Hong Kong As It Was, Hedda Morrison’s Photographs 1946 – 47

Author: Edward Stokes
Publisher: The Photographic Heritage Foundation (HK) with Hong Kong University Press (HK), 2009
Format: Hardback, 255mm x 280mm, 228pp.
Photos: Duotone
ISBN: 978-962-209-966-1

 

In September 1946 the photographer Hedda Morrison, best known for her images of Peking (Beijing) in the 1930s, arrived in Hong Kong. As this book shows, in six months she created a memorable record of Hong Kong just after the war – ‘as it was’.

Morrison, German by birth, had become a documentary photographer during over a decade living in China, from 1933 to 1946. Her great skill – and love – was to record the lives of ordinary people. This she did in Hong Kong to great effect, from September 1946 to March 1947.

As the original bilingual version of this book, Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong, records, within a few years, much of what Hedda Morrison photographed would be lost. Yet in 1946 – 47 Hong Kong’s urban and rural life still retained its old feel, its traditions and cultural ways: colonial precincts, the dense Chinese streets, bustling markets, hawkers, nomadic fisherfolk and farmers. Edward Stokes’ evocative essays portraying Hong Kong in those years complement Morrison’s images.

If Hedda came across a scene or a group of people, she would photograph from various angles. A single photograph would never satisfy her.

Helmuth Hennig, Foundation Chairman, speaking at a dinner for Hong Kong As It Was. To his right are Mrs Carrie Lam, Hong Kong SAR Government, and Dr Helmut Sohmen, the Foundation’s Founding Benefactor.

Hedda Morrison’s photographs reflect the eye of a masterful photographer. It was those photos, first sighted in a 1946 government report, that prompted Edward Stokes in 1995 to begin searching for the original negatives – later discovered at the Harvard-Yenching Library of Harvard University.

Hong Kong As It Was reflects the resurgence of memories of Hong Kong. Through the images of Hedda Morrison the book presents a portrait of Hong Kong in 1946 – 47. Those years, which this book vividly records, demanded willpower and sacrifice. Hong Kong changed relatively little in its life from the 1930s to the early 1950s. Thus, the book also effectively represents and documents a much longer period.

‘Hedda was good humoured and always patient. She treated everyone the same and she liked to record the beauty of commonplace people and places.’

Alastair Morrison (Hedda Morrison’s husband)