Fan Ho

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Fan Ho
Born(1931-10-08)October 8, 1931
DiedJune 19, 2016(2016-06-19) (aged 84)
Occupation(s)Photographer, film director, and actor
Chinese name

Fan Ho (Chinese: 何藩; Jyutping: ho4faan4; 8 October 1931[a][1] – 19 June 2016) was a Chinese photographer, film director, and actor. From 1956, he won over 280 awards from international exhibitions and competitions worldwide for his photography.[2]

Photography career[edit]

Fan Ho was born in Shanghai in 1931, and emigrated with his family to Hong Kong in 1949.[3] At the outbreak of war in 1941, Ho's parents were stranded in Macau for several years and Ho was left in the care of a family servant.[4] Ho began photographing at a very young age with a Brownie which his father had left at home, and later with a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera his father gave him at the age of 14.[5][6] Largely self-taught, his photos display a fascination with urban life, explored alleys, slums, markets and streets. Much of his work consists of candid photographs of the street vendors and children only a few years younger than himself.[7] He developed his images in the family bathtub and soon had built up a significant body of work, chronicling Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s as it was becoming a major metropolitan centre. Ho would use the same Rolleiflex K4A throughout his career.[8][9]

... I've always believed that any work of art should stem from genuine feelings and understandings ... I didn't work with any sense of purpose. As an artist, I was only looking to express myself. I did it to share my feelings with the audience. I need to be touched emotionally to come up with meaningful works. When the work resonates with the audience, it's a satisfaction that money can't buy. My purpose is simple: I try not to waste my audience's time. [Laughs]

— Ho Fan, 2014 interview with Edmund Lee[10]

Upon seeing Ho's work for the first time in 2006, gallery owner Laurence Miller commented that "[they] felt like direct descendants of the Bauhaus, yet they were made in Hong Kong. They were abstract and humanistic at the same time."[11]

Ho was a Fellow of the Photographic Society of America, the Royal Photographic Society and the Royal Society of Arts in England, and an Honorary Member of the Photographic Societies of Singapore, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, France, Italy and Belgium.[12] Ho was named one of the "Top Ten Photographers of the World" by the Photographic Society of America between 1958 and 1965.[3]

"Approaching Shadow", 1954 《陰影》[edit]

"Approaching Shadow" (Chinese: 陰影) was one of Ho's most famous works. He asked a cousin to pose by a wall at Queen's College in Causeway Bay and added a diagonal shadow in the darkroom to symbolize that "her youth will fade away" since "everyone has the same destiny".[6] A print of "Approaching Shadow" sold for a record HK$375,000 in 2015.[5]

Film career[edit]

Ho was a Hong Kong film director and actor.

He joined Shaw Brothers in 1961 to develop his career in cinema. He started as a continuity assistant in the movie The Swallow (1961)[13] and moved on to act in several movies for Shaw. Ho played the Monk, Tripitaka, in the lavish Shaw Brothers adaption of Journey to the West four-picture cycle of films.[citation needed] Ho became disillusioned with Shaw's revenue-driven formula, and sought creative relief in photography and in other studios.[citation needed]

During the early 1960s he also produced a series of independent short films, the first of which, Big City Little Man (大都市 小人物; 1963, 30 min), won the "Honor Award Certificate" from the Japan International Film Festival in 1964.[14]

People tell me it seems my photographic works have stories, have some drama. That’s why, later on, I became a film director. Both use images to tell their story, to express the emotions of the author. Photography and filmmaking are like sisters. One is still and one is moving—that is the only difference.

— Ho Fan, 2012 HK Magazine article[6]

Ho left Shaw Brothers in 1969 to develop his career as a director, making over 20 films with various studios in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He has had three films in the "Official Selection" of the International Film Festivals of Cannes, Berlin and San Francisco; and five of his films have been selected in the "Permanent Collection" of the National Film Archives of Taiwan and Hong Kong.[13] As well as his independent film work he worked in erotic cinema (Category III films), with such films as Adventure in Denmark (1973), The Girl with the Long Hair (1975) and Temptation Summary (1990).

