Don Hong-Oai Statement


Artist Statement
Don was born in Canton, China in 1929, but spent most of his life in Saigon, Vietnam. As a young boy in Saigon he was apprenticed to a photography studio. 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 was honored by Kodak, Ilford and at Fotokina in West Germany and was a member of the International Federation of Photographic Art in Switzerland and the Chinatown Photographic Society.


 
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