The Trans-Asia Photography Review is pleased to provide links to abstracts and reviews of symposia, conferences, panels and workshops on topics related to photography in Asia, which can be accessed here. We began this practice in 2010, when the journal was first published.
Sha Fei - The Photographer Who Shaped Modern China, April 22-23, 2016, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
AAS Annual Conference, March 31-April 3, 2016, Seattle, Washington
Panel - Southeast Asian Elite Photographies in an Era of Colonial Anxiety
Chair - Leslie A. Woodhouse, University of San Francisco
By examining the adoption of photography in Southeast Asia’s early modern period, this panel will demonstrate how photography was understood, practiced, mobilised, and negotiated as a [cultural and political] communicative tool, not merely as a colonial technological transfer process. This panel also examines how individual photographs project meaning and agency both visually as well as materially, enabling us to interpret photographs as both ‘visual’ and ‘material’ objects.
Political tensions within Southeast Asia were especially heightened with the influx of European colonialism from the mid-1850s to the 1910s. As Britain expanded its colonial territories from India to Burma and the French expanded the Indochinese empire into the upper Mekhong region of Laos, Siam occupied the non-colonial space in between, balancing its own geopolitics with those of two global imperial powers. The region’s elites introduced many cultural and political strategies during this period in attempts to assuage their anxieties and stabilise the turbulent political landscape.
The papers of this panel focus on a cross-section of elite Southeast Asian photographies of crypto-colonised Siam, the Shan States under the British Protectorate, and Cambodia under the French Protectorate. This panel explores how Western photographic technologies were deployed as both political and cultural medium in elites’ efforts to re-balance their positions within the realms of regional and global geopolitics.
Visual and Material Proclamation: The Role of Photography in the Accession of Siam’s King Chulalongkorn in 1868
Lupt Utama, The Royal College of Art
Before the arrival of photography in Siam, the only evidence of visual discourse in representing people’s likeness was in paintings of unidentified figures in mural paintings in Buddhist temples. This lack of tradition reflected a public taboo against representing images of people within the Royal Siamese Court. The introduction of the first camera, the daguerreotype camera, in Siam in 1845 by French priest, Father Louis Larnaudie, would revolutionise this taboo, even though it took ten years to capture the first photograph of the Siamese King in 1855.
Prior to King Mongkut’s death in 1868, the King had inexplicably refused to state a preference as to his successor. However, Prince Chulalongkorn was enthroned by the accession council in 1868 when he was only fifteen years old. During this time patrilineal succession lack regulations in Siam’s palatine law, and was further complicated by the institution of a ‘second king’, moreover, through a series of domestic and regional political events during an era of colonial anxiety, the choice of Chulalongkorn was safer.
This paper will argue that in addition to acting as a political endorsement of King Chulalongkorn’s accession to the throne, his portraiture in the new medium of photography was also worked to cement his elevation. Three key photographs (including well-known portraits taken by John Thompson in 1865 and Frances Chit in 1868) will provide my methodological framework for investigating the implications and significance of the sartorial ‘materials’ and ‘objects’ embedded within these photographs. I will argue that the endorsement of Prince Chulalongkorn’s succession was made explicit through the use of photographs as both ‘visual’ and ‘material’ proclamation to the throne.
Extravagant Ambiguities: Siam’s Representation at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition
Caverlee Cary, University of California, Berkeley
While by the turn of the twentieth century Siam had participated for decades in overseas exhibitions in Europe and America as part of its international diplomatic imperatives, surviving photographs of Siam’s pavilion at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis suggest perhaps the most elaborate opportunity for exporting state theater up to that time. In this paper I will review a series of moments in the construction of the royal image from the previous half-century, an image crafted to be identified with the kingdom itself, before turning to the St. Louis case. What kind of image did Siam choose to present? What was the context of this particular exposition, and, beyond this, that of America’s relations with Asia in this period? This paper explores ambiguities and ironies embedded in the story of Siam at the St. Louis fair.
Picturing "Siwilai": Representations of Ethnic Difference in Siamese Elite Photography of the Fifth Reign (1868-1910)
Leslie A. Woodhouse, University of San Francisco
Scholars of Asian art and history have undertaken a critical examination of how photography has historically been deployed by various Western colonial powers to reinforce a “hierarchy of civilizations” with themselves at the top. Thailand’s royal elites have long been known for their adoption of “modern” techniques to represent their civilization, such as mapping (Thongchai 1999),collecting and photography (Peleggi 2002). As my paper will discuss, photography could also be enlisted in non-colonial contexts to create notions of ethnic difference that replicated and reinforced the ethnic power hierarchy promoted by Western colonizers – even in countries which were never
formally colonized, such as Siam (today Thailand).
