Photographing in Hong Kong, during the later 1990s. Along the Pat Sing Leng Range, on a baking summer’s day, I was being assisted by Country Parks rangers.
Two central meanings had come from my books retracing the Australian explorers’ routes: the historical feats that their journeys represented, and the environmental degradation that later European settlement (especially from cattle grazing) had wrought across the inland. In Hong Kong, my boyhood home, I decided to refocus my photographic stories towards the environment – and portray the territory’s majestic, but threatened, natural landscape.
My reasons for moving from Australia to Hong Kong in 1993 were both professional and personal. In Australia, there had been great challenges in publishing books. The last two of my explorer books were affected by the later 1980s changes in the publishing industry, which meant any book must bring profit, unlike before when serious publishers cross-subsidized titles. So these two books remained unpublished until I raised production budgets for them. The funds came from contacts in, of all places – Hong Kong! Might the territory’s entrepreneurial culture help to bring out more such books, I wondered.
But if publishing trials in Australia had shaped my plans, personal – Hong Kong – experiences lay deeper in my memory. Always, through the years, vivid images of my boyhood there had come to mind. Returned to the territory, photographing and writing my first local book between 1993 and 1994, long ago picture memories became ever more powerful. They would subtly influence that initial Hong Kong book, Hong Kong’s Wild Places.
‘A historian needs a good pair of boots’, an Australian writer once observed. While photographing Hong Kong’s Wild Places I wore out two pairs of mine, by gullies cascading after summer rains and climbing the winter-brown hills.
Looking back on Hong Kong’s Wild Places, and its photographic journeys and library research, I see in the work my best integration of photos and words. Creating the book was a dynamic, fluid process: each chapter’s photo reconnaissance influenced its library research; that then affected the chapter’s final photography; and always, field notes and observations were vital. So the whole slowly came together. Other Hong Kong nature books followed, but none could better ‘Wild Places’.
Following the book’s publication, and building on its reputation, with others I established a niche conservation publisher, the Hong Kong Conservation Photography Foundation (1997 – 2008). Professor C.Y. Jim, Chairman of the Friends of the Country Parks and a Foundation Board member, wrote in one of our books: ‘Each generation must keep the countryside as an intact, living resource for all future generations.’