Fan Ho — Approaching Shadow

Study The Masters: Fan Ho — Part One: Approaching Shadow

Arshdeep Matharu
Mar 10, 2018 · 2 min read

In this new weekly series, which will replace the old This Week’s Photo series, I’ll be looking at picking one master photographer, past or contemporary and study their work and life over a span of one month (4–5 posts, depending on the month).

This month, I’ve decided to explore Fan Ho’s photographic work. I’ve previously discussed Fan Ho’s work on this blog. Fan was born in Shanghai in 1931. In 1949, when Fan was 18, he migrated to Hong Kong with his family. It was in Hong Kong where he made his first iconic, famous photograph, called the Approaching Shadow.

Approaching Shadow is a beautifully crafted photograph. In photography, we talk about lines — horizontal lines, vertical lines and diagonal lines. This image has all three of them. The horizontal line of the ground provides the image stability and somewhere for the subject to “stand on”. The vertical line keeps the subject upright and the diagonal line darkens the right side of the image, ensuring that the eye is led to the subject and the brightness of the wall does not overpower the image.

Then, as with most great photographs, there’s the moment when this was captured. The pensive gesture of the subject gives the image a strong emotional element for the viewers to anchor on. In Fan Ho’s words, the diagonal shadow symbolises her youth fading away and subject’s introspective gesture goes well with that narrative.

This image is not a genuinely spontaneous street scene — he asked this cousin to pose at this location and the diagonal shadow was added later in the darkroom but, in my opinion, none of that takes away from the beauty of this photograph.

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Arshdeep Matharu

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Fine art photographer.. of sorts. Follow me my (at least) weekly blog on Medium or on