In this paper, I explain how colonial anxieties were expressed in Siam’s elite photography, even while Siam remained uncolonized by Western powers. As a mode of elaborating a localized notion of civilization called “siwilai,” photography visually conveyed how the Siamese adapted Western colonial-style ethnic hierarchy to the local context. I explore how Siam’s elite photographers created images of court figures who represented ethnic “Other-ness” to construct siwilai in Siam. As case studies, I will focus on two particular figures, including “Ngo Ba,” a young boy of the Semang tribe adopted by King Chulalongkorn and raised within the court, and Princess Dara Rasami, an ethnically Lao consort who practiced distinct customs of dress, eating and deportment. Photographic images of both these figures, I will argue, played an important part in embodying the ethnic hierarchy of Siamese siwilai and complicating our notions of colonial photographies.
Images and Agendas: Shan Elite Participation in British Colonial Photography during Late-Nineteenth-Century to Mid-Twentieth- Century Burma
Thweep Rittinaphakorn, Independent Scholar
Under British colonization, Burma (now also known as Myanmar) was regarded as part of the British-Indian empire extending from India. Other areas apart from Burma proper where different ethnic groups resided were then regarded as “Frontier Areas”. The Shan States were among them.
To western eyes at that time, this part of the British empire was a mystery and there was a thirst for knowledge. The need to capture new information about these lands resulted in numerous academic works, journals, gazetteers, reports, as well as picture books serving as means to allow westerners to familiarize themselves with this heretofore unknown territory. In many of these records, when the subject of Shan States was mentioned, pictures of Shan elites were often presented along with those of other subjects of interest such as crafts, professions, dwellings, geography, etc.
Were these pictures of the elites publicized by the British merely to provide information about this exotic land? Or was there an underlying motive to portray the regality of ruling power that still prevailed the Shan States? This paper will investigate and form a hypotheses around two key questions: 1) To which extent were the Shan elites aware of how their photographs were exploited? 2) Did they intentionally allow it as a tool to project their civilized existence and to differentiate them from the Burmese and other ethnic minority groups? Analysis will include examples of well-known published materials containing photographs, as well as other contemporary documents that refer to them.
The Ambiguous War: Japanese Photographs of Soldiers in Vietnam, 1964-1975
Austin C. Parks, Oberlin College
Over a six day period in early March 1965, roughly 50,000 people visited an exhibition of war photographs by Okamura Akihiko held at Matsuya department store in the fashionable Ginza district of Tokyo. It might seem odd to mix a day of shopping with images of torture, death, and despair, but such was the Japanese fascination with photographs of the Vietnam War. By 1975, when the conflict officially ended, over fifty Japanese cameramen had traveled to Indochina to cover the war for Japanese and international audiences. Their images reached millions of Japanese through newspapers, magazines, other print media, and in public exhibitions like the one mentioned above. This paper asks why the Vietnam War was so popular in Japan and how images of that foreign war influenced war remembrance in a country whose twentieth-century history has been defined by the experiences of its own war and defeat?
This paper addresses these questions by examining Japanese photographs of South Vietnamese, American, and North Vietnamese soldiers. By crafting representations of soldiers as the brutish agents of state violence, the sympathetic victims of war, and anti-imperialist liberators, photographers taught their Japanese audiences to see war ambiguously as both tragic and potentially redemptive. These seemingly incompatible depictions of the war actually made a lot of sense to Japanese living with the unresolved trauma of defeat. One reason they did so was because they simultaneously repudiated Japan’s wartime imperialism and acknowledged its subordination to America’s regional goals in the decades after defeat.
