For 10 months during 2006-2007, while on a William J. Fulbright grant, 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.
My first few nights in Macao were filled with fitful sleep and strangely vivid dreams produced by a combination of jet-lag and sleeping pills. These visions were quickly replaced with the equally strange reality of a very small place with very big expectations.
Soon after the handover from Portuguese control to the People's Republic of China in 1999, the 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. *
While technically autonomous, the Special Administrative Region is run only with the blessing of the Central Chinese Government. It is therefore odd to see the world's largest Communist government involve itself in something that is so unabashedly Capitalist. Gambling is the purest form of consumerism. There is no product per se- just the promise of money turned into more money. This sense of being many things at once—Western and Eastern; Communist and Capitalist; contemporary and historical—is integrated seamlessly and without self-consciousness into Macao's personality.
Walking down the street then becomes like moving through the illogical progression of a dream. The challenge is not to find examples of x and photograph them, but to be lost in the multitude of meanings and remain there. 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.
* “Macao Surpasses Las Vegas as Gambling Center," New York Times, January 23, 2007
- Adam Lampton
Click on each image for larger version and caption.