According to Mark Pinsukanjana, director of Modernbook Gallery in San Francisco, CA, his debut feature, Lost (1969), was Ho's favourite. As Pinsukanjana says:

In Lost, one will see the chaotic life of one man in Hong Kong. The film follows him and finds the beauty that surrounds him; he is lost because he never saw it. I think that one can say that this is similar to Fan Ho's photographs in the sense that Hong Kong is crowded, busy and chaotic to many, but for Fan Ho, he was able to convert [what he found] and find beauty."[11]

He also served on the jury of the Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards Festival and Hong Kong Film Award.[citation needed]

Post-retirement career[edit]

Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery Fan Ho Exhibition in 2017

Ho's wife and children emigrated to San Jose, California in 1979 to pursue a university education[9] and he followed in 1995 after retiring from cinema.[5] Restless in retirement, Ho's health began to decline until his family suggested that he pursue photography again. Rather than using modern equipment and taking photographs locally in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ho went through his old negatives from Hong Kong and began showing his portfolio to local galleries.[9]

He exhibited slides of his photographs, some of which were in the permanent collection at SFMOMA, at the 1998 New Asian Cinema Festival, which was screening his 1988 film Carnal Desire at the 4 Star Theater in San Francisco.[15] A chance meeting with Mark Pinsukanjana in 1999 led to Ho being featured at Pinsukanjana's Modernbook Gallery in Palo Alto in 2000, his first solo exhibition since the 1960s,[9] and in 2001,[16] and Ho's films and photographs continued to be shown at festivals hosted at the 4 Star.[17] Ho's daughter credits the first Palo Alto exhibition in 2000 with restoring Ho's confidence and happiness.[9]

Modernbook went on to stage his vintage work at photoLA in January 2006, and upon seeing his photographs of Hong Kong, fellow gallery owner Laurence Miller was moved to acquire 26 prints and put on a solo exhibit for Ho in New York City later that year.[11] Ho would go on to publish a new monograph, Hong Kong Yesterday in 2006 after receiving international attention for this early work.[11] By compositing old negatives, Ho continued to produce new prints of scenes that have now vanished from modern Hong Kong.[7][16] Many of the resulting composited prints were published for the first time in his final monograph A Hong Kong Memoir in 2014,[10] following exhibits of the same title at Modernbook in summer 2011[18] and from December 2014 to January 2015.[19]

He died in San Jose on 19 June 2016 of pneumonia at the age of 84.[20][21] Posthumously, thirty-two photographs taken in 1950s Hong Kong as well as related objects, including his Rolleiflex camera and an early book, Thoughts on Street Photography, were exhibited at Sotheby's Hong Kong gallery in the last half of June 2017.[8][22] A new monograph, Portrait of Hong Kong, was published in June 2017 to coincide with the exhibition.[23]

Portrait of Hong Kong 《念香港人的舊》[24] contains 153 new street photographs which were selected from 500 negatives chosen by Ho before he died in 2016. After his death, the surviving family members spent about a year completing the project, together with support from Sarah Greene (Blue Lotus Consultancy) and WE Press (香港人出版). 20 quotable excerpts from Ho's earliest book, Thoughts on Street Photography 《街頭攝影叢談》, were included. These 153 photographs provide not only glimpses of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s but also recall the indomitable spirit of the people at the time[23][9][25] This body of realistic street photographs were never highly recognized during 1950s and 1960s, despite being Ho's favorites,[26] as quoted in Ho's reply to Sarah Greene during one of her visits to Ho in early 2016. The quote appeared in the afterword of his latest monograph:

My realistic street photos are rarely selected. Pictorial aesthetics and images with a sense of humor are still the key for salon photos but I expect changes to happen soon. In the meantime, I will just keep trying.

— Fan Ho, Afterword by Sarah Greene in Portrait of Hong Kong

Ho's family also established a website to celebrate his life and work.[27]

Works by Ho[edit]

Short films[edit]

  • Big City Little Man / 大都市 小人物 (1963, 30 min, Hong Kong)
  • Home Work / 習作之 (1966, 40 min, Hong Kong)
  • Gulf / 離 : (1966 Banbury England Best Film Award,[13][28] 15 min, Hong Kong)

Feature films[edit]

