City's heritage in focus

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 July, 2010, 12:00am

Come and see Hong Kong as you've never seen it before. Viewed through the eyes of several talented photographers, with their idiosyncratic perspectives on Hong Kong's cityscapes, both iconic and unseen, the city comes to life in a unique visual feast.

The Hong Kong Heritage Museum's new photography exhibition - entitled 'City Flaneur: Social Documentary Photography' and running until January 3 - showcases exemplary works spanning half a century.

Each exhibit is a distinctive work of art, yet the 260 photographs make for a peculiar but cohesive visual chronicle of Hong Kong life since the 1950s. By documenting dramatic changes, subtle nuances and enduring constants in the city's social landscape, they provide a pictorial witness to both the ephemeral and the permanent.

Sometimes poignant, sometimes quirky, but always richly evocative, the exhibits are masterpieces taken by 34 photographers and an art duo. They are divided into four categories: street photography, social documentary, new topographics, and conceptual and manipulated photography.

The exhibit is the museum's second offering in its Hong Kong Photography Series, which aims to promote the art of photography by highlighting outstanding pictorial works while simultaneously tracing the development of contemporary documentary photography in the city.

The first programme in the series - 'The Verve of Light and Shadow: Master Photographers Tchan Fou-li, Kan Hing-fook, Leo K.K. Wong' - was staged last year and exhibited works by three seminal artists.

This year's guest curatorial team includes distinguished photographer and educator Joseph Fung Hon-kee; Blues Wong Kai-yu, co-founder of the pH5 Photo Group; and Wong Suk-ki, a lecturer at the Academy of Visual Arts at Baptist University.

Participating photographers in the exhibition make for a distinguished roll call of local talent whose works are highly prized by aficionados. They include Chak Wai-leung, Dick Chan, Raymond Chan, Enoch Cheung, Evangelo Costadimas, John Fung, Sara Wong, Ivy Ma, Dustin Shum, Gretchen So, Wong Kan-tai, Wong Wo-bik, Yau Leung and Vincent Yu.

In the best tradition of flaneurs (city wanderers), a designation coined by German philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), the 35 eminent Hong Kong photographers have scoured the city like urban vagabonds with their optical instruments in hand.

Plumbing the intricacies of the pulsating metropolis, with its sparkling modernity strengthened by time-honoured customs and ways of behaviour, the photographers captured evocative snapshots with which to illustrate quintessential qualities of Hong Kong life with its joys, miseries and perplexities.

'They focus their cameras on social vistas and, through the images they capture, reflect upon the causes of change in the community and its environs, sometimes even offering their own commentary and critique,' says guest curator Joseph Fung, an internationally renowned photographer who has taught the craft worldwide and serves as an editorial adviser for New York's Aperture magazine.

Hong Kong is a melting pot of people from all walks of life, notes Lesley Lau, the museum's art curator. 'Exploring this bittersweet world, the photographer adopts a disassociated attitude and captures images by observing all the happenings in the streets and peeping through the window either in or out.'

The result of their inquisitive social voyeurism has left behind a visual legacy, at once aesthetic and documentary, which is bound to leave a lasting impression on observers.

Sponsored by Canon Hong Kong, the exhibition boasts a voluminous catalogue featuring the works of all exhibiting photographers, detailed interpretations by guest curators and incisive commentaries on social documentary photography by celebrated intellectuals Edwin Lai Kin-keung, Yeung Yang and Damian Cheng Wai-pang.