Approaching Shadow 1954 from “The Living Theater” 2009

Fan Ho passed away this summer. He inhibited a special sensitivity for light, lines and composition, something he expressed already as a 14-year old when his father gave him his first Rolleiflex-camera. This was in a 1950s Hong Kong – when Fan Ho’s family, along with millions of other Chinese, in 1945, fled following the creation of the Peoples Republic China with Mao as its foreman. Due to its British colony status, the city experienced a huge growth in trade and industry. Fan Ho roamed around this seaport with his camera – a city in a constant span between East and West – communism and capitalism.

The consciousness of modernity. His youth spent as a roaming photographer resulted in a large collection of photographs which were exhibited and distributed in salon exhibitions and photo competitions across China and abroad, and he won several prizes. There was also a huge number of unpublished negatives, which Fan Ho retrieved when he, at the age of 75, retired from a long career in the film industry, and decided to take up photography again. This resulted in two books being published on his Hong Kong period: Hong Kong Yesterday (2006) which focused on shapes and shadows, and where people appear as silhouettes in a composition piece; and Living Theater (2009) which reflected the way he viewed the world; as a stage where the theatre of life is played out. With his eye for light and dynamic composition, he uses the photographic surface to frame potential stories.

Construction, 1957

Over a period spanning 20 years, he observed the visual life in this city, the markets, at construction sites, back alleys and in the harbour. The starting point seems to be the individual, whilst the perspective shows us some of the totality we are part of. He was simultaneously formalistic and humanistic – in line with the Bauhaus-tradition. The references to how Bauhaus-photographs play with shapes and perspective is obvious. The interbellum look at the photograph as an explosive force which would form modern consciousness – with László Moholy Nagys new vision of the camera as an experimental instrument that could reveal what the naked eye cannot – is also visible in this teenage gaze at a Chinese city in explosive development. Fan Ho was remarkably switched on to the prevailing aesthetics and intellectual undercurrents of the time with regards to the position of the photograph from both the West and Russia.

Bittersweet longing. Time and development never cease – but by being completely present in the now, visual truths can appear, like carefully extracting essences as pefume from a flower. This requires patience, care and time, all of which Fan Ho was a master: waiting for the perfect combination to appear so the photograph can create itself, whilst he is there to preserve it.

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