Laughing faces of children
Gelatin silver photograph, fibre-based
Paper size 198mmx249mm (8x10 inches), image size 169mmx203mm
Work year 1963, printed in the nineties
Signed on verso by the artist
“Growing Up in Hong Kong, Yau Leung”, Photoart Publishing Company, Hong Kong, 1994, cover
Note: Please note that all prints were hand-processed and signed by the artist during his lifetime. Even though many of the images were planned to be printed in multiple editions, no more than ten prints of each image were actually processed due to the premature death of the artist in 1997, proving furthermore the uniqueness and rarity of Yau's photographs.
Yau Leung (1941-1997) is a highly regarded photographer in Hong Kong. Born in the war years, the city has always been the heart and core of his photography. His work does not belong to the avant-garde nor pictorial genre, he inherited a working style mixed with American Modernism, and to a great extent inspired by the idea of Henri Cartier-Bresson's "fixing eternity in an instant". He had been scouting often around streets big or small, capturing decisive moments and hence coined by people the "Bresson of Hong Kong". For more than forty years, he amassed an immense album of lives and activities of the ordinary people, the fast-changing faces, and vigorous movements in this increasingly cosmopolitain city, forming an integral part of visual memories of Hong Kong from the sixties to nineties.
There was an article on Yau Leung written by Liam Fitzpatrick in the September issue of Time Magazine, not only mourning his untimely death at such pivotal moment when Hong Kong was just returned to China, but troubled by the regrettable fact that the passing of one of Hong Kong's greatest photographers was not properly acknowledged and commemorated by the general public. In the late nineties, Yau had just started to gain some reputation as an artist and in some respect, the return of Hong Kong to China played an important part, raising the importance of his work in the Hong Kong photo history. And within a few years before 1997, there was a high demand for his photographs in the market. The quality and contents Yau's photographs possess without doubt attracted many collectors, either for investment or sentimental reasons, but it was also true for those who were uncertain about the future of Hong Kong, who were preparing to leave the colony and grapping the chance to own a piece of Hong Kong history before the handover, in other words, preserving a piece of memory of the city's golden era.
Successful sales of his photo works motivated Yau to adopt a new working space. Always working alone, Yau died accidentally in 1997 from injuries sustained in a fall in his lab. His sudden death resulted in fewer of his photographs appearing on the market, since most of his silver prints were made according to orders.
Presently, Yau Leung's photographs at OCEAN POUNDS are mainly selected from Lee Ka-sing's collection. Being good friends, with photography as a shared passion, Lee worked closely with Yau for the publishing of Yau's two early monographs “Images of Hong Kong” and “Growing up in Hong Kong”. Lee had also written a column for PHOTO ART, the magazine which Yau published in the 80s. As Lee recalls they met up for lunch almost once every week. In 1995 when Ka-sing and Holly initiated the OP Editions project to promote collecting photography in Hong Kong, two of Yau’s work, the “Two Women” and “Gloucester Road” were included in that year. Decades after these images have become the most recognized and iconic photographs from Yau Leung's oeuvre. With success of the OP Print Program, Lee started to represent Yau, procedurally setting up a cross section of Yau's work in limited editions, with a good amount of photographs sold.
Yau Leung, before his unexpected death, was quite active and had appeared in solos and group exhibitions in Hong Kong. In 1997, Lee Ka-sing also organized Yau Leung’s work in an exhibition at The Photography gallery in London and the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver. Twenty two years later, in June 2019, Sotheby’s gallery in Hong Kong presented the exhibition “Vision of Hong Kong from Two Generations: Yau Leung and Lee Ka-sing”. The photographs of Yau Leung were drawn from the Lee Ka-sing Collection. As the exhibition title indicated, two visions of Hong Kong in two generations, it has also reflected the friendship between these two photographers, their common contributions to the Hong Kong photography scene, and unequivocally, their undying love of the city's culture. Beside numerous private collections, Yau Leung’s photographs are now in the collection of Tate Britain Museum, M+ Museum and Hong Kong Heritage Museum.