It is unlikely that anyone will buy this tome for themselves; it is expensive and not exactly useful. But of course that makes it an ideal gift, either to give or receive, which is probably why it is appearing just before Christmas. For the man who has everything: a coffee-table book containing nothing but full-colour, glossy photographs taken of, from, in or around Hong Kong trams.
There is a particular genre of Hong Kong photography that might be called ‘recently arrived Westerner’, in which the shutterbug seeks out what to him is highly exotic but to everyone else is humdrum. Close-ups of ornate but slightly rusty mail boxes in older residential neighbourhoods seem to be a popular subject, as are the smelliest and slimiest bits of wet markets, and anything featuring big and brash Chinese characters – regardless of what they mean.
On the Tram by Morgan Ommer and Yvon Choi largely avoids clichés by refusing to tear the lens away – or at least far – from our old familiar streetcars. The book features tram passengers, bits of tram equipment, views out of trams, views into trams, views from one tram into another, views of fellow road users jostling for space with trams. There’s even a tram-wash.
The stars of this photo essay, however, are the ads – mostly on the sides of the vehicles, sometimes in the background. The tram, otherwise an antiquated and thoroughly humdrum box on wheels, becomes a surreal juxtaposition of passengers sitting at windows or looking out of doors enveloped by oversized pictures and words: little human appendages to a giant Yao Ming or unwitting illustrations to a caption about lingerie.
In Dymocks soon, apparently.