Travel related souvenirs are odd consumer items. Generally mass produced and correspondingly cheap, they are bought as a representation of an often cherished and personal holiday experience.
Nowadays, with the ubiquity of inexpensive digital cameras and cell phones, the majority of tourists are capable of capturing relatively high-quality images as a record of their journeys. As late as the 1990s, however, one could still purchase souvenir colour slide collections depicting famous sites from a particular location. As opposed to, say, a miniature Eiffel Tower or Singapore Lion, sites which were most probably visited by the traveller, the collection of slides (taken at some point before the visit) would no doubt include places that were never experienced physically.
The purchase of a single representative souvenir icon states ‘I was there and this is a physical memento (proof) of that moment’. The collection of slides, however, is clearly proof of tourist sites, but not necessarily that of the actual sightseeing activities of the tourist. It is thus a record of someone else’s (the photographer’s) viewpoint purchased by a visitor as a kind of surrogate memory of their trip.
As is the case with so much other materiel we accumulate over the years, travel souvenirs often end up as second-hand items at a local ‘op-shop’ (short for ‘opportunity shop’ in Australia, commonly known as thrift stores in the U.S and elsewhere). It is at one such store that I came across two souvenir slide collections depicting Hong Kong.
Anyone familiar with Hong Kong and its districts will no doubt recognise the enormous changes that have occurred since these images were taken. The exact dates of the photos are not available but judging by the cars and fashions displayed I can guess that the first set dates from the late 1960s whilst the second appears to be from the early to mid 70s. What strikes me is the odd choice of subject matter for some images. Whilst most depict what you would expect from a set of souvenir images aimed at tourists (city skyline, shopping districts, architectural landmarks etc) there are included some odd choices such as commercial docklands, railway infrastructure and numerous shots of highways.
As a result, however, what were once simply cheap mementos of a visited city have now become significant historical documents, a specific time capsule, of an extremely dynamic urban environment.
Mid to Late 1970s?