Paris Gare de I’Est, Chun Wai
La Place Saint-Michel, Chun Wai
Seine River, Chun Wai
Gericault’s Figure Study, Chun Wai
Delacroix’s Figure Study, Chun Wai
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Old images of Paris led to a new journey in Hong Kong

In this exhibition, Chun Wai shows that some eternal images of Paris have not changed and others that, for him, have been lost forever.

For thirty years, Chun Wai kept the negatives of photos taken while he was a student in France during the 1980s and 1990s stored away in a box.

The photos were taken in the days before digital photography and were stored the old-fashioned way, on photographic film negatives. To Chun Wai’s dismay, he found that some of the negatives had deteriorated to the point that the original materials had fully decomposed, and images were no longer visible.

The best way to store and protect film is to keep them in humidity-controlled cool conditions — not too damp or dry. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s hot and humid climate is not the ideal environment for film.

Faced with the full loss of some images and the progressive loss of others, Chun Wai decided to restore some of the photographs, and in doing so, also transition them into something more meaningful and profound.

With the deterioration of those images, he had to face the reality of the passage of time and thirty years that have gone. The details that were lost also reflect the loss of Chun Wai’s memories of these places and events. With the revelation that the negatives had been “altered” by time and the environment, the photographer is forced to contend with the fleeting and ephemeral qualities of time and the continuous progress of life.

Chun Wai has re-cast these photographs into something different and quite beautiful. When the source photos were taken, they were meant to record memories and be reminders of his wandering through Paris and other parts of France. The memories contained within were supposed to be “frozen in time”.

This carefully curated show, Adrift in Time, at The University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, with images chosen meaningfully and purposefully restored, presents Chun Wai’s journey of loss and retrieval.

The resulting prints in the exhibition, produced from images scanned from the original black and white negatives, not wholly documentary and not newly created, lie somewhere between an almost dream-like place of not being real and yet not imaginary.

The exhibition is featured in two parts. On the upper level, there are prints with the quality of abstract artworks showing some of the actual negatives that are in varying stages of decay with images beyond recovery and lost forever. On the lower level, images that have been recovered and restored are presented.

The black and white images, with a romantic atmospheric appearance, enhance the nostalgic and “French” feel. Many are reminiscent of impressionist paintings with their grainy, blurry, and soft-focus qualities.

Text Cammy Yiu / Photo Chun Wai