Skip to content Skip to footer

Lumenvisum resents:


Nancy Sheung’s Portraits of Hong Kong Women in the 1960s

ArtistNancy Sheung (Sheung Wai-Chun)
Curator Deputy CuratorDr Edwin K. LaiRachel Hui-Yin Ip
Opening ReceptionSaturday, 7th March, 2015, 4-6pm
Sharing SessionSaturday, 7th March, 2015, 3-4pmBy Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres, granddaughter of the artist
SeminarSaturday, 21st March, 2015, 3-5pmBy Dr. Edwin K Lai   Ms Sylvia Ng, former Chief Editor of Photo Pictorial(Conducted in Cantonese)
Exhibition Period7th March to 12th April, 2015Docent-guided visits available for groups. Please contact us at852. 3177 9159 or for details.
Opening Hours11 am – 6 pm Tuesdays to Sundays
 (Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays; Lunch Hour 1-2pm)
AddressLumenvisumL2-10, JCCAC, 30 Pak Tin Street, Shek Kip Mei, Kowloon, Hong Kong


By  Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres

Nancy Sheung (Sheung Wai-chun, 1914-1979) was a Hong Kong photographer with a strong eye for capturing space and form. Although she was well into her forties by the time she picked up a camera, Sheung’s singular eye and experience gave her a unique take on the quintessence of Hong Kong life, and over the course of twenty years she built an oeuvre of images that are as socially powerful as they are visually poetic.

Nancy Sheung was a natural trailblazer, born in Suzhou at a time when the pervading attitude in China was that girls should not attend school; instead, they were expected to stay at home and learn how to be the mistress of the house from their mothers. Aspiring to be something other than a housewife, at the age of fourteen, Sheung got a job at an opium den, preparing opium pipes for customers in order to make enough money to pay for her own high-school education. She was a veritable tomboy—she took one of the family horses and rode to school every day. Moreover, getting to class was not exactly safe, so she carried a gun with her every day until she graduated. With her education and independent spirit, Nancy Sheung was looking beyond Suzhou. In Canton, she met and married Pong Kuan Wah, an affluent merchant, and they moved to Hong Kong in the mid-1930s. There she would become a mother of six, but she did not become a housewife; instead she started her own construction company, leaving the child rearing to nannies.

It was not until the late 1950s that Sheung took up photography. In 1958, Hong Kong was deep in economic recession and most construction projects had ground to a halt; as a result, she had an abundance of free time on her hands. By coincidence, that year she also attended a luncheon at a hotel that was hosting an exhibition of European photographers. Transfixed by the black and white images, she realised this was what she wanted to devote herself to.

When Nancy Sheung purchased her first camera, a Rolleiflex, photography was not a very established art form in Hong Kong, or in Asia, for that matter. The revolutionary small 35mm Leica camera had been introduced in 1925, and technology as well as the commercial viability of still photography developed rapidly from there. Although primarily seen as a “Western” art medium, around this time native Hong Kong enthusiasts began taking art photographs in earnest, and by 1937 the Photographic Society of Hong Kong was established. Still, even by the 50s, nearly all of these photographers were male.

Nancy Sheung apprenticed herself to one of them, Michael Leung, one of the few recognized photographers of the period, whose realist portraits, naturalistic landscapes and Alfred Stieglitz sensibility appealed to her, and she quickly learned the basics: how to use her new Rolleiflex camera, how to process film and how to print.

Although she was already in her middle age and lacked formal art training, Sheung had a many advantages as a photographer: she was used to breaking ground, she was not shy about taking people’s portraits. She was single-minded in her pursuit of her vision, and stopped at nothing to get the best composed pictures, be it invading someone’s rooftop or knocking on doors to get to someone’s window.

As a builder, she was familiar with surveying landscape and form, and she had a natural talent for composition. And, having worked with architectural drawings for so many years, she also had a more formal understanding of design and space.

Nancy Sheung made photography her passion. She soon added a Hasselblad 500C to her tools, set up a studio in her home, and converted a bathroom into her darkroom. During her career, she would go on to take thousands of photographs across East Asia and Hong Kong. Over some twenty years, her images won numerous prizes and were exhibited in hundreds of photographic salons and competitions around the world, and a number of her pieces were accepted at the British Royal Photographic Society.

