Ho Fan: On the ‘Decisive Moment’

Photographing in black and white offers me a sense of distance: a distance from real life. I think this kind of distance is important.

Ho Fan

While much of the Hong Kong of the 1950s and 1960s captured by Ho Fan no longer exists, it can still be experienced through his photographs of the time.

The Early Years

Ho Fan (Chinese, 1931–2016) was a photographer, film director, and actor. He spent his early years in Shanghai, where he began taking photographs after receiving his first camera at the age of fourteen. He moved to Hong Kong in 1949, and from the 1950s onwards gained considerable attention for his striking photographs of everyday life in Hong Kong.

From Photography to a Career in Film

Ho Fan’s skills in image-making in photography made him a natural fit for the emerging Hong Kong film industry. From the 1960s to the 1980s, he became better known for his work in film, in particular with the famous Shaw Brothers studio. In addition to his role behind the camera as a director, Ho Fan occasionally appeared in front of the camera, debuting as an actor in Love Without End (1961).

After a number of acting roles, Ho Fan produced his first independent short film, Big City Little Man (1963), which won an award at the Japan International Film Festival in 1964. Soon he was approached by commercial film studios and became highly successful in producing a new genre of films: erotic features. Films such as The Girl with the Long Hair (1975) and Temptation Summary (1990) were huge commercial successes.

Ho Fan’s Legacy

Ho Fan’s style of photography exemplifies what the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson dubbed the ‘decisive moment’. This method—of waiting for the perfect moment to click the camera shutter—is today considered a rather old-fashioned and even purist approach to photography. It remains a practice that is widely adopted by street photographers and photojournalists alike.

Video Credits

Produced by M+
Producer: Kenji Wong Wai Kin
Curatorial Research: Alexa Chow, Winnie Lai, Tina Pang
M+ Video Production: Lara Day, Chris Sullivan
Special Thanks: Ho Fan, Sarah Greene, Yung Ma