Hong Kong Through the Lens of Fan Ho

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The essence of Fan Ho’s photography is his gift in capturing humanity. He seizes the moment as sunlight travels through dusty air particles on a particular afternoon, while everyday people hurry by with their mundane matters and with the occasional pedestrian catching the lens of his camera. There is a pureness to Ho’s body of work while nostalgically documenting 1950s Hong Kong. Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery is grateful to have this opportunity to partner with Fan Ho’s family and Sarah Greene to present this comprehensive exhibition of Fan Ho’s vintage photography. Click through to view the highlights.

Visual Dialogues: Hong Kong through the Lens of Fan Ho
14–30 June | Hong Kong

Hong Kong Through the Lens of Fan Ho

  • Back Alley, 1955
    Fan Ho was not a documentary purist and he was willing to alter the reality of an image for compositional reasons or if it served the higher cause of rendering a universal or emotional truth. The haze that plays such a central role in many of Fan Ho’s photographs to render a distinct atmosphere, was not always a natural phenomenon. In Back Alley, both the haze and the apparently random passer-by were staged. As Fan Ho revealed: Back Alley has a classical smoky mood. But only the street and light are natural. The little old lady was my grandmother and we created the smoke as it was quite uncommon to find mist in back alleys.

  • Afternoon Chat, 1959
    The print Afternoon Chat tells the story of two elderly women chatting at the Central Market at 4pm as the clock above slightly obscured by the dark shows. In Fan Ho’s words commenting the picture: ‘Life is but a string of moments and photography captures these moments, freezing them in time.’ Quite rarely, but occasionally he created an image without people in it. 



     

  • Approaching Shadow, 1954
    Fan Ho's love for composition and geometrical forms is reflected in many of the titles he chose for his work and is at times so predominant that it moves his art towards the realm of abstract photography.

  • As Evening Hurries By, 1955
    The print As Evening Hurries By held a special place in the artist’s heart: ’If there was one print I would want to be remembered by, it would be this one.’ Fan confessed. The print combines a peculiar mood with deep symbolism. From the peripheries waves are crushing in on the shore. A lone man on his tricycle amplifies a sense of loneliness or solitude at the same time as a stunning peacefulness and quiet assertiveness embraces the scene while the sun is slowly setting.

  • Tofu Delivery, 1961
    For a street photographer, in particular, this is a limitation since one cannot fully control what he or she would find out there, but it is also precisely a strength or prerogative from which the genre can derive its distinct persuasiveness. As Fan Ho put it: ‘Only real people, real matters have the greatest persuasive power.’

  • Lunch, 1962
    The hard light comes shines as spotlight countering white silhouettes of people. The presence of light also sets apart the foreground, middle ground and background in different tones of grey. Or take, for example, ‘Lunch’ which, as Fan Ho explained, uses sunlight as the main source of light and reflected light as diffusion.

  • On The Stage of Life, 1954
    Fan Ho would distinguish between two categories, objective and subjective photography. The former seeks to portray reality in a direct, straightforward manner (in a documentary style, if you will), while the latter aimed at portraying another type of truth and had to be seen more as a reflection of one’s soul and spirit in nature. In his own work, Fan Ho would strive to accomplish such kind of subjective photographs, where, say, a street scene would capture not only what was in front of the camera but also what was behind it: the photographer’s emotions and sentiments. In his words: ‘Each photo offers a small window through which you see and feel what the photographer saw and felt.’ 

  • Long Time No See, 1963
    What sets photography apart from others is its immediacy and close bond with reality. In Fan’s own words: ‘There is no other medium that can depict the world as vivid, natural, precise and real.’ For a street photographer, in particular, this is a limitation since one cannot fully control what he or she would find out there, but it is also precisely a strength or prerogative from which the genre can derive its distinct persuasiveness. As Fan Ho put it: ‘Only real people, real matters have the greatest persuasive power’.

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