Her painstakingly beautiful interpretations of the people and places that defined Hong Kong during the period are characterised by visual strength and clarity of vision. Her subjects, frequently women, give us an intimate view into the life, culture and aesthetics of the time. Sheung developed a genius for staging compelling scenes as well as for documentary style photography, and she never stopped expanding her range and vision. Always a pioneer, she also experimented with creative printing techniques, such as masking, cross processing, texture screening, and other forms of manipulating the black and white photos in the darkroom.

“Rare Encounters: Nancy Sheung’s Portraits of Hong Kong Women in the 1960s”* is the first major exhibition of Nancy Sheung’s work in Hong Kong since her death in 1979. The 25 images in the exhibition presents an intimate glance at her photographic work with women of the period. With a highly distinctive sensibility for capturing drama, beauty, and the female spirit, the exhibit aims to firmly reinforce Nancy Sheung’s position as an important Chinese photographer of the mid-twentieth century.

– – – –

Tiffany Wai-Ying Beresis an American curator who was classically trained in Asian art history and antiquities. Born in San Francisco to a bi-racial family, Ms. Beres grew up practicing ink painting and calligraphy, stimulating her interest in Chinese art. A Brown University graduate and Fulbright Scholar, she has lived and worked in China for over eight years, curating exhibitions in China, Hong Kong, the United States, Singapore and France. Previously, Ms. Beres served as the International Affairs Officer and a Chinese ink painting specialist for China Guardian, Mainland China’s first auction house. Ms. Beres’ is a frequent lecturer on Chinese art history and her writing on Asian contemporary art has been published in Orientations, The Asian Art Newspaper, ArtAsiaPacific, and the Wall Street Journal, among others.

* The artwork in this exhibition is courtesy of Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres and the Pong Family.

By  Edwin K. Lai

On the invitation of Tse Ming-Chong, starting from 2014 I am doing a photography exhibition of historical themes every year at Lumenvisum. The series “Photographs of History, History of Photographs” kicked off last year with the “Colour Hong Kong 40s-60s” exhibition, which with the assistance of deputy curator Rachel Ip, and my good friend and expert of Hong Kong history Ko Tim-Keung, dozens of colour images of Hong Kong during the early postwar period were shown. The exhibition was very well received: I can still remember how the gallery was flooded with people when Ko and I held a public talk there. For this year, it is my greatest pleasure to introduce the photography of Nancy Sheung, a woman pictorialist photographer very active in Hong Kong from late 1950s to early 1970s. As all the exhibits are vintage prints made by Madam Sheung herself, this is a real treat for all lovers of photography.

Nancy Sheung was born in 1914 in Suzhou and moved to Hong Kong in the mid-1930s with her husband Mr. Pong Kuan-Wah. Whilst supporting her husband and raising the children, she was also operating a building company. She started to photograph in her forties, in about 1958, and for more than ten years since then she was very active both in Hong Kong and worldwide. Her photographs had entered numerous salon competitions and won many trophies and awards. Most notably, for five consecutive years from 1967 to 1972, she was listed in the world’s top ten photographers in the monochrome print division, and received from the Photographic Society of America the titles of five-star exhibitor and associate membership. In addition, Nancy Sheung had also obtained titles of associate and fellow memberships from many Hong Kong and overseas photographic organisations.#

Nancy Sheung died in Hong Kong in 1979, in the course of time her photography became eclipsed, almost unknown to the younger generation of photographic enthusiasts. In June 2014, I was thrilled to learn that there are Nancy Sheung’s original photographic prints in the world, when her granddaughter Tiffany Beres (Pong Wai-Ying), wrote me an email asking if I would be interested in seeing them. In a visit that followed I came into contact of an impressive collection of over two hundred vintage photographs, all of very high quality and printed by Nancy Sheung herself. This body of work is undoubtedly a valuable treasure, to say the least, for the study of Hong Kong photography history or Hong Kong women photographers, and will definitely yield significant insight and understanding if a thorough academic research can be conducted. Tiffany Beres and I continued our correspondences after the visit, and soon we came up with the plan to do this exhibition.

