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When every picture did tell a story

THIS WRITER HAD a nostalgic lunch yesterday with Martin Lee Chu-ming, Liu Kinming and others to celebrate a new book by top Hong Kong photographer Liu Heung Shing, known as H.S.

H.S., who is now 70 years old, was born in Hong Kong, and educated in the United States but became a top photographer for Time-Life magazine group, going around the world to capture major happenings with his Leica camera and Kodak film. (Remember those days?)

I reminded Martin Lee that he and I spent part of the morning of the new Hong Kong: At 7 am on 1st of July 1997, the first hours of post-colonial Hong Kong, we were both interviewed by CNN in their Hong Kong central studios.

Photographer H.S. reminisced about how astonishingly fast China had changed. He had first visited the country as a small child in the late 1950s, but when he returned in 1977, there was an air of change all around. He knew then that this was a huge deal. “If China changed, that would be a very big story,” he said.

Today, China has been totally transformed. But also the whole business of photography has altered too.

Trillions of random images which are never looked are taken by youngsters every year. Good pictures, taken by a professional photographer, were different. “You have to read a photograph rather than look at a photograph,” H.S. said. Good pictures tell a story.

Liu Heung Shing’s new book, only available in Chinese at the moment, is called The World Is Not Like This.

One of his most famous photographs was taken in the dark. Many people did not have electricity at home, so children would go to Tiananmen Square, which had lampposts, to study in the evenings.

Cameras in those days had no screens. You just had to hold the shutter open and pray. For the famous image (at the top of this story), he held the shutter open and counted slowly. One. Two. Three. He counted to 23. By the end of 23 seconds, he let go of the shutter and it closed. Later, when his pictures were developed, he found the image perfectly showed the girls studying in the square.

But they also told a story – of a poor country willing to work extraordinarily hard to lift itself into modernity.

Image at the top copyright, Liu Heung Shing

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