This photo was part of an exhibition of Washington and Hong Kong Artists, held in the Prince’s Building in Hong Kong in 1949. Here’s an excerpt of an article about the exhibition:
The Photographic Society of Hong Kong has shown initiative by organizing a dual display of the work of American and American photographers. The exhibition is being held in the Society’s clubroom in Prince’s Building and yesterday’s opening would have been a great success had it not been for the attempt to crowd a large number of visitors into a very limited area.
The opening of the exhibition as quite informal. The arrival of H.E. Sir Alexander Grantham together with a number of distinguished guests, and members of the Photographic Council of the Hong Kong Photographic Society, preceded the entry of the general public. Sir Alexander and Lady Grantham spent over half an hour inspecting the pictures, asking many questions as officials around the club escorted them.
Among the Hong Kong exhibits (89), “An Old Master” by Francis Wu, attracted much attention. Most of the works exhibited by the “6:20 Club” (so called from the ferry they catch on their weekly expeditions to the New Territories” were done in the early misty hours of the morning. The members have put up a creditable show, and should be encouraged to continue the good work of putting Hong Kong “on the mp” in photographic circles. (read more: South China Morning Post, Aug 18, 1949)
When he was eight or nine years old, Francis Wu (Cheong Kin) used to spend a weekend in a public park in Honolulu enjoying the scenery, the people and “all the things that appeared strange to me.” One day young Francis came across something “strange” – something he had never seen before. There it was: a sign saying “Your Picture While You Wait” and there was a crowd milling around a man with a big camera.
Young Francis was curious. He mingled with the crowd, waiting patiently for something to happen. In a few minutes, this man tucked his hand into the camera and out came a picture in black and white! Young Francis was stunned and thrilled by this strange feat.
That night young Francis couldn’t sleep, a wink, thinking and wondering about the ”strange thing.” This went on for a couple of nights until finally he heaped up enough courage and made a decision: to buy a folding vest pocket Kodak with his $6.00 savings.
A proud owner of the $6 camera, young Francis immediately bought a roll of film, inserted it into the camera and playfully clicked away. He just couldn’t wait to show his brothers and sisters what his camera could do. He opened his “treasure,” looked at the film, expecting to see the pictures all finished on a “While You Wait” basis, but found to his disappointment that there were no pictures but a roll of blank film.
Francis Wu, who is now one of the world’s top photographers still laughs about the incident. The 38 year old world famous Chinese cameraman recalls nostalgically the kind and generous drug store clerk who gave him a few pointers in photography and let him have access to the store’s photographic laboratory. (from Hongkong Standard, July 21, 1959)
The book “Classical Chinese Beauties” by Francis Wu, the first Chinese publication devote solely to portraiture of the youthful ladies of that country, was published in 1951 (at 2 Gloucester Arcade, Hong Kong; +)
Here’s an excerpt of the original introduction:
“Feminine beauty has been a source of constant admiration since time immemorial. The ways in which female beauty are admired are numerous and varied: different opinion of real loveliness range from nude studies to veiled models. Each and every nation has its own ideas of feminine beauty, totaling different from the other.
Thus there is the light-hearted, submissive beauty of the Siamese woman; the exotic beauty of the South Sea Islander; the glamorous, long legged American; the French coquette; the vivacious Spaniard; all have their own distinctions and subtle attractions.
Of all the many types and classes of feminine beauty, there is no doubt that the Chinese type has a big claim on the attention of the connoisseur. The Chinese woman is always delicate and truly feminine.
(…) Clothing and ornaments are important which increase, rather than detract from the charm of the Chinese Beauty. Her gown is loosely fitted to her body, while long wide sleeves cover her arms and the length of her dress denies any view of her legs. This characteristic of dress, although it differs so much from the Western form of attire, adds to her natural qualities and makes her more admired, and certainly more respected.
(…) The costumes chosen for “Classical Chinese Beauties” represents styles of several periods of Chinese dresses. They show the designs and the patterns of the Orient. This book aims to give the world an idea of the gentleness and gracefulness of Chinese womanhood in earlier periods. All the illustrations are treated with modern processes of photography with optic, light and shade illusions instead of the usual brush and ink. (Introduction, August 1951; read more)
I love this portrait of Francis Wu browsing through prints of the “Classical Chinese Beauties” series (source; ca. early 1950s):
About photo #2:
“One Sunday afternoon, while a friend and myself were making pictures of sunsets at Aberdeen, we saw this fisherman idling away his time in a sampan. I study his facial expression for a while, taking great notice of his many lines and wrinkles. I determined to make a character study of him for the forth-coming London Salon Exhibition in 1950.
With this in mind, I approached him and patiently persuaded him to cooperate. We finally got him into my car and drove him for more than ten miles to my studio. Before the camera, he was very self-conscious and unnatural, so I had to think fast in order to break him into the mood. I treated him like a baby and told him stories, and I questioned him about his life and family, but these tactics didn’t work this time.
He refused to say more than a few words, and stared into the camera anxiously posing for his picture. This was not the type of photograph that I wanted – I like to take lively unposed snaps. And before giving up this time, I made a final trial. I said to him:
‘I wouldn’t photograph you today, because my light is not functioning properly.’ I offered him a cigarette and told him to finish it and I’ll drive him back. He puffed and puffed till he was satisfied. In the meantime I had my electronic flash on, and my view camera loaded. I had on a long cable release, and walked away free from the camera. While he was enjoying himself, off goes the flash – this was the result. It satisfies – both the sitter and myself.” (Francis Wu, 1949)
This photograph is part of the book “Pictorial Of Hong Kong” by Francis Wu (1940s). This soft cover book was published by The Newspaper Enterprise Ltd., printed by The Tai Wah Press and photographed by Francis Wu:
Hong Kong was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking in August, 1842. The island of Hong Kong quickly grew into a major city and seaport, houses, office buildings and godowns sprang up almost overnight and the harbor was soon busy with ships from most of the seven seas.
By a convention signed in October, 1860, the Kowloon peninsula on the mainland opposite was also ceded to Britain, being handed over formally in January of the following year. The amazing growth of the Colony of Hong Kong, which is less than a century was transformed from barren rock, partly covered with coarse grass, into one of the leading seaport of the world. (+)
In the next weeks I’ll publish a Francis Wu series with several photosets - he’s such a wonderful artist, but rather unknown; I hope you enjoy the pictures.
Francis Wu opened his first studio in the Gloucester Arcade buiding in Hong Kong after World War II in 1945.
“…Wu’s pictures are something, which you feel, which you want to feel. These pictures are almost irresistible. You can’t ignore them. We will see that you don’t. He gives you something, which once seen you will never forget, something, which you will like to think over and treasure as a sweet memory.” (Nagpur Times, Dec. 16, 1949)
Francis Wu, who moved to Hong Kong in 1931, always wanted to show the world that Hong Kong is to be respected and recognized in the field of photography.
The name Francis Wu is an institutional with local and overseas photographers. Francis lived in Hong Kong for over 50 years. He is part of Hong Kong’s photographic history. Mr. Wu maintains as one of the top ambitions the spreading of photography among the Chinese. He made a number of trips to various parts of China with this aim in view. He wanted to witness a great awakening of interest in photography among the Chinese people.
In 1971, Mr. Wu was invited by the Chinese government and went on a 40-day photo expedition to Northern China. At that time, he was the only photographer allowed into China. His photographic record of this trip resulted in a memorable exhibition at Hong Kong City Hall, and the exhibition went on a one year tour to Australia, the United States and other countries. (read more)
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