Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club is a members-only club and meeting place for the media, business and diplomatic community and remains a noisy bastion of free speech, gossip and hard drinking.
Set up on June 23 or June 25, 1949, the FCC was a refuge for correspondents expelled from China after the Communist Party seized power and closed the Shanghai club.
Over the past six decades it has thrived, despite shifting locations, to establish itself as the prime stop-off point for photographers and reporters covering the region's big stories, from the Korean War to China's economic juggernaut. Some have dubbed it to be the greatest press club in the world! Certainly it gained immortality in John Le Carre's spy novel "The Honourable Schoolboy". It was during the Vietnam War, when journalists used the then-British colony as a refuge from the frontline, that old hands talk of the club's heyday.
The current location of "The Eff," as some members affectionately refer to it, occupies the Old Dairy Farm Depot at the top of Ice House Street, one of the few remaining colonial buildings in the Central district and could be regarded as a historical monument. And there are certainly some members who have been propping up the main bar for so long they could qualify as historical monuments themselves. (joke).
Among many of the infamous members and self-created myth-makers, one true journalistic legend I remember with great fondness is the late great Clare Hollingworth, the former Daily Telegraph journalist who broke the story that World War Two had begun. She had her own seat reserved at the main bar.
But behind the bravado of barflys, the club is run by a team of loyal staff, and this is what this series is all about. For as I heard, one member who returned to the club for the first time in 20 years was stunned to be welcomed back like an old friend by an eagle-eyed bar staffer, who even remembered his tipple of choice. Hearing this anecdote made me think....
I pondered the fact that as an FCC member myself since 1991, and accustomed to seeing some familiar barman faces today that stretch back to the early 1990's, the years of my young adulthood, I realized I still knew so little about these loyal staff who derived their livelihood from serving us. I hardly knew their names, let alone anything about their lives and what had prompted them to devote much of their professional careers to been there for us.
So, wanting to get to know them all a little better, I proposed to the management, the idea of producing a compelling, up to date set of portraits of their entire 100 staff.
In agreement, I then proceed to produced two sets of portraits. The first more in line visually and aesthetically with my clients corporate needs.
The second series, I present here under the banner; FCC Proletariat.
I like this title given The Club's long and tenuous relationship with communist mainland China, with it's Marxist/Leninist ideology. Within that system, The proletariat are the social class of wage-earners whose only possession of significant material value is their labour power. However in this particular series and with reference to the FCC and those who work within it, I merely see the staff as loyal attendants to the cause. ie. an institution that is a defender of free speech, in a city where democracy and free speech is receding as China exerts full control. There are even rumors The Club will close for good, if their tenancy contract, set to expire in 2025, is not renewed due to pressure from Beijing.
However, with this series, I have no intention to make any sort of political or socio-economic statement. In fact the work has been succinctly summed up so;
'Just goes to show with some creative thought how it’s possible to come up with something unique. A series which made me think at first I was witness to some theatrical set up and a cast from a stage performance. Then I realised they were merely staff from the club. Ordinary folks, asked to put something of themselves out there, and in a manner, that those visiting the FCCHK wouldn’t normally get to see’.
Richard Mark Dobson
Hong Kong August 2020
Hong Kong August 2020