by Chiara Caratti, photo editor Yourpictureditor
If the Hong Kong photography world was a tree, Alfred Ko Chi-Keung would be the roots. Born in this city, he studied Photography in Canada. Back in Hong Kong, he became a photographer, taught at Polytechnic University, founded the FOTOCINE School of Photography and the Photo Center in the 1970s. He was one of the main contributors in building and creating a flourishing Photography scene in his city.
It is not a surprise that now he is the chairman of the Hong Kong International Photo Festival, a biennial event that attracts photography enthusiasts and professionals. Spread in different venues through the city, it showcases local and international exhibitions, of the caliber of the World Press Photo. And above all, it promotes emerging and well-known local photographers in big group or individual shows. What’s the aim of the event? Educate the audience, share the same passion and give photography the role it deserves.
We met Alfred Ko, who is currently working on the Festival’s fifth edition.
How would you define Hong Kong photography environment?
Hong Kong photography environment is rather vibrant: with digital photography becoming more popular in recent years, there are more people who cultivate photography as a hobby. Major camera brands have organised many campaigns that heavily involve these amateur photographers, such as themed photo competitions. For art and commercial photography, the circle is unfortunately rather small. Besides, it is harder for newcomers to enter the world of art and commercial photography. The Internet could be one reason: with the information overflow, it is more difficult to attract attention over a longer time span when compared with the past. Art and commercial photography in Hong Kong is still in need for further development, and we need more audience who knows how to appreciate photography.
Which are the emerging trends in photography that are particularly loved here?
One recent trend is nostalgic photography. People in Hong Kong start to love taking photos of old places. If you visit the Choi Hung Estate, one of the oldest public housing estate whose exterior walls are painted in different colours, or Montane Mansion in Quarry Bay, featuring “monster” architectural complex, you would probably see flocks of people taking photos. These places represent collective memory of Hong Kong people, and a growing number of people try to use photography to capture and preserve that part of memory in their cameras, before these places vanish and are replaced by urban renewal plans.
What does “storytelling” mean to you?
I think telling a good story means telling an inspirational story that leaves a profound impression in one’s mind.
The HKIPF is growing in popularity. What kind of people come to the Festival? How do you reach them?
According to the numbers we have collected, mainly executives, professionals, academics, and professional photographers come to the Festival. While the visitors’ figures are quite encouraging, the Festival still finds it difficult to reach to the common lower class in the society. It strikes a contrast with Europe and America, where people of all classes generally consider art as part of their lives and would actively visit art exhibitions.
What do you think of the rising popularity of alternative ways to showcase images, like virtual reality and projected images, replacing the classical prints?
I think we should embrace the alternative ways of showcasing images, because this allows us more ways to create and thus demanding a greater degree of creativity. Take our major exhibition “What Do You Want For Tomorrow” (2016) as an example. It features mixed media, such as projection, light painting, video and virtual reality, to highlight the idea that the meaning of image today is complex, pluralistic and technology-related.
Any sneak peek into the next year’s edition of the Festival?
Next year we will have two major exhibitions, one on the legendary Japanese photography magazine “PROVOKE,” and another one on local photographers whose photos demonstrate a humanitarian impulse to use pictures to inform, educate, and ultimately change the world we are living in. We all are looking forward to presenting the two exhibitions to the audiences in Hong Kong and beyond!
Credit photo: Masashi Asada, Asadake series, Yakuza, 2004 (1000 Families, 2016)
Ko Alfred Chi-keung was born in Hong Kong and studied photography at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada. He returned to Hong Kong in 1977. Since that year he has also taught part-time at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Design/Photography Department, the Extracurricular Department of Chinese University, the H.K. Arts Centre, the First Institute and the Chingying Design School.
In the late 1970s, Ko founded the FOTOCINE School of Photography and the Photo Centre as a nurturing ground for professional photographers in Hong Kong. Ko was named “Photographer of the Year” by the Hong Kong Artists guild in 1992, and his photo album Palace Museum – The Forbidden City won the “Champion Book of the Year” and “Best Produced English Book” awards from the Hong Kong Urban Council in 1982 and 1984 respectively. His solo exhibitions include Monologue (1986) Hong Kong, China (1993), The Blues (1997), Nocturne (2008), Agoraphobia ( 2012 ) and Apart (2015). His works have been collected by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and private collectors.
Ko is a founding member, former Chairman and current Honorable member of the Hong Kong Institute of Professional Photographers. He is currently Chairman of the Hong Kong International Photo Festival.