For a year in 2006-’07, I photographed the former Portuguese colony of Macao (now a Special Administrative Region of China) and witnessed a key moment in its transformation from a small enclave into a gambling Mecca. I returned in 2015 and ’19 to continue the project and to see what had changed.
Soon after the handover from Portuguese control to the People’s Republic of China in 1999, Macao’s casino industry which, until then was monopolized by Hong Kong businessman Stanley Ho, was opened to foreign investment. Since then, Macao has been busily trying to place itself as the gaming and leisure destination for, not just China, but all of Asia. As of 2007 Macao had usurped the Las Vegas Strip as the most valuable piece of gambling real estate in the world. By 2013 Macao outpaced Las Vegas by about seven times. Since then Macao has struggled to maintain this level of growth and even seen a substantial decline in revenue largely due to Chinese government restrictions on travel and a crackdown on Mainland corruption. I was curious if these recent declines in fortune were evident from the street level.
While these economic factors are literally written into the landscape of the territory, the idiosyncratic nature of a place where multiple histories intersect remains. Despite the tendency of huge commercial spaces spaces such as hotels and casinos to obliterate unique local culture in favor of bland international consumer culture, Macao remains a location that is hard to define as any one ‘kind’ of place.
Beyond presenting Macao as a site of physical, cultural and political change, these pictures attempt to navigate a territory of conflicting perceptions inherent in the movement from historical city to phantasmagorical dreamscape. In doing so, they present Macao as existing somewhere between a reflection of an internal architecture and that of a physical reality.
*All work in this series is shot on 4×5” film and printed as 30×40” archival inkjet prints in editions of 5