‘Trading Places’ Pays Tribute to the Architectural Glories of China’s Former Treaty Ports
In an epic tribute to architecture, history and photography, FCC Member Nicholas Kittoturns his lens on China’s former treaty ports in his recently published tome, Trading Places. By Ed Peters
The sobriquet “Old China Hand” fits Nicholas Kitto like a glove. His family connections with the Middle Kingdom stretch back generations, and he has worked in Hong Kong, first as a professional accountant and more recently as a heritage photographer, since 1983.
So it’s more than fitting that his magnum opus – the 396-page coffee table book, Trading Places – pays tribute to the architectural glories of China’s former treaty ports, with a particular accent on the places once inhabited by his forebears.
“While I was on a business trip to Tianjin in 1996, I sought out the house where my father had lived on Racecourse Road as a child in the 1920s,” says Kitto.
“Eight years later we went back there together; it had been turned into a bar so we had a gin and tonic in what used to be the drawing room. By then, the germ of an idea had started to form in my mind.”
In 2008, accompanied by historian Robert Nield, Kitto set out to photograph the best and brightest pre-Revolution buildings in more than four-dozen ports and settlements. By very good luck, many had been renovated in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Equally fortunately, rather than inciting indignation as sometimes is the case for foreign photographers on the mainland, his Canon 5D, associated paraphernalia and outwardly eccentric peregrinations during more than 50 visits excited curiosity and admiration in equal measure among all and sundry. In all, he amassed 4,400 “keeper” images, of which 750 appear in the book.
Shanghai, and what had been done to preserve the Bund, was a highlight,” says Kitto. “And of course Tianjin exercised an allure because of the family connection, likewise Yingkou – previously called Newchwang – where my grandparents Jack and Audrey Kitto were married 100 years ago this October.”
Trading Places rolled off the presses last year, to acclaim from both the public and reviewers. When asked if he had a second volume in mind, Kitto – who made it a matter of record that he took 2,784,010 steps in the course of research – groaned in mock pain. “Once was enough for this lifetime.”
Pick up a copy of Trading Places at the FCC or online from blacksmithbooks.com.