When Chung Man-lurk, popularly known as James, arrived in Hong Kong from China, in 1947, he would stare wide-eyed, puffing on a cigarette, at the tireless comings and goings of the British colony. Every morning, from his home in Wan Chai, he could hear the distant cries of people haggling in the markets. Outside, peddlers in button-down shirts hurried by, carrying food in baskets swinging from both ends of their shoulder poles. Occasionally, a debonair young man would walk past, turning heads in an English suit and shiny leather shoes. It was all new to James: North Point’s four-storey tong lau buildings, with shops on the ground floor and living spaces above; the trams that connected the island’s thoroughfares from King’s Road to Des Voeux Road. Central’s Victorian architecture, all arched windows and rigid columns, left the village boy from Guangdong province “in a daze”, says his son, Stanley Chung Charn-kong, as he tells his late father’s story, in a Causeway Bay tea shop. Chung Man-lurk was born in 1925, in a small riverside farming village called Langtou, known for producing mandarins and dried tangerine peel. As the Chinese civil war raged, his grandmother urged the 22-year-old to cross the border to try his luck, handing him two gold bars – enough to buy a flat and start a new life in Hong Kong. After trekking for a week, crossing the Pearl River estuary on a boat packed with other mainlanders seeking refuge, Chung made his way to Wan Chai. There he traded the gold bars with an artist he knew through other Chinese immigrants in exchange for tutoring in art theory and Western painting. “As he was learning from the artist, father also started his apprenticeship with an art department in a movie theatre, and began drawing and painting movie posters,” Stanley says. How Fan Ho, the poet with a camera, found his calling Chung became known as “James” after his friends caught him imitating a famous American actor. “He would slick his hair back with wax in hopes of becoming a kind of rebel,” Stanley says. “Exactly like James Dean.” In 1955, aged 30, Chung landed a job as a movie-poster designer at the National Theatre, in Wan Chai. Around the same time, he and a friend split the cost of a Rolleicord Vb F3.5, a medium-format twin-lens reflex camera. And so he transferred his fascination with light and shade, and black-and-white contrasts, from paper to photographic film. “In my father’s photographs, lighting is the one thing he would never compromise on,” Stanley says. Even back in the days of monochrome film, photography was an expensive hobby for someone earning HK$60 a month, especially with children on the way. In the 2015 book The Street Corners of This Generation , Chung recounts routinely finishing two rolls of 120 film, or 24 exposures, at HK$1.25 each, every morning. In 1959, water was available for only two hours a day, and people lined up in the streets with empty buckets until it was their turn at the standpipe. One of Chung’s photographs neatly captures the rationing. In it, water runs from a tap into a bucket while in the blurred background a woman rests her cheek on her hand as she waits for it to fill. The image earned him a widely publicised silver prize at the Hong Kong International Salon of Photography, and competitions soon became a source of income for Chung. As Stanley recalls, his father once decided to take part in a photography contest, but didn’t have enough money to develop his film. “Stuck, he pawned his beloved Rolleicord camera. It was a gamble that could have cost him his hobby and career. Still, he went for it and eventually won,” he says. Second volume showing hidden details in old Hong Kong photos published With the prize money, Chung bought back his camera – even though his prize was another camera of the same model– and gave it to the friend with whom he had split the cost when he bought it. “At the awards ceremony, hosted by the Royal Photographic Society, a noble British man in a classy uniform passed him the prize on stage, but he wasn’t wearing anything formal, just casual shorts,” Stanley says of his father’s outfit. Having grown increasingly dissatisfied with the local camera shops, Chung started to explore photo developing for himself. Every night at 9pm, Stanley says his father would make sure all his four children had finished in the bathroom, then turn it into a dark room. Day after day, chemicals were mixed, film was exposed and fresh images emerged. Stanley says that for his father, photography was like having a family: falling in love, cementing the relationship and producing children – or in this case, pictures. Chung was certain nothing good came out of being forced, and would rather wait for the right moment than waste film. One afternoon, he took Stanley along to a location on Hong Kong Island. “When we arrived, father peeked into his viewfinder then took a look at me,” he recalls. “He shook his head and decided we would come again the next day. ‘The lighting is not good enough today,’ he said.” By 1968, Chung had established his own studio in a small shop next to the Chinese Goods Centre on King’s Road, in North Point. His job was mainly taking portraits and photographs for commercials, as well as enlarging prints. Since not many people were able to develop photographic film, his business grew and before long, he was able to open two more studios in North Point. In his spare time, Chung would wander the streets, chasing the setting sun for the perfect backlight with his new Rolleiflex camera, loaded with his favourite, by then outdated, black-and-white film and creating some of the most arresting images ever taken of Hong Kong. “My father has shown a way to capture the city […] to reminisce about the old Hong Kong; a documentation of people’s livelihoods under British rule, frozen in time,” Stanley says. Chung retired in 1991, when he handed his business to his children, and died in 2018, aged 93. He is survived by Stanley and his three younger siblings, and at least 12,000 developed photographs of his adopted city.