Year Title Role Market Production Company Notes
1961 Love Without End
(Tang's brother)
Hong Kong Shaw Brothers
1963 Revenge of a Swordswoman
1964 The Female Prince
(Hsiao's step-brother)
1965 Vermilion Door
(Luo Shao-Hua)
Inside the Forbidden City
(Empress Di's son)
1966 The Perfumed Arrow
(Wei Zhuan-Zi)
The Blue and the Black (Parts 1 and 2)
《藍與黑》 (上) and (下)
(Hui Ya's husband)
The Monkey Goes West
(Monk Tang Xuan-Zang)
Princess Iron Fan
(Monk Tang Xuan-Zang)
The Joy of Spring
1967 The Cave of the Silken Web
(Monk Tang Xuan-Zang)
Madame Slender Plum aka Under the Spell of Love
(David Xu)
Sweet Is Revenge
(David Li)
(Yu Chih Chien)
1968 The Land of Many Perfumes
(Monk Tang Xuan-Zang)
1969 The Millionaire Chase
(Sun Jia Wen)
Miss Fragrance aka The Lovely Girl
(Dr. Lam Kin-Wah)
Kam Bo Motion Picture Co.
1970 Feng Kuang Chia Jen
Actor Taiwan
What's Good for a Goose
Actor Hong Kong Ming Xing Film Company
Golden Sword and the Blind Swordswoman
Actor Taiwan Wa Ha Ying Yip Gung Shut
The Great Wall
Actor Hong Kong Rong Hua Co.
Lee Ming Film Co.
From Home with Love
Actor Ta Chung Motion Picture Co.
1971 I Asked the Clouds
Song of Happy Life aka Naughty Songstress
Actor Hong Kong Kam Bo Motion Picture Co.
1972 The Song of Thailand
Actor Tsun Lee Film Company
Love and Blood
Director Wai Diy
Golden Rose
Actor Taiwan Hong Kong Rong Hua Co.
Lee Ming Film Co.
1973 Adventure in Denmark
Director Hong Kong Wai Diy
Na Cha and the Seven Devils
(Qiu Ping)
Shaw Brothers
1974 The Adventurous Air-Steward
Director Goldig Films (H.K.) Ltd.
1975 The Miserable Girl
Girl with the Long Hair
Cinematographer, director Shaw Brothers
1976 Body for Sale
Director Lo Wei Motion Picture Co., Ltd.
1977 Innocent Lust
Director Shaw Brothers
Go a Little Crazy aka Encore
Director Daai Sing
1978 The Notorious Frameup
Director Shaw Brothers
Hello Sexy Late Homecomers
1980 Two for the Road aka Taipei My Love
《台北吾愛》 aka 《姻緣道》
Cowriter, Director Taiwan Seasonal Film Corporation
1982 Expensive Tastes
Writer, director Hong Kong
1985 Smile Again
Director Golden Harvest
1986 Yu Pui Tsuen
1987 Yu Pui Tsuen II
Carnal Desire aka The Locked Heart
Director Taiwan Tomson (Hong Kong) Films Co., Ltd.
1988 Brief Encounter
Director Hong Kong Gam Sing (Jinxing) Film Company
1989 Erotic Nights
Writer, director Mai Laan Din Ying Yau Haan Gung Shut
1990 Temptation Summary
Director Sam Po Film Co
L'Air Du Temps
《豪門聖女》 aka 《時代之風》
Director Taiwan
1991 Hidden Desire
Director Hong Kong World Perfect Production Co., Ltd.
Temptation Summary II
Director Sam Po Film Co
1992 False Lady
Executive Director, Producer
1993 7 Days in Paris
Wild at Heart
Director, producer Heung Gong Din Ying Chai Chok Gung Shut
1994 The Sichuan Concubines


  • Ho Fan (1960). 街頭攝影叢談 [Thoughts on Street Photography]. Taipei: 藝術圖書公司. OCLC 40085019.
  • Ho Fan (1972). 現代攝影欣賞 [Modern Photography]. Taipei: 藝術. OCLC 82284319.
  • Ho Fan (1982). 何藩國際大獎攝影全集 [Complete collection of Ho Fan's international award-winning photographic art]. 台北市 (Taipei): 歐語.
  • Ho Fan (June 2006). Bennette, John A. (ed.). Hong Kong Yesterday. Palo Alto/San Francisco: Modernbook Editions. ISBN 978-0-97788-283-0. Retrieved 5 June 2017. 112 pages
  • Ho Fan (April 2009). The Living Theatre. Palo Alto/San Francisco: Modernbook Editions. ISBN 978-0-98010-443-1. Retrieved 5 June 2017. 176 pages
  • Ho Fan (2014). A Hong Kong Memoir. Palo Alto/San Francisco: Modernbook Editions. ISBN 978-0-9908712-0-0. Retrieved 5 June 2017. 128 pages
  • Ho Fan; Woo, John (foreword); Fung, Joseph (essay); Greene, Sarah (biographical notes) (June 2017). Portrait of Hong Kong. Hong Kong: WE Press. ISBN 978-988-14231-2-2. Retrieved 5 June 2017.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The year of birth is from the Hong Kong Film Archive online catalog, in other less reliable sources his year of birth is given as 1930, 1931, or 1932.
  2. ^ a b c d Part of the four-film Shaw Brothers adaptation of Journey to the West


