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23 June 2016
I waited for a long, long time for the right moment," Fan Ho once said to explain his method of making photographs. "I always waited for hours and hours for the best lighting effect, because you can't move the sun. You must wait for the exact angle of the light -- and the exact moment for the suitable subject to appear."
Ho, who was a film director and actor in addition to being a renowned street photographer, passed away last Sunday in San Jose, Calif., at the age of 84.
He was born in Shanghai in 1937 but grew up in Hong Kong under British rule. His father gave him a Rolleiflex, which the young boy trained on the world around. His black-and-white images of street life had an abstract quality to them in which shadows were often the leading characters but they were set in Hong Kong not the capitols of Europe.
'I always waited for hours and hours for the best lighting effect, because you can't move the sun.'
Most of his images were taken in the 1950s and 1960s and printed through the 1970s. Ho worked as a one-man studio, photographing with Nikon and Leica cameras late in the afternoon and processing and printing his film at night.
He joined Shaw Brothers in 1961 to embark on a film career, acting in several movies before becoming an assistant and finally a director. He directed over 20 films in Hong Kong.
In the 1980s his wife and children immigrated to San Jose while he remained in Hong Kong and Taiwan directing low-budget, low-brow movies until his health failed. He then joined his family in California.
Hollywood, impressed by his following in Asia, wanted to put him to work. But he said he was too frail for the demands of movie making. "To work in photography is less energetic, not so 'heavy,'" he said.
In California, he befriended Mark Pinsukanjana, co-owner and publisher of photography specialist Modernbook Gallery, becoming one of his featured artists.
In his last years, he devoted himself to finding new life in his old work. "Composites, montages -- turning negatives to positives and vice versa. I'm giving them a new style," he told an interviewer.
Anong his monographs, The Living Theater (2008) and Fan Ho: A Hong Kong Memoir (2014) are still available. The Guardian also published a nice portfolio of his work in Fan Ho: finding love and light in 1950s Hong Kong -- in pictures. A selection of his images is also on view at Modern Book.
You can't move the sun, Ho said. Nor can you stop it from moving. But some shadows manage to persist. And Ho has left a long one.