Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: visual poetry

Eyes, Mind & Heart: Photography of Fan Ho

Fan Ho’s photography is pure poetry, drama and a journey into a time long past.


“Children’s Paradise” (all b&w photos copyright by Fan Ho)

As a young man he wanted to tell stories and entered St. Paul’s College in Hong Kong to study writing.

As he explains in a recent interview:

I was an exceptional student… I did so well in my writing classes that I earned the nickname the “great scholar”- Bah Gam, even from my professors. Then one day… I couldn’t read because I had a migraine that wouldn’t go away. I found the only way to relieve my headache was to breathe fresh air by walking the streets.


“Mother’s Helper”

It became so boring, so I took snap shots to wile away the time. I entered a contest and got the 1st prize and was encouraged. So I started telling my stories using photography as the medium.


“Back Alley”

The streets offered him imagery to tell his stories. Hong Kong was changing, the old ways cheek by jowl with the new as the streets bustled with activity. Ho Fan learned to blend in and wait for the decisive moment to materialize before his lens.

her study

“Her Study”

It’s actually very hard work. You must see and think all the time. You must use your heart to determine that decisive moment which Henri Cartier-Bresson talks about. At that moment you must care, breathe and love the universe – it’s not just about making a beautiful picture.

"Little Grandma"

“Little Grandma”

I put my whole life into a single photograph. Negative was expensive in my day, when you click a shutter it cost money. I am like a cowboy with one bullet and not a machine gun, looking for that decisive moment.

He would photograph late afternoon when the light was most dramatic, process and print his film at night and do it all over the the next day.


“Evening Ferry”

His images show an extraordinary mastery of composition, timing, light, shadow, geometric angles and framing. They have a classic, almost mythic feel, as if he was holding time itself in his lens. Yet he worked alone, with just one camera and an ability to imagine and visualize what he wanted to capture.


From the website

I took pictures according to my instinct. I just took photographs the way I saw it and didn’t follow any particular master, style or philosophy.

I see the street as a Living Theater. It’s also the title of my book. You can say, I wait for the actors to walk to their marks.


“Afternoon Chat”


“Life in a Slum”

All of these photos were taken when Fan Ho was a young man. Later he became an actor and had a successful career as a film director. You can see his eye for composition and fascination with light and shadow in much of his work.


“Approaching Shadow”

From a commentary in Time Lightbox:

At a time when the Hong Kong’s heartbeat was quickening to a frenetic, “modern” pace, Ho’s patient and deliberate method of working allowed him to see through the bustle and distractions to the true timelessness of place.







Each of Ho’s photographs represents immense planning and thought – not just what the scene should look like, but how it should feel on film.

"Daily Routine"

“Daily Routine”

Fan Ho was asked about his favorite photograph. It’s the one below, Evening Hurries By – 1954:

I studied Chinese literature at the time. I read a poem that greatly impressed me. So I had to find a place that had the same feeling I got from the poem. The mood, the atmosphere and main character — all had to express the same emotion as the poem.


“As Evening Hurries By”

Once I found the location, I went there for many days. Tricycle carts and the men walking home; the silence followed by the surf crashing the walls; the lighting was low… The image still haunts me today and I shot it half a century ago.

I express what I feel at the time and what is in my heart. At first I have an image in my head. I say to myself, I know that it will come out like this.


“Rowing On”

Fan Ho site

From the Fan Ho website


The expression is about a time past. Something along the lines of longing I suppose. I crave for the nostalgia of good days gone by.

I personally love to shoot the old way. I love to hear the sound of the shutter. It’s like music to me. I also love the darkroom. I did all my own prints.



You can see many of Fan Ho’s images at his web site. He has several collections of his work in book form. You can find them here.

South China Post site

From the South China Post website


I feel technique is not too important. It’s more important to use your eyes, mind and heart. Technique is something everyone can do. If you want to take your photography to a higher level, you must tell something. Move something. You must feel it when you make the photograph and that will take you to a higher level. Photography needs to be haunting and worth remembering.



“Hong Kong Slum”

I like his thoughts about using eyes, mind and heart to find the story you want to tell. Of course technique can help you get there, but you need curiosity and a passion for your subject too.

As always, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Capturing the Creative Spirit: Michael Graves

Michael Graves

How best to capture the creative spirit? In this case, how to understand the work of architect and designer Michael Graves, via two very different approaches on video?

