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HKFP Lens: Otto Lam brings life to old Hong Kong photographs in colourised series

Otto Lam began collecting rare books and photographs of Hong Kong and China after starting work in the UK fashion industry in 1993.
Although previous collections of photographs illustrating the lost world of old Hong Kong have tended to focus exclusively on black-and-white images from before World War Two, Lam has unveiled a colourised photo collection titled Old Hong Kong in Colour, with shots from 1948 to 1969. The series has been published as a book.
Old Hong Kong In Colour

During the peak tourist season in July 1961, rickshaws carrying western tourists are parked temporarily near the car park at the junction of Salisbury and Nathan Roads in Tsimshatsui. Taking a picture with the rickshaw pullers was a favourite activity for tourists. This massive outdoor car park of 450,0000 square feet opposite the Peninsula Hotel was sold in 1969 for a record-breaking HK$130 million (or $2,661 per square foot), six times higher than the reserve price. The five-star Sheraton Hotel, 17 storeys high and with 1,100 rooms above a shopping mall, was constructed on the site in the early 1970s. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

These evocative images portray the city as a vibrant burgeoning metropolis during a crucial period of economic growth and modernisation.
Old Hong Kong In Colour

Lascar Row in Sheung Wan contained a sprawling market during the 1950s and 1960s selling all manner of antiquities from different Chinese dynasties. Tourists would come here treasure hunting. This photograph shows a group of westerners with their Chinese guide looking for curios to take back home with them. However, some seem to be more interested in the tenement buildings and crowded living conditions in Hong Kong. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong in Colour covers a wide range of images from daily life in post-war Hong Kong.
Old Hong Kong In Colour

Perhaps it was the grave of one of the wealthy brothers. Tiger Balm Garden, Hong Kong, in the summer of 1948. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Lam has taken a keen interest in the early colonial history of Hong Kong and missionary activity in China.
Old Hong Kong In Colour

Taking the ferry in December 1958, one would pass these pre-war pai laus (rows of tenement houses) along the Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun waterfronts. Their lower floors were used as warehouses for the import and export of South East Asian foodstuffs, and offices for overseas traders. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

He has a PhD in history from the University of Hong Kong and is a Museum Expert Adviser of Hong Kong; a member of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Archives & History Advisory Committee and a member of The Royal Numismatic Society. 
Old Hong Kong In Colour

The open-air Peak Café had just been transformed from the Peak Lookout in 1947. This photograph shows a view from the interior looking out over the South China Sea to the south of Hong Kong Island. Summer 1948. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

Movie-going was a popular form of entertainment for the residents of resettlement estates in the 1960s. The Palace Theatre, located at the junction of Pei Ho Street and Berwick Street, was the local entertainment venue for residents of that district. The theatre commenced business in 1953 and was air-conditioned, a great luxury for people living in the estates. In October 1960, An Uncle’s Sacrifice, was showing. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

A street hawker on Berwick Street, Shek Kip Mei, in October 1960. The mother is seen multi-tasking – holding her naked child while at the same time peeling a pear for her customer. Trays of soft drink bottles behind her are ready for recycling and reuse by A.S. Watsons, Tropi orange juice and Bireley’s. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

Left: ‘Beauty by the shore’ – A sweet and immaculately dressed boat girl photographed together with American sailors at Aberdeen in the 1950s. After taking the photograph, whether the sailors understood her or not, she would shout with her Tanka accent, ‘Sir, if you want to take a boat tour, please come to mine!’. Right: ‘Beauties in the air’ – In the 1950s and 1960s, working as a flight attendant was a glamorous career, with only the most outstanding women chosen to work in the air. Selected for their
good figures and friendly demeanour, their jobs were actually quite demanding. This photograph shows an air hostess at Kai Tak Airport in 1958. She is wearing a white cheongsam, which was considered to be eminently appropriate as a smart airline uniform. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

The Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 16 Caine Road, Mid-Levels was opened for worship in 1888. The construction cost was US$15,400. In the early days, photographs of the Cathedral were all in black-and-white. This photograph taken from the Zoological and Botanical Gardens in the 1950s shows the entire Cathedral and its garden surroundings, with Victoria Harbour in the background. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

Contestants paddling hard during the dragon boat race at Aberdeen fishing village in 1950s. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

Close to the shore near Cheung Chau, a fisherman sets his net at sunset; he will wait for small fish to swim into the net during the evening. This traditional fishing method used by fishermen in Hong Kong and Macau can now only be seen in photographs such as this, taken in the 1950s. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

Aberdeen – the populous and tourist-friendly fishing village on the south side of the Island – is hidden by the shoulder of a hill. The island of Ap Lei Chau is easily recognisable in 1955, but completely undeveloped. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

The most powerful storm of the 1960s, Typhoon Marie, struck Hong Kong on the night of 7 and 8 June 1960. Many downtown districts of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula were devastated by her destructive power. This photograph shows the post-typhoon debris from fallen trees outside the Grand Hotel (established in 1950) in Carnarvon Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Many vehicles parked on the roadside were seriously damaged in this storm. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

A bird’s eye view of the Happy Valley racecourse with Jardine’s Lookout behind in December 1964. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

Left: Shan Hoi Restaurant, Long Shan and Ming Shing Barber Shop, at 2 Aberdeen Street, provided residents with everyday services. This photograph, taken in September 1960, captures the wet and slippery surface of the steeply-inclined Aberdeen Street after rain. Pedestrians needed to pay extra attention when walking on these streets. Right: Most of the people housed in resettlement estates in the 1950s and 1960s had low incomes and lived difficult lives. In this photograph taken in September 1963, an American charity is preparing to distribute relief supplies to residents at Shek Kip Mei. To the residents of communities such as this, these European and American aid workers were welcome guests among those whose lives were so hard. A large number of residents of all ages have gathered to meet the aid workers. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

‘A short way behind the plaza, Hong Kong Summer 1948.’ A gas street lamp is here seen next to the Murray Parade Ground, with the HSBC building and Supreme Court (now the Court of Final Appeal) in the background. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Old Hong Kong In Colour

On 9 May 1962, members of local martial arts associations hold banners during the Bun Festival parade, passing by the Cheung Chau Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Fish Marketing Organisation. The top right corner of the photo shows a hand-painted lantern used during Cheung Chau Bun Festival provided by the Far East Bank. The Far East Bank was founded by the late Mr Deacon Chiu and mainly served the New Territories and outlying islands. A group of tourists can be seen in the lower right corner. Photo: Otto C.C. Lam.

Find out more about the book “Old Hong Kong in Colour” here.

HKFP Lens: Otto Lam brings life to old Hong Kong photographs in colourised series