Jul 19, 2012|
HK Magazine: Where have you been stationed through the years?
Liu Heung-shing: I was in the Soviet Union, India, South Korea. But through all these assignments, I’ve been in China in several different periods. The first time I arrived in China, it was after the death of Mao in 1976. It launched a new era, new direction, new freedom.
HK: Could you tell us a bit about the exhibit?
LH: I spent four and a half years researching “China, Portrait of a Country.” In 2008, when Beijing hosted the Olympics, [I realized] I wanted to document the journey of a new China. This is not a coffee table book—it is a serious attempt to use photographs as a tool for a narrative. This is a very tumultuous journey for the People’s Republic. People in the world were shocked by the speed of the reform. This exhibition has 70 works [from the book], and has already traveled to Barcelona, Madrid and Zurich. I edited this book as a photographer. It was very subjective. I’ve been involved with China for a long, long time, and I’ve seen all the books. China attracts a lot of photographers’ interest, but there is an inherent challenge. You have these books using photographs to illustrate, and you get a big sinologist to write something, and the job falls to a photo researcher who is photographically very literate, but who doesn’t know the language and doesn’t have any cultural context. So the photographs never really integrate into a coherent [whole] through—in this book for example—425 pages.
Read his commentary on some of the photos in the exhibit here.
HK: What was your main goal in producing the book?
LH: My point is to say, “This is the journey of 1.3 billion people; this is what they have gone through, good or bad.” For Chinese people, I want them to see this as their history. China will never be able to do anything until they come to terms with their history—Hong Kong included.
HK: Were you always interested in photojournalism?
LH: My father was a newspaperman. When I was in Hong Kong, he sent me to learn how to draw on Saturdays. After two years, I said that I was no bloody good at it. I was miserable, so I stopped. But little did I know then that I learned a little bit about composition and stuff like that. I went to Life magazine as an intern, and all of a sudden my interest in journalism and photography came together.
HK: What do you think constitutes a good photograph?
LH: Sometimes photographs can transcend cultural and sociopolitical nuances. I really believe that photography has this power to describe. Images need to evoke a certain response—that’s what makes a good photograph. That emotional response is ubiquitous [and transcends] cultural understanding. It doesn’t mean that your response and my response will be identical. Even though we could talk about photography, we might as well talk about apples and oranges, because we’d be talking about completely different things.
HK: Have you had any memorable responses to your work?
LH: The images [in the exhibit] are really a collective memory of the People’s Republic of China. Because they trashed and short-changed their history, now it’s very fragmented. I was in Birmingham giving a talk, and a university student from the mainland cried during my presentation. The English people were very surprised. When she came up for me to sign her book, she said, “The reason I cried is that my parents kept trying to tell me what China was like, but until then I didn’t know what they were saying. I was moved by your pictures.” If I can move just one person, I’ve already achieved what I set out to do.
HK: Do you have any future projects?
LH: I’m going to do more portraits. My days of covering war and political upheaval and revolution… I think it’s enough.
Catch Liu’s exhibition at AO Vertical Art Space through July 29.