Hong Kong Noir
Portraits of the island city before it belonged to China.
Modern-day Hong Kong is a glitzy, glittering, mega-metropolis. As protestors enter day 5 of their stand-off with the government over new election rules, their demonstrations unfold beneath towering apartments, across the street from high-end restaurants, and around the corner from glass-covered office buildings.
Fan Ho’s Hong Kong was a much different place. When Ho, one of Asia’s most celebrated photographers, arrived from his native Shanghai in 1949, at 21 years old, he entered a city on the cusp of transformation. Hong Kong had recently emerged from a brief period under Japanese occupation and was back under British colonial rule. Over the course of the next decade, as civil war ravaged the Chinese mainland, refugees flooded the island. Between 1945 and the mid-1950s, the population would grow from approximately 600,000 people to 2.2 million. It was during the 1950s that Hong Kong became one of the most densely populated places on earth.
Ho’s stunning black-and-white images, taken during the 1950s and 1960s, provide an intimate look at both the glamour and the grittiness of a city in flux. A young girl studies at her desk overlooking one of the city’s crowded alleyways; a coolie at the end of his day walks at dusk with an empty cart, navigating an array of train tracks. The images capture a piece of the cosmopolitan history that has given Hong Kong its unique identity — an identity now giving rise, in part, to its current clashes with Beijing.
Ho’s latest book of photos, Hong Kong: A Memoir, is due out December 2014.
Photo: Her Study, 1963
Back Lane, 1960
Coolie and Kids, 1975
End of the Day, 1955
Approaching Shadow, 1954
East Meets West, 1963
Reading News, 1963
White Windows, 1962
Life in Shadow, 1955
Magic Reality, 1962
Mirror Lake, 1952
Moonlight Concerto, 1958 (Photo composition: 2014)
Journey to Elysium, 1952 (Photo composition:2007)
The Lone Ranger, 1954
The Trap, 1959 (Photo composition: 2011)
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.
Scoop: Turkey and Hungary Not Invited to Biden’s Big Democracy Summit
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
Skilled Migrants Aren’t Interested in Germany
Netanyahu’s Legal Crusade Is Sparking a Military Backlash in Israel
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing