Raymond Lum and Edward Stokes at the launch of Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong. Ray, from the Harvard-Yenching Library, had been an invaluable ally in the book’s development.
Journeying across a physical landscape, or travelling back through time, seem different. Yet they share something similar: the beguiling interest in what is revealed, the ‘mind map’ that gradually appears as one proceeds. And, while taking photographs is naturally personal and subjective for each photographer, to truly bring historical photos to life one must seek out ‘the person’ of the original photographer.
As Ray Lum was to write in his Foreword to Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong, ‘Photos have an immediacy, an intimacy, a spontaneity that often is lacking in written texts’. Sometimes, he added, ‘photos become the historical record’. Similar views had formed my first book, United We Stand. So, in the late 1990s, when I found clues to little-known images of Hong Kong, taken in 1946 – 47 by the photographer Hedda Morrison, my curiosity was piqued, my antennae aroused. A gradual search followed. Some years later, I found Hedda’s original Hong Kong negatives at Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University. Ray and I met. We became firm friends, fellow spirits concerning Asian historical photographs and their publication. Very sadly, Ray died in 2015. He is greatly missed.
On a light box at Harvard I viewed the same Hong Kong images that Hedda Morrison herself had hoped to publish. Powerful remembrance of Morrison came in handling her negatives – fragile, long lasting gelatin squares.
The publication of Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong, and the book’s very positive reception, provided the genesis for a new publishing body. Seeing that the interest in Hong Kong heritage was growing, and through my research aware that Morrison’s Hong Kong images were the tip of a great, unpublished record of Asian historical photos, the Hong Kong Conservation Photography Foundation decided to pass the nature photography baton to the others. Forging a fresh direction, during 2008 the same board members and I established a new, regionally focused organization to publish unseen – or little known – Asian historical images. It was named The Photographic Heritage Foundation
Changes from ‘past’ to ‘present’ can be seen best with images. Using Morrison’s photos, and later those of another Hong Kong photographer, Lee Fook Chee, I collaborated with Rogan Coles, a talented photographer. Rogan took photos revealing both the changes and continuities in Hong Kong over time. As the celebrated documentary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once commented: ‘Nothing is more revealing that to compare a country with itself, while capturing its differences, to try to find the thread of its continuity’.