thousands of signs since the 2000s.
According to famous Instagram photographer, Elaine Li, she has been capturing more neon signs lately because she believes that “the unique element of the city is disappearing day by day due to safety code. We (or me at least) have the urge to capture them as much as we can, while we still can.” Her sentiment brings up an interesting concern on whether it is right for the city to take down the neon signs. Many artists and locals are slighted by the city’s decisions to remove neon signs because they believe that neon signs are a form of public and cultural art and should be preserved. In fact, Hong Kong’s neon signs have been intertwined in culture and media and is a representation and icon of Hong Kong’s past and present.
In response to the outcry, the government established an interactive online exhibition called M+ Museum in 2014 to celebrate neon art and preserve the last record of Hong Kong’s neon signs. Furthermore, the museum has acquired the removed neon signs for a permanent exhibition that is predicted to be open in 2019. However, the signs now will not have the same meaning as they were on the streets. Photographer Kevin Mak states that he loves to capture neon signs because it is about “the mindset, identity, value of signs… it’s also more about how people live their street life and feel proud of all these liveliness in it.” He considers the signs to be more important to Hong Kong’s identity because it distinguishes each neighborhood from each other. As a result, as more and more signs are continuing to fade, more questions and issues continue to saturate on the ethics of removing these signs and its effects on Hong Kong’s culture.
After realizing that the most, if not all, of the neon signs will eventually disappear, I want to create a photo series to capture this the remaining neon signs in Hong Kong before they are gone forever. Here are some of the shots that I took of the iconic neon signs in Hong Kong <3