A DESPONDENT mental patient, Mickey Mouse in a temple, a nude figure crouching on a block - these are some of the images of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong that will be seen at the Hong Kong Arts Festival. These three photos, along with 167 others taken by more than 40 photographers, can be seen at the Hong Kong Arts Centre from February 18 to March 13. Contemporary photography from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan will be the first large-scale exhibition that comprehensively traces photographic developments in the three regions since the 1970s, according to exhibition director Irene Ngan. The work of the Hong Kong photographers emphasised formalism - studies in light and shadow, colour, texture and motion - said exhibition direction Oscar Ho. This was photography as a medium for art. In contrast, much of the work of the mainland photographers was documentary and neo-documentary. The death of premier Zhou Enlai in 1976 gave birth to the historical photography of the April 5th Movement. As the Chinese Government tried to discourage large numbers of Chinese from turning out to mourn Zhou, riots broke out, and people took photos of the disturbances, Mr Ho said. Prior to 1976, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, mainland photography was used mainly for propaganda purposes, he said. Photography in the mainland was the least developed of the three regions, although China had some excellent photographers, he added. Documentary photos were especially important from 1976 to the late 1980s and still played a central role, although younger photographers were turning out experimental and avant garde works, which would be represented in the exhibition. Local heritage was the focus of Taiwanese photography and was a reaction to the domination of the Nationalists who moved to Taiwan when the Communists came to power on the mainland, Mr Ho said. Local heritage photography was part of the new freedom in Taiwan. The photographic movement reaffirmed a cultural heritage [which] had been more or less oppressed, he said. Another trend in Taiwanese photography was the portrayal of the island's economic wealth and power, and the mingling of Chinese and Western culture in Taipei. A third Taiwanese style was the ''mindscape'' - the use of photography to reveal a state of mind, said Mr Ho, giving as an example a shot of a barren piece of land, which indicated desolation. ''The heritage photos also are a kind of mindscape,'' he added.