Ghostly Imagination: Spirit Photography and “Psychic Studies” in Modern China
Shengqing Wu, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
By surveying the various cultural practices around and writings about spirit photography and photography of the dead in early twentieth-century China, this paper explores the evocation of traditional mystical and ghostly figures, as well as visual representations of the afterlife. It first discusses the appropriation of photography to create images of deceased relatives as affective objects, and then delineates the short-lived Shanghai Psychic Association’s practice of ‘photographing the immortals’ in the late 1910s. The spirit photo, seen as a valued object with emotional resonance, not only relies upon the linkage of imagination and mourning, but also serves to forge a new relationship with death and the afterlife. Further, placed within the context of Chinese folk religious practice and the worldwide spread of psychic research, photography also became a distinctively new spirit medium, not only as a mystical conjuror that could summon immortals and cause them to materialize, but also as a set of scientific tools that could reaffirm traditional supernatural beliefs. This paper investigates how photography served as visual evidence for Spiritualist beliefs, and how practices involving photography intertwined with personal affective states, folk ideas, Western Spiritualism, and a quest for meaning in the modern era. The creative representation or manipulations of ghosts and the deceased in Republican China offers us a new way to understand the struggle of modern intellectuals to deal with vision and visibility, reality and imagination, through their various challenging encounters with modern technology and science.
Drape, Dream, Journey: The Art of Photographic Advertising in Meiji Japan’s Department-Store Magazines and the Commodification of Japanese Elite Culture
Julia Elizabeth Sapin, Western Washington University
As Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida, a photograph “points a finger at certain vis-à-vis, and cannot escape this pure deictic language.” For Japanese consumers during the Meiji period (1868-1912), advertising photography created a more direct connection than ever before between consumer and consumable, whether the commodity was product, prestige, or place. Advertising photography, in particular that which graced the pages of department-store magazines, embedded elite values into the commodification of Japanese culture. Advertising photography allowed shoppers to experience the stores’ rich material goods, their grand architecture and interiors, and suggestions of sophisticated cultural pursuits through the pages of these magazines, bringing the sensation of direct access to these commodities even to remote mail-order customers. Each of the three primary categories of photographic subjects—product, figure, and landscape—had the capacity to touch the potential shopper in a unique way, embellishing explorations of sartorial elegance with a sense of visual reign over the store’s physical and psychic enterprises. Advertising photography helped inform a new “scopic regime” in Japan, one which commodified high culture for an audience increasingly blended with members of the growing middle class.
Image as Method: The Specter of China’s “Eco-Apocalypse”
Ralph Litzinger, Duke University
This paper examines recent photographic and filmic productions on what I call China’s eco-apocalypse. Images of polluted waterways and cancer villages, urban fringe spaces of decay and debris, empty, lifeless ghost cities, ghastly industrial runoff deforming human body parts, and ghostly, masked humans living in Beijing’s noxious, deadly air – all of these images now circulate in cyberspace, at film festivals and photography shows and in the global media. What does it mean to represent urban and rural spaces and the grey zones in between as spaces of disease, ruin, devastation, and dehumanizing ecological injustice? What forms of activism, action, and hope do they offer? To engage these questions I reflect on Wang Jiu Liang’s documentary film, “Beijing Besieged by Waste,” the pollution photojournalism of Lu Guang, and Chai Jing’s virtual media sensation, “Under the Dome,” a harrowing first-person account of the future of her child growing up in the midst of an air-apocalypse. Rather than approach these three examples as revealing the hidden realities of China’s ecological crisis and the social distortions of frenzied development, I ask about the fantasies, hallucinations, and desires that haunt these visual interventions in the history of China’s global present. If the image is a method that does more than merely represent the truth of ecological catastrophe, then what theory of life do these filmmakers, photographers, and journalists propose beyond the everyday worlds of rot, decay, ruin, and slow death? What futures of life do they portend?
Shi Tou’s Queer Aesthetic: Identity and Performance, Art and Activism
Sasha Welland, University of Washington
In 1992, when Shi Tou moved from Guizhou to Beijing’s Yuanming Yuan artist village, she was one of the first women to join this unofficial community of artistic experimentation. In Weapon, No. 6, one in a series of paintings she began there, a gun with a video-camera scope emerges from the neck of a female nude with a flowering breast. This surreal montage captures her rebellious spirit, and her use of multiple media in a career that merges art and activism. She resignifies the Communist image of the rifle-bearing female revolutionary martyr into a figure of sensuality, strength, and antiestablishment conviction. Shi Tou was also the first lesbian to come out and discuss same-sex relationships on national television and is well known for her public role as a tongzhi (comrade/queer) activist. She played a leading role in Li Yu’s Fish and Elephant (2001), China’s first lesbian feature film and has made several documentaries, Dyke March (2004) and 50 Minutes of Women (2005), that unsettle the border between East and West, self and other, filmmaker and subject. While her works—paintings, photographs, and films—have exhibited globally, they remain grounded in a local context. Her work combines, for example, representations of her friends, her partner, and herself, Buddhist iconography, and Republican-era commercial calendar art. Her understanding of art as a form of social activism presents an unconventional alternative to professionalized art circuits and re-presents the female body as a site of love, pleasure, and resistance to state control and commodity alienation.