Let me offer a little background to what I’m talking about.  Early on, as a film and video editor and later as a writer, I learned to “show it,” not “tell it.”  That means to do your best work, you have to put aside the explaining part of your brain and work with the feeling side to create moments with images and sound that really communicate.  You let the pictures and events tell the story.
Once you’ve given the video a visual style and structure, then you can add that other layer of meaning (the narration or voice over) to amplify the message. Or not, depending on what you’re going for. In essence, this is the original approach to documentary and also the basis for cinema verite. And even with today’s more content driven approach, the tension in the creative process is still about what drives the story: words or images. Telling or showing.

The Humana Building by Michael Graves

So, back to the challenge of capturing the creative spirit: how to describe an innovator like Michael Graves?  As an architect, his buildings give shape to city skylines around the world. He designs tea kettles and other products found in many of our homes.  And now that he navigates with the help of a wheel chair, he’s working to improve the quality-of-life for others facing similar challenges.

This image and most others from the Michael Graves and Associates Website

You could describe him as a man of genius, a visionary and innovator. Some call him the father of post-modernism, as you can see in this Portland, Oregon building that helped launch that phase of his career.  

from the Wikipedia site

Today, his body of architectural work is broad, deep and visually arresting. Just peruse his page on Wikipedia and scroll down the list of the important buildings he created.  Or check out his website to see what his firm has  been doing recently.  

But all of this is by way of giving you a little context for the challenge facing the two videos. Each explores the man, his importance and creative drive, but with two very different approaches. 

First up is a video I found on the site of Dwell Magazine.  

Design Icon: Michael Graves for Dwell | by Gary Nadeau from gary nadeau on Vimeo.

I like how this video is more impressionistic than informational. It explores the quiet beauty of his home and furnishings as a metaphor for Graves’ artistic and creative impulse. You can feel the influence of Italy and Europe as the camera meanders through its rooms and garden. The video is like a visual poem, enveloping you in an almost meditative quality. While his comments suggest his thoughts and themes, the overall effect is more of a moment shared, an ambience savored. Everywhere you feel Graves’ touch and sensibility and the images are visually engaging. 

Time Magazine called the Humana Building one of the 10 best buildings of the decade
From the PBS documentary

The second video is Architect Michael Graves: A Grand Tour 

 The half hour video was produced by PBS station WTTW and embraces a typical present-day documentary approach. I should mention it takes a little while for the piece to focus on Graves, but when it does I found it very informative. It also tells you how his work developed over time and the influences on his approach to design. 

St. Coletta School for children with cognitive and physical disabilities

But, overall, I found it more like a video history lesson with the visuals playing a secondary role. The content delivered via the narration and interviews drove the piece, and it was much less poetic. So you feel more detached from the person and what he was about.  Perhaps more intellectually satisfying, but much less emotionally involving.  And therein lies the key difference between the two approaches.  

And while I personally prefer the more poetic, visual approach, what I did put together from watching the two programs is that, along with huge talent and skill, Michael Graves also has a healthy dose of grit and determination.  His strength of character and ability to refocus his creative energy inspires me. And his story reminds me once again of what you can accomplish, once you put your mind to it.

Now You See It

For many of us, the biggest problem with ideas is that they’re hard to see. They float around in an abstract environment of words and meanings. And we can certainly use them to construct elegant castles-in-the-air. But ideas also lend themselves to confusion, uncertainty and misinterpretation. So how to make an idea concrete? How to visualize its impact and outcomes?

I’d like to point you to an elegant example, recommended by my colleague Bob Burnett. A video from the British design and architectural marketing firm Squint/Opera and their Stonehenge project. You’ll find it a little later in this post.


Their design approach is simple and elegant. Without commentary or narration, they use fast-motion images and text to clearly portray the issues. And the video creates a visual vocabulary to show the present day approach to this national treasure as tatty, unseemly and poorly conceived. Stonehenge definitely needs an intervention.

So what will that be? The imagined solution uses a combination of images and computer animation to illustrate the future. Here’s a better-designed ambience for Stonehenge, with a sense of “before” and “after” deftly realized. The music track walks you through the visual journey with crisp, easy steps.  Its bell-like qualities heralding a new age for the ancient monument.  Well-imagined and executed.  If the Stonehedge video doesn’t play, you can find it here.

I’ve looked at other videos on their site and have to admit that I dislike all of them. Where the Stonehedge video is an understated delight, the others are over-the-top, annoying and much too self-important. I guess the knack for visual poetry is doled out more in tablespoons than teacups.  

But to end on a more upbeat note, I did like the design ideas they had for The Doodle Bar. For this funky tavern, their hipster artiness makes its mark.