City Poetry: Photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze Plays With Hong Kong’s Characters

Why We Recommend it

French photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze set himself the task of documenting visually striking street signs, and put these photos together to create visual and linguistic poems with the help of his Hong Kong-born wife.


“[Chinese] is a language that is very, very easy to make poetry in. You don’t need many words to evoke an image. It’s a very imaginative language. I have a very limited vocabulary and I’m already able to create something.” – Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze in an interview with Zolima CityMag.

How might a photographer approach learning a language? The answer is obvious: through photography. For more than a year, Jacquet-Lagrèze captured Hong Kong’s many distinctive, yet often overlooked, street signs and took them home where his wife would help to translate. Together, the couple shuffled around the characters into four-character aphorisms of the kind that abound in Chinese, such as ‘A Hundred Pains Forges Talent’: baak3 fu2 sing4coi4 (百苦成材).

This exercise slowly enabled him to decipher the many characters that adorn Hong Kong’s streets. As his photography archive grew so did his knowledge. His relationship to his wife as they welcome their first baby echoes as he takes his first steps in the local language; celebrating the action of sharing culture and the joy that comes from learning a language.

City Poetry 城市詩意 features the result of over a year worth of work. 30 works including some pieces from Jacquet-Lagrèze’s previous projects, Wild Concrete, Concrete Stories and Blue Moment, will be on show at Blue Lotus Gallery.

The exhibition also highlights the craftsmanship that goes in to street sign making in various states from pristine to total decay, as digitally printed signs and LED slowly take over. Each form has its Masters who have become local heroes, the last ones standing with few young people learning their trade. Whether its the last few neon sign Masters or the last stencil maker – the recent increased attention most likely will not keep the signs and craft alive, but it will help us to admire them when they are still around.


When: 6 Jun 2019 - 28 Jul 2019 Where: Blue Lotus Gallery – G/F, 28 Pound Lane – Sheung Wan