Give us your best shot
ALEX MAK HON-CHEE is intently studying a Rolleiflex Old Standard camera, circa 1932. The battered German-made camera has seen better days and is a stark contrast to the shiny, new phone camera the teenager is using to record his visit to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum's recently opened Cameras Inside-Out exhibition.
The Rolleiflex is one of more than 130 owned by collector David Chan. It's part of a display that includes a series of historical and contemporary photos.
Like most of those who grew up in the digital age, Mak can't understand why anyone would want to use film and then wait 24 hours to view the results. For him, and the thousands of Hong Kong's snap-happy photographers of his generation, the instant shots on his tiny mobile phone or digital camera screen are much better.
Cameras Inside-Out is a prelude to the museum's Hong Kong Photography Series, for which it wants everyday people to contribute to help create a pictorial log of life in today's Hong Kong. The two-part exhibition details 100 years of camera development, from early photographic plate-type cameras, to conventional film and modern digital cameras - all courtesy of Chan's extensive collection. Complementing these is a collection of shots from the 1950s onwards by local photographers, including Kan Hing-fook, Chan Fou-li, Leo K.K. Wong and Ngan Chun-tung.
The second part of the exhibition examines photography as a contemporary art form, and features about 30 works by Almond Chu Tak-wah, So Hing-keung, Bobby Sham Ka-ho, Lam Wai-kit and Chow Chun-fai.
Acting chief curator of the Heritage Museum Judy Chan Lee Suk-yee says she hopes the exhibition will not only help educate the city's army of amateur photographers, but also encourage them to hit the streets and record contemporary Hong Kong life for posterity. In doing so, she says, they'll gain a better understanding of the medium as art rather than the fast-food photography it has become because of digital technology.
'The series concentrates on local photographers and their achievements and the fact that they've won many awards,' says Chan. 'It's not just about cameras. I hope the pictures will illustrate the many different styles and techniques used to create a photograph and how the camera has been a tool in improving that technique.
'Back in the 1950s and 60s, photography was an expensive hobby. Today, cameras are manufactured in such large quantities that anyone can pick one up. We want to highlight the old techniques. We also want to encourage people to pick up a camera and send us their pictures.'
Among the old-school photographers is Lam Wai-kit, a graduate in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and winner of many local awards, including a distinction from the Philippe Charriol Foundation Modern Arts Competition in 1992. Her current project, Divided Minds, is on show at the exhibition.
In it, Lam superimposes various images of herself onto other photos, creating what seem to be reflections of herself in windows and glass. In her artist statement, she says that 'the representations can be figurative or abstract; the internal spirit and the external aspect may not be the same. So, what is genuine or what is false? It is impossible to tell from the aspect of a single photograph.'
Lam, who lectures at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says she's in no hurry to trade in her film camera for a digital one. 'For me, the camera isn't very important. It's a tool. For me, the idea and concept is more important. I quite often have my camera with me, and [a digital] would be quite heavy in my bag. The camera I have now is light. I've got a Leica. It's the cheapest Leica there is, compared to other cameras, but I love it.
'I started to use it in 2000 and the colours are excellent - especially the reds and blues. That's why there's a lot of red and blue in my pictures.'
David Chan has also steered clear of digital phone cameras. His collection was built up over many years as a keen photographer and dealer in photo equipment. He says the first camera he ever bought was a Yashica in 1965 and he still uses it.
'Everyone - especially young people - is using digital cameras, and they don't know what a joy it is to use film,' says the 63-year-old. 'They don't know about shutter speed or aperture. They don't think. They just go click, click, click.'
Lam says the secret to producing good shots is to experiment. She hopes the exhibition will help educate amateur photographers, and prompt people to submit work for the museum's collection.
'If you have good equipment it can help,' she says. 'But you must get the knowledge to explore the tool and develop a technique. I lecture students in photography, and many like to discuss different techniques. I tell them photography isn't difficult. Just press the button.'
Cameras Inside-Out, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, HK$10 (free on Wednesdays). Inquiries: 2180 8188. Ends Jul 30