Counter-Cultural Critique and the Remaking of Urban Japan during the 1960s and 70s
Franz Prichard, Princeton University
The intensive urbanization of Japan during the 1960s and ’70s would effectively redraw the nation’s social and political contours. These pivotal decades witnessed Japan’s integration into the U.S. geopolitical order, undertaken in fits and stages since Japan’s surrender in 1945. Through regional planning and infrastructural projects, such as airports, freeways, and nuclear reactors (including the Fukushima Daiichi plant), the entire archipelago was envisioned as an integrated network of communication, transportation, and exchange. At the same time, television and the expanded circulation of image media played an increasingly crucial role in mediating the fraught relationships between the urbanized centers and the remote limits of this wholly remade nation-state.
This paper explores how photographer and critic Nakahira Takuma wrought a vividly counter-cultural vocabulary and practice from the changing urban and media environments of Japan’s Cold War-fueled remaking. Engaging the linkages of Nakahira’s work from the early 1970s with emergent forms of radical film and urban discourse, this paper maps a provocative moment of counter-cultural critique to reveal the shifting terrain of power and possibility at the crux of Japan’s Cold War urbanization. As Japan enters a new phase of urban reconstruction haunted by the specters of remilitarization, this paper demonstrates how Nakahira’s work offers a much-needed critical perspective on the geopolitical forces that increasingly inform our urban and media experiences.
AAS Annual Conference, Chicago, Il, March 26-29, 2015
Pictorialism As Orientalism: Fukuhara Shinzo’s "Beautiful West Lake"
Karen Fraser, Santa Clara University
In 1931, the Japanese photographer Fukuhara Shinzō published a limited-edition volume of images of West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, titled Beautiful West Lake (Seiko Fukei). Fukuhara, well established as a leading figure in the Japanese photography world, was just one in the long line of artists to take up the subject. Renowned for its scenic beauty, West Lake had been a rich source of artistic and literary inspiration for more than a millennium: its appeal extended beyond China to Japan from at least the fifteenth century, with artists such as Sesshu and Ike no Taiga depicting the theme.
Beautiful West Lake featured two-dozen black and white scenic views, many employing the moody soft focus for which Fukuhara was known. However, the volume included no captions or text whatsoever, leaving viewers with an ambiguous sense of the project’s ultimate intentions. What were Fukuhara’s motivations for choosing this subject and publishing the volume, and how would his intended audience have perceived it? This paper investigates the specific locations and artistic style of Fukuhara’s views, comparing them to the celebrated “Ten Scenes of West Lake” and other historical representations in Chinese and Japanese visual culture and examining them within the context of Fukuhara’s prolific writings on artistic photography. By excavating the significance and meaning of this iconic Chinese site to the artist and the broader Japanese photography world of the 1930s, I analyze how and why this work functioned to convey a romanticized interpretation of an exotic China.
First Trip, First Encounters: Japanese Representations of the Forbidden City (1901)
Vimalin Rujivacharakul, University of Delaware
This paper focuses on two sets of images produced during the same series of events in June 1901. At the time Japanese photographers and architects took advantage of the Qing court’s exile to trespass upon the Forbidden City. The uninvited visitors combed through the complex and photographed nearly every corner, eventually producing a two-volume portfolio published under the auspices of the Imperial Museum of Tokyo. As the first comprehensive collection of Forbidden City photographs ever available, the volumes received immediate acclaim both in Japan and abroad.
What is less known to the public is that there is another set of images produced by the same group of researchers: the hand-drawn illustrations rendered solely for personal remembrance of the first visit to China. The difference between public photographs and personal portrayals was enormous, for through the individual depictions, the Qing regal complex no longer conveyed enduring imperial grandeur, but was instead a group of crumbling edifices.
Intrigued by the stark contrast between these two sets of images, I propose in this paper to utilize visual evidence as the means to bring out late Meiji polemical views about China. During the crucial moment when China’s fate was still undecided and its capital was occupied by foreigners, visual disparity between public and personal renditions of the Forbidden City vividly captured the Japanese ambivalence: would China remain the locale of their historical precedents or was it merely a dying land full of relics from the past?
