Line and Texture: on the work of photographer Nancy Sheung

An exhibition at the Museum of East Asian Art shows the work of photographer Nancy Sheung whose interpretations of the people and places that defined Hong Kong during the fifties and sixties are characterised by patterned elements and visual strength.

This new exhibition at the Museum of East Asian Art offers a rare opportunity to view the work of Hong Kong photographer, Nancy Sheung (1914–1979), which is only the second time that her work has been shown in the UK.

Nancy’s work is often focused on the female and has a strong emphasis on patterns and lines. It stands out from her contemporaries in its approach and boldness which remain fresh to viewers today. The exhibition is curated by Dr Michael Pritchard, photographic historian and Director of Programmes at the Royal Photographic Society, Bristol.

In this exhibition we can see Nancy’s progression as a photographer. As Dr Michael Pritchard reflects: “Nancy was an exceptional photographer, moving her practice from traditional subjects to a more contemporary approach set amongst the booming construction and expansion of Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Nancy was born in Suzhou, China, to a well-to-do family. She moved to Hong Kong in the 1940s and successfully established her own business in construction and architecture. She turned to photography in her forties and took it seriously: studying with local photographers, building her own darkroom and entering competitions and exhibitions.

Above: Staircase, 1960s

In a world that was dominated by men, she developed her own distinctive style, which combines an Asian aesthetic with a modernity inspired by the European and American photography of her time. A strong, determined woman, Nancy joined the Photographic Society of Hong Kong in 1966 where she quickly made her mark becoming its Vice President in the 1970s. She joined the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) in 1965 and gained her Fellowship in 1971 and regularly exhibited in the RPS’s exhibitions.

Dr Pritchard continues: “What makes her even more remarkable is that she was an amateur in a male-dominated world and became vice president of the Photographic Society of Hong Kong and established an international reputation through her membership of the Royal Photographic Society.”

Nancy died in Hong Kong while printing in her darkroom in 1979. Nancy left behind a remarkable photographic archive that is only now being reappraised and exhibited. Line and Texture: The photography of Nancy Sheung was first shown as part of Photo Oxford 2021.

Line and Texture: The Photography of Nancy Sheung is on show at the Museum of East Asian Art until 8 October; | All photographs © Estate of Nancy Sheung