In 1979 he was able to get to the U.S. and settled in San Francisco’s Chinese community. Don started making a living selling his landscape photographs in front of Macy’s and began to receive more and more recognition for his master craftsmanship. He would create these images by taking three negatives, foreground, middle ground and far ground, and selecting a subject matter from each negative to form one composite image. All parts of the image do exist in life, but the photograph as a whole is an image that only existed in Don’s imagination. Each photograph is a unique handcrafted piece of work.
The photographs of Don Hong-Oai are made in a unique style of photography, which can be considered Asian pictorialism. This method of adapting a Western art for Eastern purposes probably originated in the 1940s in Hong Kong. One of its best-known practitioners was the great master Long Chin-San who died in the 1990s at the age of 104) with whom Don Hong-Oai studied. With the delicate beauty and traditional motifs of Chinese painting (birds, boats, mountains, etc.) in mind, photographers of this school used more than one negative to create a beautiful picture, often using visual allegories. Realism was not a goal.
He never had an assistant or had his images put together in a lab. Each piece had to be put together by Don as he saw it in his mind. His work has won scores of international awards and is included in hundreds of personal and corporate collections worldwide.. Only in the last few years of his life – he died in June 2004 – was his work discovered by a wider public, and he was kept very busy making prints for collectors across the US and worldwide.
Don Hong-Oai was one of the last photographers to work in this manner. He is also arguably the best. He was honoured by Kodak, Ilford and at Fotokina in West Germany and was a member of the International Federation of Photographic Art in Switzerland and the Chinatown Photographic Society.