Panel – Traveling Image/Text: Photographical Culture in Modern China
Chair – Julia Andrews, Ohio State University
Integrating visual, historical and literary studies with critical attention to the relationship of photography to text, this panel offers four rich case studies that explore key issues confronting Chinese photographical culture in the first half of the twentieth century. It treats travel in its literal and metaphorical senses as complex literary, visual, and cultural practices, striking across national, temporal and generic boundaries. The arrival of photography in China brought new opportunities as well as conflicts with the time honored poetic form. Judge and Wu analyze the interaction of photos and accompanying poems or texts, delving into the productive dialogues between photography with its promise of objectivity and traditional lyric aestheticism. Both Yu-jen Liu and Mia Liu chart the circuitous path of the transmission of photos to address how the concept of “Chinese art” and Chinese landscapes were constructed and received in the global flow of images when China served as a locale of departure and arrival. The panel investigates the role that verbal discourse played in visual culture as a framing or abstracting device, and how images were embedded and inflected within literary culture and meaning production. Fraught encounters across borders and the proliferation of images in the modern era, eventually led to new forms of representation and artistic creativity. Enacted in the specific socio-historical contexts in modern China, the dynamics of word/image (whether unified or contested) contributed to configuring new spaces and communication amidst an emerging mass print culture and global consumer market.
Ancient Ruins, Poetic Loss, and the Limits of Photographic Remediation: Zhang Mojun's Hymn to the Ancient Northwest
Joan Judge, York University
Zhang Mojun’s (1884-1965), Xichui yinhen (Hymn to the ancient Northwest), is an intermedial engagement with the ancient past through photographs, narrative, calligraphy, and poetry. Layers of pathos and impending catastrophe—both national and personal—haunt the album. Published in 1935, it documents a Guomindang initiative to deepen national spirituality and heighten national commitment by ritually reconnecting the beleaguered present with a glorious past. Xichiu yinhen is more than an impersonal record of this initiative which centered on a public memorial service held at the tomb of the Yellow Emperor in April 1935, however. A hybrid private/public text, it is a personal meditation on the need to instill a sense of nationalism by reinstating ancient ritual and valorizing poetic practice.
The paper introduces Zhang Mojun—a prominent writer and educator, an erstwhile revolutionary, and a rising figure in the Guomindang party—and explores the political circumstances that led to the creation of her rare and, as yet, unstudied album. It focuses on the contrasting place of photography and poetry in Xichui yinhen, in Zhang’s related writings, and in her reflections on gender. While the introduction of photography changed the ecology of representation in the album and offered a new means of experiencing history, Zhang used this visual medium unreflexively and uncritically. In contrast, she purposefully and forcefully emphasizes the importance of poetry as the crucial link between the present and the ancient past, and between women and China’s national salvation. Vestiges of the past could be mechanically captured by the camera but not spiritually reclaimed.
Visual and Lyrical Selves: Autobiographical Moments in Photo Inscriptions in Modern China
Shengqing Wu, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
This paper offers a study of poems written by intellectuals or urbanites on portrait photos of themselves (including cross-dressed, costume and double-self portraits) in the late Qing and Republican eras. The critical questions that it will address include: how did photographic portraits mediate the poets’ connections with interior selves; how did the old poetic forms negotiate with a new medium so as to accommodate the “realistic” vogue; and when Chinese poets confronted these photographs, how did they understand the objectified self, past self, or gendered self. Surveying a range of popular magazines and poetry anthologies, it offers close readings of poems by prominent intellectuals such as Lu Xun, Tan Sitong, Yan Fu, Shen Zengzhi and Qiu Jin in the context of composition, as well as little known poems by middle school students. While writers constantly resorted to old expressions and ideas (Buddhist concepts of truth and illusion in particular) to understand modern self-images, these inscribed autobiographical moments also signify subtle perceptual changes and new self-awareness. Further, by charting the route of the exchange and circulation of photos with accompanying poems, this paper critically analyzes the evocation and transmission of emotions involved in networking and communal life as enacted by the propagation of images and texts. Fundamental conceptual issues and cultural practices were brought into play at this very moment of writing poems about portrait photographs and their subsequent circulation, accounting for a rich visual experience with regard to the self/other in early twentieth-century China.
