Hong Kong Photography Series 3: Beyond the Portrait
Heritage Museum Until Nov 26
Hong Kong, an endless bank of potential images for those armed with a camera and a curious eye, has witnessed a burgeoning development of its photography scene in the past decade. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum has capitalised on this trend in recent years and hosted a series of exhibitions, titled the Hong Kong Photography Series. Beyond the Portrait, running from now until November 26, is the latest, and third exhibition in the series, following The Verge of Light and Shadow in 2009 and City Flaneur in 2010.
Portraiture is a complex genre of photography open to endless interpretations and iterations. Despite the daunting task of summing up a subject of such scope, guest curators Wong Wo-bik, Yvonne Lo and Lukas Tam have attempted to offer a somewhat definitive view of this mode of photography among Hong Kong practitioners – with mixed results. The exhibition is divided into four main subcategories: Portraits of the Society, Artistic Portraits, Family Portraits and Self Portraits. In addition, there is an assortment of interesting memorabilia from photography studios of the past, and a large installation of cover images from Companion and City Magazine, publications which have long defined the zeitgeist when it came to the Hong Kong public’s idea of and relation to the photographic portrait.
Walking through the main exhibition, it becomes quickly apparent that there is a lack of engagement between the four subcategories, each cordoned off into their own corners and seen as separate parts of vastly different practices and practitioners. The section titled Portraits of the Society includes work that displays a link with the museum’s previous City Flaneur exhibition, images of Hong Kong streets which offer clues to the aesthetics and morals of a given period in the past. Vincent Yu’s candid portraits of socialites in the 90s are striking in their brilliant and dizzying view from the top of society, but the other work in this section, all in black and white, adheres to a nostalgic and familiar monochrome view of Hong Kong that feels retrograde and stylistically moribund.
The show’s strongest portion, Artistic Portraits, delivers with iconic work by the likes of Holly Lee and Almond Chu capturing influential cultural figures that is on par with a Richard Avedon or Irving Penn. More problematic are the remaining two sections. Family Portraits comes off as scattershot, simply filling up space with visually uninteresting work that is present by virtue of conforming to the genre. The section Self Portraits has three out of its four showcased artists depicting themselves nude or semi-nude, provocations which ultimately come off as arch and clichéd.
Overall, this sampling of local portrait photography offers positive and negative examples, as well as a glimpse of potential for artistic practitioners looking for directions from which to develop their craft against the backdrop of Hong Kong.