Approaching Shadow, Hong Kong, 1956/2012, Fan Ho. From Hong Kong Yesterday.
I find that popular old photographs depicting Hong Kong, and probably Asia, tend to be drenched in orientalism (see orientalism in art history and Edward Said’s writings). They are valuable historical accounts, but angled through Western eyes: this is a sampan, this is a fish market. No doubt fascinating glimpses into the past, but rarely is there any room for contemplation.
And then there is Fan Ho. His approach is subtlety and abstraction, new perspectives and technical perfection. Much like László Moholy-Nagy and Albert Renger-Patzsch, prominent figures in the school of Bauhaus, Fan Ho’s subject matter is never about the big picture. In his work are the mundane, every day objects, and life.
He prefers the minute and often unnoticed moment of intimacy (see Little Women and Back to Mother here), over what outsiders may perceive as very Hong Kong. He prefers playing with shadows and architecture, over matter-of-fact captures of the street. Photographs of old Hong Kong are typically shot in a documentarian manner (see geewhizgolly’s old Hong Kong tag), but Fan Ho shoots like a painter.
The war brought about social and political fragmentation everywhere. A pictorialist takes a sentimental approach bordering on propaganda: this is a poor starving child, this is a bloodied soldier. The photographer presses the shutter to express his political ideologies. But those sick of political strife, created new objectivity where every message is stripped off, and where art and photographs show nothing but its intrinsic aesthetic value.
But here comes the plot twist, the results are rarely just emotionless objects, they do trigger our own memory and give us room to contemplate the people in the picture. They say nothing, but it doesn’t mean there is nothing to say. You don’t look at Fan Ho’s photos and gasp at how political, how oriental they are. You just say, “Shit, this is beautiful.”
Actually, what I really wanted to say, is that this was a homage to Mr. Ho (although it turned out to look nothing like it). And then I couldn’t stop gushing because shit, Mr. Ho’s work is beautiful.