Regarding her pictorialist approach Nancy Sheung was an absolute perfectionist, which can be easily discerned from the selections of subjects, the compositions and tonal controls in her photographs. She was always meticulous and articulate, and strived hard to obtain the best and most beautiful results. According to Tiffany Beres, a curator of Asian art herself, Nancy Sheung “was single-minded in her pursuit of her vision, and stopped at nothing to get the best composed pictures, be it invading someone’s rooftop or knocking on doors to get to someone’s window.” Most of Nancy Sheung’s portraits were female, perhaps because of the convenience of being a woman herself. This makes me reflect on the extremely small number of woman practitioners in Hong Kong salon photography, and the fact that although women appear frequently in salon photographs, most of the time they will remain anonymous to the viewers. It is under these considerations that the theme and title of this exhibition is developed. Nancy Sheung has also taken pictures of landscapes, still-lives, social life and other topics, which I hope viewers will be able to see in a large-scale retrospective exhibition in the future.

I would like to thank Tiffany Beres who has given me the greatest trust and support, without which this exhibition would not have been a possibility. I really hope that she will find the exhibition likable. I am also grateful to Nancy Sheung’s son, Mr Pong Wai Leung and his wife Cheryl Ng: they have warmly received us a number of times, and offered their assistance to us in many different ways. My deputy curator Rachel Ip has been most professional as ever, she was greatly rejoiced when she learned of the exhibition’s theme, and so I hope the discussions at and after the forum can really meet her aspirations in enhancing the dialogue on gender issues in Hong Kong photography. 

(Translated by Chloe Chu)

#See Vision Beyond: Hong Kong Art Photography 1900-2000. Exhibition catalogue, The Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 2000, Volume 2, p. 304.


Edwin K. Lai is currently Senior Lecturer and Subject Coordinator (photography) at the Hong Kong Arts School, and an expert adviser of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum on Hong Kong photography. He obtains his BA (Hons.) degree at Derby University, and his MPhil and PhD degrees at the Fine Arts Department of the University of Hong Kong. Lai is an internationally well-known scholar of Hong Kong and Chinese photography, and has published more than 100 essays, including some in academic journals and exhibition catalogues. His photo-works have been exhibited in the UK, Japan and Hong Kong; since 2008 he has curated a number of art and photography exhibitions, including “Imaging Hong Kong: Contemporary Photography Exhibition” (2008), “First Photographs of Hong Kong 1858-1875” (2010), “Post-Straight: Contemporary Hong Kong Photography” (2012), “Colour Hong Kong 40s-60s” (2014), and “Twin Peaks: Contemporary Hong Kong Photography” (2014).


Born in Hong Kong, Rachel Hiu-YinIP obtained her Master of Fine Art from RMIT and Master of Cultural Studies from Lingnan University. Her photographic works have been exhibited at the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the 11th Pingyao International Photography Festival and are privately collected. She has acted as Gallery Manager at The Upper Station and Art Consultant for AO: Vertical Art Space. In 2012, she founded the art organisation RAC. Apart curating exhibitions and writing art criticisms, she also teaches art and photography and are currently Part-time Lecturer of Hong Kong Art School, The Open University of Hong Kong and the City University of Hong Kong.


Lumenvisum is a registered charitable arts organization founded in 2007 by four Hong Kong photographers dedicated to promoting the photographic art in Hong Kong. Apart from regularly running photo exhibition, artist’s talk, photography course as well as a wide range of exchange and educational activities, at its space at JCCAC it also runs a photobook library-cum-bookstore.


Nancy Sheung

The Pigtail


Silver gelatin print

(Courtesy of Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres and the Pong Family)

Nancy Sheung

The Long Haired Girl

c. 1960s

Silver gelatin print

(Courtesy of Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres and the Pong Family)

Nancy Sheung

Figure Study

c. 1960s

Silver gelatin print

(Courtesy of Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres and the Pong Family)

Nancy Sheung

Cross Pattern

c. 1969

Silver gelatin print

(Courtesy of Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres and the Pong Family)

Nancy Sheung


c. 1960s

Silver gelatin print

(Courtesy of Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres and the Pong Family)