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Photo of the Week #126

Fan Ho

Fan Ho, Inferno, 1962

Fan Ho, Inferno, 1962
Vintage gelatin silver print
13.25 x 17.25 inches 
Signed, titled and dated on verso
Copyright © Fan Ho Trust and Estate


Monday, February 1st
Fan Ho (1931-2016) was born in Shanghai and immigrated to Hong Kong in 1949. Beginning as a young man, he actively photographed street life in Hong Kong in the 1950s-60s, an era of rapid population growth which transformed the port city into a bustling urban hub.

Fan Ho is known for his cinematic framing of his images - he went on to work as a successful film director. In his 1959 book Thoughts on Street Photography he reflected on this, writing “My photographs with a strong pictorial aesthetic are still highly favored among the salons. Documentary style street photography or portraits are rarely selected although they are among my favorites." 

Inferno counts among Fan Ho's most compelling pictures because it elegantly synthesizes these two approaches. The photograph is composed so that the ascending pedestrians are neatly framed by the stairwell and its dramatic shaft of light. There is evident care devoted to arranging the shot, but it's his eye for the "decisive moment" which yields the pay off. We see the exact moment when, amongst a group of people obscured by shadows, one man stands illuminated in a cloud of backlit smoke, the namesake "Inferno."

Pictures like this one earned Fan Ho his reputation as the "Cartier-Bresson of the East."