Take a quick look at Chinese photographer Yao Lu’s “New Landscapes” photos, and they may look to you like old Chinese paintings of misty mountains, green hills, and choppy brown rivers. Each one even bears a red seal stamp that artists use as signatures on finished works.
Look a little closer, however, and it becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right. “Those are some strange looking mountains, you think to yourself.” Well, they aren’t actually mountains, but rather mounds of garbage covered with green construction netting.
Don Hong-Oai was a San Francisco-based Chinese photographer who created beautiful images that resembled traditional Chinese paintings.
The photographs of Don Hong-Oai are made in a unique style of photography, which can be considered Asian pictorialism. This method of adapting a Western art for Eastern purposes probably originated in the 1940s in Hong Kong. One of its best known practitioners was the great master Long Chin-San (who died in the 1990s at the age of 104) with whom Don Hong-Oai studied. With the delicate beauty and traditional motifs of Chinese painting (birds, boats, mountains, etc.) in mind, photographers of this school used more than one negative to create a beautiful picture, often using visual allegories. Realism was not a goal.
Hong-Oai was one of the last photographers to use this technique, and was also arguably the best.