TEXT : Ire Tsui

There are numerous photo museums throughout the world, like the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, the Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam, Fotografiska in Stockholm and California Museum of Photography. Yet, despite the rise in the number of art photography aficionados, Hong Kong still has only few venues to hold large-scale photography exhibitions, and there are no museums dedicated to collecting photography works. The privately-run F11 FOTO Museum, situated in a Grade III historical building in Happy Valley, was founded by Douglas So, who also serves as its director. Douglas is a Hong Kong solicitor and had served many charities in the field of education as well as for the Jockey Club. He is passionate about art, photography and curatorship. He and his team had spent several years turning an old building in Yuk Sau Street into a space for promoting photography and heritage conservation.

Photography encompasses a large realm that includes camera, visual history, documentary and news photography, artistic creations, self exploration and publishing, and touches upon society, history, politics, daily living, art and technology. Douglas shares his views on the importance of life, “Photography is fascinating because it widens our perspectives and arouses people’s interest in international affairs and aesthetics, giving them exposure to people from different walks of life.

The ground floor and first floor of F11 are exhibition galleries

In order to preserve the unique character of the building, the museum team carefully considers its spatial arrangement.

Only in Private Museums

F11 FOTO Museum organizes three to four exhibitions a year, and had previously shown the works of Elliott Erwitt, Robert Capa, Bruno Barbey, Paolo Pellegrin, Sergey Ponomarev and Werner Bischof. From photography masters to the one of the founders of Magnum and documentary photographers, these exhibitions featured works with strong visual styles and on subject matters of great social and historical relevance. “When I bought this building in 2012, in order to match its art deco style and due to certain limitations of the architectural space, we decided to specialize in art and photography related activities. We position ourselves as halfway between gallery and museum, with the latter being more oriented towards culture and education, and we offer a large range of programs including private collections of photography works, high quality exhibitions, education, research and publishing.”

F11 focuses on showing the works of photography masters, such as a retrospective on well-known photographer Elliot Erwitt, and allows works from different nationalities, eras and styles to be shown in Hong Kong. On different floors of the building, a private collection of Leica cameras, photography books and related information are displayed, and visitors are welcome to browse through and study them, thus making the space a kind of photography aesthetics centre. “The government and commercial galleries will never do these things, but I believe they play an important role in educating the public about photography.” The advantage of private galleries is its greater autonomy, and Douglas’s enthusiasm for this space is evident. Not only does he personally invite various photography masters to hold exhibitions in Hong Kong, he also spends a great deal of effort on exhibition design and artwork arrangement. For example, with the exhibition of French photography entitled Return To Beauty – Jacques Henri Lartigue and his world held earlier this year, Douglas and the design team carefully considered the presentation style, wall color, graphic design, lighting and even the font type. For example, the name of each work was handwritten to match style of Lartique’s handwritten journal.

Curatorship and sharing

The columns inside F11 FOTO Museum contain the autographs of many famous local and overseas photographers. “The museum welcomes many different types of visitors, such as primary school and secondary school students, photographers and related professionals. Those who like cameras will pay more attention to equipment. We also let students know about older photography technologies such as instant cameras, while photography exhibitions serve as a kind of aesthetics education.” The top floor of the museum has a large collection of photography books and collections. It can hold sharing sessions and seminars, and also promote research and publishing. “As a collector, we must also share our knowledge and do research on our collection. Only in this way can we have greater interaction with users.”

F11 will be collaborating with a French curator to hold an exhibition of works by Alexander Rodchenko in October 2017, showing some 120 of his works. Born in the 20th century in the former Soviet Union, Rodchenko was an artist, sculptor and photographer who founded the constructivism and Russian design movements. Rodchenko’s photography reflected social reality while exploring new forms. Frequently employing unconventional framing such as high or low angles to bring about a sense of visual shock, his works force viewers to look at familiar objects in new light. “This is the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, but there has been scant discussion of such classic Russian art aesthetics in Hong Kong.”

The team behind F11 has another upcoming plan—they will be opening a new photography space, F22 at Tin Lok Lane in Causeway Bay, forging yet another exhibition pathway.

Translation: Simon Chung