More than 20 years ago, Greg Girard and Ian Lambot journeyed through the Kowloon Walled City and recorded the lives of the residents in their book City of Darkness. Although the Walled City no longer exists, they have collaborated again to continue their journey
Dressed in her bright red uniform, a Cathay Pacific stewardess pulls her suitcase down the dark alleys and murky pathways in the Kowloon Walled City, eventually vanishing in the perplexing maze of the ‘City of Darkness’.
This is lingering memory shared by Canadian photographer Greg Girard and British architect Ian Lambot, authors of City of Darkness, a record of the lives in the Walled City first published in 1993. But while they might have missed the shot, Girard and Lambot still have plenty to savour as they prepare their second collaboration, City of Darkness Revisited.
Intended to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the demolition of the Kowloon Walled City, the new book will comprise of both new material and many pictures not in the first book.
Ironically, now that it’s gone, the Walled City seems to garner more interest than when it was still standing. A rich source of inspiration for writers, artists, architects and film-makers worldwide, it has appeared in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins film as well as the first-person shooter game Call of Duty Black Ops. This mounting interest from different parts of the world prompted Girard and Lambot to bring the story of the city up to date, filling in the blanks left by their previous work.
“The first book was a story of the people,” says Lambot. “We didn’t spend too much time on things like triads and drugs, and we didn’t mention much of the architecture — which was a spectacle.”
The Walled City was notorious as a haven for all manner of vice, where the police (as legend had it) never entered. “It was bad press. There was some truth to those stories in earlier years, but by the time I started photographing in 1986, there wasn’t much difference between the Walled City and other working class areas,” says Girard. “And the police did patrol in the Walled City.”
For Lambot, the stories of the Walled City are the greatest draw — like the one about patients who had been infected by a plant fungus thanks to unsterilised needles used by one of the doctors there. “I believe it’s true,” he says. “I want it to be true, even though I cannot prove it. That’s what keeps the myths of the Walled City alive.”