Using a style known as pictorialism, Chinese artist Dong Honh-Oai was able to create a series of amazing photographs that look like Chinese traditional paintings.
Born in 1929, in Guangzhou, China’s Guangdong province, Dong Hong-Oai left his home country when he was just 7, after the sudden death of his parents. The youngest of 24 siblings, he was sent to live within the Chinese community of Saigon, Vietnam. There he became an apprentice at a photography studio owned by Chinese immigrants and learned the basics of photography. During this time he became particularly interested in landscape photography, which he practiced in his spare time. At 21, after doing a series of odd jobs, he became a student at the Vietnam National Art University.
In 1979, a bloody border war started between Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China, and following a series of repressive policies that targeted Chinese immigrants, Dong Hong-Oai became one of the millions of “boat people”who left Vietnam during the 70s and 80s. At the age of 50, speaking no English and knowing no one in America, the artist arrived in San Francisco and was even able to set up a small darkroom. Selling his photographs at local street fairs he was able to raise enough money to travel back to China periodically to take photos of surreal landscapes, and more importantly study under the tutelage of Long Chin-San, in Taiwan. This famous master, who died in 1995, at the age of 105, had been trained in the traditional art of Chinese landscape imagery painting, which wasn’t intended to accurately depict nature, but to interpret nature’s emotional impact. The dramatic monochromatic landscapes created using simple brushes and ink combined different art form (poetry, calligraphy and painting) and allowed artists to more fully express themselves.
At one point in his career, Long Chin-San started to experiment with ways to translate that impressionistic style of art into photography.He developed a method of layering negatives to correspond with the three tiers of distance and taught his method to Don. Looking to better emulate the traditional Chinese style, Don Hong-Oai added calligraphy and his seal to the image. In the 1990s, his new art modeled on the ancient style started drawing critics’ attention, and soon he didn’t need to sell his photography from small stalls in street fairs. He was now represented by an agent and his work was being sold in galleries throughout the U.S., in Europe and in Asia, to private art collectors but also by corporate buyers and museums. He was in his 60s and for the first time in his life he had achieved some level of financial stability.
Don Hong-Oai died in 2004, at the age of 75, but left behind an incredible volume of pictorialism work that is as popular today as it was when it first conquered the art world.
Photos via Picasa