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Don Hong-Oai
Don Hong-Oai

Don Hong-Oai

Country: China
Birth: 1929 | Death: 2004

Don Hong-Oai was born in Canton, China in 1929 as the youngest son to a business family and was raised and educated in Saigon, Vietnam. At age 13 he began an apprenticeship at a Chinese photo and portrait shop. In 1979 he immigrated to the United States and settled in Chinatown of San Francisco.

Don began making a living by selling his landscape photographs in front of Macy’s and began to receive recognition for his craftsmanship. His style was heavily influenced by the legendary photographer Long Chin-San and his technique of layering negatives. By taking three negatives, foreground, middle ground, and far ground, and selecting a subject from each negative, Don would form one composite image of a serene landscape. All the various scenes in an image existed in reality, but each uniquely handcrafted photograph in its entirety is a concoction of the artist's imagination. Each photograph was assembled only by the artist himself thus he never had an assistant nor a master printer like some photographers. His work has won scores of international awards and has been collected worldwide. Sadly, Don passed away in San Francisco in 2004.


Don was born in Canton, China in 1929 and spent most of his life in Vietnam. As a young boy in Saigon he apprenticed at a photography studio. When he was not at the studio, he traveled and took photographs of the landscape. He stayed in Vietnam through the war, but fled by boat to California in 1979. He lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown where he had a small darkroom to create his photographs. While living the US he returned to China every few years to make new negatives. Only in the last few years of his life was his work discovered by a wider public, and he was kept very busy making prints for collectors across the US and elsewhere. Don died in June 2004. The photographs of Don Hong-Oai are made in a unique style of photography, which can be considered Asian pictorialism. This method of adapting a Western art for Eastern purposes probably originated in the 1940s in Hong Kong. One of its best known practitioners was the great master Long Chin-San (who died in the 1990s at the age of 104) with whom Don Hong-Oai studied. With the delicate beauty and traditional motifs of Chinese painting (birds, boats, mountains, etc.) in mind, photographers of this school used more than one negative to create a beautiful picture, often using visual allegories. Realism was not a goal. Don Hong-Oai was one of the last photographers to work in this manner. He is also arguably the best. He has won hundreds of awards given by photography societies throughout Asia and by international juries of Kodak and Nikon.

Source: www.gallery71.com

 

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With its tumultuous political history and its growing social pressure for managing farmers coming into urban areas for a better life, all of it pushed by a constant need of investments and fast modernization, I wanted to portray this view of a growing china, far away from the common views of eastern cities such as shanghai or Beijing. From a photographic point of view, I have decided to shoot the people in their environment. But i have decided to take a step back, using medium format film camera, I want to transmit the feeling of scales that the city and china in general is facing. Urban Scales, Social Scales, the country's biggest problem is now to find a way to link some extremes the highly rich to the very poor, the extravagant to the meaningful. Vertical Communism is a portrait of Chinese a megapolis full of contradiction, trying to keep up with its unpredictable modernization Source: www.timfranco.com Interview with Tim Franco: AAP: When did you realize you wanted to be a photographer? Tim Franco: There is not a precise moment. When I was young, I loved writing stories, then my passion became music. I always wanted to share my ideas and vision of things through some mediums at the end it became photography. AAP: Where did you study photography? TF: When I was a kid, my artist mother pushed me from one opening to the other, through museums and galleries. At first I hated it, and then became used to it and started to hang out more and more in her studio, until I took away her old cameras , I have learn through experience, other photographers and reading tutorials. AAP: How could you describe your style? TF: Photographers tend to be classified, put into boxes, commercial photographer, photojournalists, artists, etc. I never really know how to classify my work. What I love is telling stories, document facts with an artistic esthetic to it. I also enjoy working on creative commercial assignments. I always try to stay simple in the esthetic and subtle about the story. AAP: What kind of gear do you use? Camera, lens, digital, film? TF: For my personal work, I really enjoy medium format. When I see something, most of the time, I ideally want to frame it in square. I don't really like naming brands, they all have different feeling and esthetic and it really depends the look you want to give your image. To name a few I personally work with Hasselblad and old rolleiflex. For commercial work, I use Canon because of their price and availability in terms of lenses. AAP: Do you spend a lot of time editing your images? TF: When shooting film, I usually spend very little time editing, just cleaning dust on films and other small details. When shooting commercial work on digital its another story. Clients are very specific about what they want and color out of raw files needs to go through extensive treatment. My photo agency works with a retouching studio for most of our commercial projects. AAP: What advice would you give a young photographer? TF: Those days, its very easy to call yourself a photographer, grab a camera , a couple of nice prime lenses and you can get some good images. But I think young photographers should really focus on what are they trying to say with their images. What makes a great photo is not the instant esthetic of it but the impact that image will have on its viewer. AAP: An idea, a sentence, a project you would like to share? TF: One of the main project I worked on for the past year is about one particular city in China called Chongqing. Since 2009, I am going there quite frequently, at the beginning for some press assignments since the city have seen lot of interesting political stories and turmoils but also because it fascinates me. Both from an esthetic point of view and from its stories. This giant megapolis has been forcly populated with countryside people and has now a very hard time to deal its urbanization. "I personally see Chongqing as a macro representation of the whole China. With its tumultuous political history and its growing social pressure for managing farmers coming into urban areas for a better life, all of it pushed by a constant need of investments and fast modernization, I wanted to portray this view of a growing china, far away from the common views of eastern cities such as shanghai or beijing. From a photographic point of view, I have decided to shoot the people in their environment. But I have decided to take a step back, using medium format film camera, I want to transmit the feeling of scales that the city and china in general is facing. Urban Scales, Social Scales, the country's biggest problem is now to find a way to link some extremes the highly rich to the very poor, the extravagant to the meaningful. Vertical Communism is a portrait of chinese a megapolis full of contradiction, trying to keep up with its unpredictable modernization." AAP: Your best and worst memory as a photographer? TF: Being a professional photographers gives you a chance to go to many great places and meet amazing people. Sometimes the best memory is all the instants that led you to take a particular photo, the untold stories. What happened in the discussion you had with the person you were about to portray, how did you get to this fantastic point of view etc. For worst memory there is always issues of dealing with authorities, this large gap of misunderstanding between the photographer wanting to tell a story and a person not allowing you to shoot. This is always very annoying.
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