HKIPF 2020 Foreword
Stepping into summer, the Hong Kong International Photo Festival set out to kick off this year’s edition with the exhibitions of two pivotal figures of contemporary photography: Robert Frank: Books and Films, 1947-2019 and Secrets of Steidl Photobooks. Making Multiples — a retrospective of the late maverick Robert Frank and a tribute to Frank’s close collaborator, visionary photobook printer, and publisher Gerhard Steidl.
Then COVID-19 engulfed the world. We are now temporarily “distancing” ourselves from the Frank and Steidl exhibitions until next year, and when all this is over, we look forward to welcoming our communities, local and international, to come and experience their seminal works. In Frank’s words, “it’s not possible [to photograph] without feeling empathy, without having a feeling for these moments” (Robert Frank on Life & Art, 2001), and indeed, art does not stand apart from the messy life in which it is created.
The Festival continues, with more than 30 Hong Kong photographers who have persevered, committing themselves to deliver diverse exhibitions and events across various districts. The Festival is a chance to re-examine our home communities and to stay connected (at a safe distance) despite the challenges that lie ahead.
Ten young image makers have been working alongside forerunners of photography in our Photographer Incubator mentorship programme since September 2019, discussing contemporary photography and developing their artistic practice. Our mentors have offered generous amounts of guidance, inspiration and insights, and the 10 emerging artists are pleased to present some of their extensive investigations and experimentations to the public.
Our Open Call for Satellite Exhibitions has brought a diverse range of 18 individuals and creative collectives who will partner with local businesses and venues – together, they link art with the everyday environment, and at the same time reclaim creative spaces in the city through unconventional presentations.
SEEN & UNSEEN – the theme of the 2020 Festival. In this digital age, we have become so accustomed to constant imagery, but do we really see? Are we able to see images as reflections of the political thoughts and aesthetic judgements of their creators? Are we able to tell what is interpreted as “truth” and what is shaped into one? Of all the things we see, which do we notice, and which elude our attention and go unseen? Nurturing a broader and more holistic perspective, critical and free of presuppositions, requires a long process that demands continuous reflection and reference points, sometimes from our predecessors.
Robert Frank said, “I always thought, the way you live, that’s already political.” Everyday life in Hong Kong has been exceptionally strenuous, with ongoing protests to achieve democracy and to protect the rule of law, state-sanctioned police brutality, socio-economic hardship, and a pandemic: for over a year, people have endured a “state of exception” as coined by philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Thanks to a group of photographers willing to maintain their reflective and critical spirit, images of those rendered as “bare life” shall exist and be “seen”. Their lenses bear witness to the faces and voices standing against the oppression of the status quo, defending the progress of our civil society. For this work, we are acutely grateful. Thank you, each and every one of you.