  1. ^ "Grey areas: The photographic work of Ho Fan is a stark reminder of old Hong Kong". Post Magazine. South China Morning Post. 7 October 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2017. Having retired from directing, Ho, who turns 82 tomorrow and now lives in California, in the United States, used old negatives to produce the books Hong Kong Yesterday and The Living Theatre, and has put together a series from the books that is being exhibited in Chai Wan.
  2. ^ "Fan Ho". Modernbook. 3 September 2011. Archived from the original on 5 June 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Street Life: Hong Kong in the 1950s as seen through the lens of photographer Fan Ho". South China Morning Post. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  4. ^ Greene, Sarah; Yan, Jasmine (2017). Visual Dialogues: Hong Kong through the lens of Fan Ho (PDF). Sotheby's. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Cheung, Rachel (22 June 2016). "Ho Fan, celebrated 1950s Hong Kong street photographer, dies in California". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Ho, Fan (November 2012). "Ho Fan: In Memory of Hong Kong's Iconic Photographer". HK Magazine. South China Morning Post. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  7. ^ a b Nip, Amy (10 August 2014). "Street life: Hong Kong in the 1950s as seen through a teenage photographer's lens". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Fan Ho: Visual Dialogues/Hong Kong through the lens of Fan Ho" (Press release). Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery. June 2017. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Heaver, Stuart (20 June 2017). "How Fan Ho, Hong Kong's poet with a camera, found his calling - in his own words". Post Magazine, South China Morning Post.
  10. ^ a b Ho Fan (10 December 2014). "Ho Fan, Hong Kong photographer, on retrieving lost memories" (Interview). Interviewed by Edmund Lee. South China Morning Post. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d Di Marzo, Cindi (29 June 2006). "Stillness in Motion: The Photographs of Fan Ho". Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  12. ^ Greene, Sarah. "Ho Fan (1931-2016)". Blue Lotus Gallery. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "何藩 / HO Fan". The Ultimate Guide to HK Film Directors. Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild. 2017. Archived from the original on 1 February 2018. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  14. ^ Fung, May, ed. (2001). i-Generations: Independent, experimental and alternative creations from the 60s to now. Hong Kong Film Archive. ISBN 962-8050-13-3. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  15. ^ Johnson, G. Allen (19 May 1998). ""Carnal Desire," spiritual journeys". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  16. ^ a b Chow, Crystal (30 October 2013). "San Jose photographer Fan Ho's timeless visions of old Hong Kong". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  17. ^ Johnson, G. Allen (10 August 2004). "8th annual Asian Film Festival -- the 4 Star's last picture show?". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  18. ^ Archer, Larissa (21 July 2011). "Fan Ho's Hong Kong snapshots bear playful theatricality". San Francisco Examiner. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  19. ^ Katz, Anita (25 December 2014). "Fan Ho photos bring mid-century Hong Kong to life". San Francisco Examiner. Archived from the original on 11 February 2018. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  20. ^ "攝影界「一代宗師」何藩病逝 享年84歲" (in Chinese (Hong Kong)). 21 June 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  21. ^ "Photographer Fan Ho Dies at Age 84". PetaPixel. 21 June 2016. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  22. ^ "Exhibition no. HK0758, Visual Dialogues: Hong Kong through the Lens of Fan Ho". Sotheby's. June 2017. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  23. ^ a b Knott, Kylie (1 June 2017). "Photographer Fan Ho's never-before-seen Hong Kong images on show in exhibition and new book". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  24. ^ "The last Fan Ho Photography Collection《念⾹港人的舊 Portrait of Hong Kong》- WE Press" (in Traditional Chinese). Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  25. ^ Karacs, Sarah (13 June 2017). "Hong Kong Revisited Through the Eyes of the Late Street Photographer Fan Ho". Zolima Citymag.
  26. ^ Hong Kong, Coconuts (31 May 2017). "Never-seen-before snaps of 'old Hong Kong' from legendary photographer Fan Ho to go on show". Coconuts Hong Kong.
  27. ^ The Fan Ho Trust Estate (2017). "About Us". Fan Ho Photography. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  28. ^ Fan Ho Trust Estate (11 June 2017). "1966 Banbury England Best Film Award|一九六六年英國「賓巴利國際電影節冠軍」". Fan Ho Photography.

External links[edit]

Online exhibitions[edit]

Documentary videos[edit]