A symbol of Hong Kong that has been iconic from Hollywood blockbusters to Wong Kar–wai movies, neon signs can be seen everywhere. These signs were originally introduced in the 1920s. The city’s economization saw them flourish in the latter half of the 20th century. To advertise their opening hours, neon lights were put up by hotels, restaurants, nightclubs as well pawn shops, mah jong Parlors, and nightclubs. Each sign is made from local neon, with Western neon mixed in with craft. Nowadays, neon lights are less common. As the city changed, businesses switched from manufacturing to service providers. Old traditions industries. Neon has never been an exception. Pascal Greco is a Swiss-born artist. Hong Kong Neon ” explores how neon lights have illuminated the streets of New York for years.
Greco, inspired by Wong Kar -wai’s Hong Kong-set films “In the Mood for Love”, and “Chungking Express”, Greco photographed neon lights with a Polaroid cam to capture one vanishing form of art through the other.
He photographed 170 neon signs in Hong Kong each month and traveled there for one month every year for the past eight years. Greco says, “Around 70%” of the neon signs from his book don’t even exist anymore. Modernization has made neon signage a natural victim in densely populated areas like Hong Kong. New skyscrapers will replace the old walk-up structures. Numerous old signs will eventually be replaced by more energy-efficient, safer LED lights. Only a few of these neon lights find a storage home. Many of them end up in trashcans. Most neon signs in Hong Kong use traditional Chinese characters. Greco believes simplified Chinese might be a contributing factor to Hong Kong losing its unique heritage. It requires hard work, but minimal financial rewards. Art can take years to master, and requires physical labor. Many neon lighting artists in Hong Kong lack a successor. Cardin Chen, the spokesperson for Tetra Neon Exchange a non-profit neon conservation group, said, “We managed to get neon, this foreign invention. And add our touch.” She estimates that in Hong Kong there were 400 neon sign makers at its peak. However, only 10 are left. Their successors will not have to struggle in this dying industry as they did when they were neon lights masters. Cardin adds that for the longest time, these people worked hard to make Hong Kong a great place. They should be seen. They have been unsung heroes. Karen Chan is the founder of CeeKayEllo an art design studio in the local area and HTMLKCRAFTS, which supports local artists and crafts. She has been studying neon signs since 2019, to keep the art alive. Since the neon industry in Hong Kong is largely male-dominated she has been the only female neon artist and practitioner. She also has been studying various neon light artists around the globe, in the United States, South Korea, France, and Taiwan. The 32-year-old admits that it is hard to master the craft. She acknowledged that she has weaknesses in the physical portion of her craft. You need to pay attention to every detail, whether you are betting glass or blowing gas. It is also a matter of practice and muscle memory. Karen feels it’s worth it to preserve such an important part of Hong Kong tradition. Although neon lights might be physically removed, the memories are still cherished by Hong Kong’s residents.