As Perspective celebrates 15 successful years, we take a look at a new book and exhibition by celebrated Chinese photographer Fan Ho, who revisits Hong Kong's past through photographs of the city's streets taken in the 1950s and 60s, presented with a modern twist
A city is often defined by its landmarks and grandiose architecture, but these don't interest critically-acclaimed photographer Fan Ho. Instead, he's interested in photographing scenes on the street — a place he calls his "living theatre".
Speaking to Perspective in a telephone interview from his residence in San Francisco, Ho says he started taking photographs along the streets in Guangzhou in the 1940s and continued to do so in the 1950s and 60s in Hong Kong. "When I'm walking along the streets, if I see something that triggers a feeling in me, I'll take a snap," he says. "Along the streets, you can find the open display of emotion and the vicissitudes of life."
Nowhere is this point better illustrated than in the photograph that touches Ho most: As Evening Hurries By, taken in 1954. "Every time I look at it, I feel like we have a connection," says Ho, adding he was inspired by the themes of melancholy and a gloomy future in Chinese poet Yu Xin's poem Lament for the Land South of the River. "I found a location in Sai Wan and I waited for the right lighting and for a man to push a three-wheel trolley along the road. When it was the right moment, I snapped and God blessed me with a wave that hit the shore."
Nicknamed 'the great master', Ho has enjoyed successful careers in both the photography and the film industries, having won over 280 awards and received recognition for his photography, directing and acting — but although he rubbed shoulders frequently with the rich and famous, he wasn't interested in photographing them. "I was not interested in the prominent people. I preferred to photograph the common people in Hong Kong. I felt connected to them," Ho recounts. "Seeing the common people touched me. With them, I find humanity, care and compassion… something I couldn't find in the people from the upper classes."
The world-renowned photographer returned to the territory a few years ago, but could no longer find the scenes of old Hong Kong. Everything, from the background and people to clothing and architecture, was different. Hence, he looked to his collection of thousands of shots taken in the 1950s and 60s to produce images for his latest book, Fan Ho: A Hong Kong Memoir
.This is a preview of the “Hong Kong through the lens of history” article from the November 2014 issue of Perspective magazine.