Stealing Words, Transplanting Photos: Verbal and Visual Articulation of ‘Chinese Art’ in Early Twentieth-Century China
Yu-jen Liu, National Palace Museum
To celebrate its third anniversary, the Journal of National Essence published in 1908 a number of photographic images of Chinese artefacts which included objects housed in overseas collections. Some of these objects were even captioned as ‘Chinese art object’ (Zhongguo meishupin). Although national art works were constantly reproduced in the journal for their presumed power to inspire patriotism, those in foreign collections had never been featured before. Since the journal was known as the prime advocate for the preservation of ‘our’ national essence, the adjective ‘Chinese’, which qualified the referred objects in national terms as different from others and unique to China, seems awkwardly redundant. Interestingly, the images captioned in this way could all be found in Stephen W. Bushell’s Chinese Art, a study published by the Victoria and Albert museum in London in 1904-6. In other words, long before Bushell’s book was published in a complete Chinese translation in 1923, some of its illustrations had already found their way to China. This paper situates these travelling images in the cultural and institutional space where attempts in Europe and China at creating the category of ‘Chinese art’ converged. It explores the different roles text and image played in articulating this newly-emergent museum category in Europe and in its subsequent transmission to China. By examining the intertextual and intervisual relationship of Bushell’s book, this paper reveals how repetition in text and image mattered in both Europe and China in the early twentieth century in culturally distinctive constructions of ‘Chinese art’.
Phantasmagoria and Fragments: Lang Jingshan and His Composite Photography
Mia Yinxing Liu, Bates College
Lang Jingshan (1892-1995, a.k.a. Long Chin-San) has often been identified with his composite photography (jijin sheying), a combination printing practice following aesthetic conventions from traditional Chinese painting, a practice that he started in Shanghai in the 1930s and continued until the end of his long and productive life. His contribution to Chinese photography, although formidable, is not without controversy. Detractors tend to criticize his works as formulaic in style, conservative in taste, lacking innovation or originality, and divorced from social reality. Others suspect that Lang’s fantasy landscapes composed in the darkroom harbor tendencies of self-orientalization, especially given the artist’s active presence in international salon circles. I will examine the writings, inscriptions, and catalogue entries or captions, both written by Lang himself and by the Chinese and international salon organizers, gallery owners, curators, and publishers. I will also locate his works in both a national and an intercultural context: where and when they were made, exhibited, and published, and what the agents and sources were. I hope to trace his phantasmagoric images back to the fragments he used, and reconstruct a picture of his career and the history of Chinese pictorialist photography. While his jijin landscape may intend to mask the edges of fragments, I will highlight the hidden political and personal anxiety in his works, and the incompleteness or the slippage of both the hyperbolic praise of his achievements and the severe censure of his conservatism both politically and aesthetically.
‘Arrested Civilization’: John Thomson and His Travel Photography, 1873-1874
Li-Lin Tseng, Pittsburg State University
My paper examines critical issues pertaining to cross-cultural documentations, translations, and interpretations through a new case study of a Scottish photographer, John Thomson (1837-1921). He was a lifelong member of the prestigious Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and the Ethnographical Society of London. Thomson travelled throughout imperial China in 1868-1872, shortly after the second Opium War. With his camera, he encapsulated faces of local peoples, places, and customs he encountered. Returning to Europe, Thomson soon transformed his cross-cultural experiences (translated and interpreted into visual images and written texts) into various publications, the popularity of which occupied special cultural spaces that were savored by the Victorian audiences of the Britain. His four-volume work, Illustrations of China and Its People (1873), accompanied with 200 pictures and rich descriptions of the land, created the prototype of his writings about the Empire. The New York Times in 1898 characterized Thomson’s picturing of the mid-19th century China as “arrested civilization.” The phrase denotes a timeless, unchanging society, corresponding to Thomson’s claim that for the past two thousand years China had remained frozen in time. Thomson’s canonical work awarded him a position of lecturer at RGS, advising its members how to document their journeys overseas. His photographs later became textbook subjects, archival materials, and museum collections. Without a doubt, Thomson’s portrayal of “arrested civilization” produces a specific knowledge of race, gender, and class of the cultural other, the authority of which demands a reassessment of the construction of the history, the memory, and the culture of China.
Documenting History, Crafting Nation: Photographs by Sunil Janah (1918-2012)
Ranu Roychoudhuri, University of Chicago
Beginning in the 1940s and operative through the 1950s, the process of decolonization not only posed a socio-economic challenge for South Asia but also created aesthetic predicaments for visual artists. To elaborate these predicaments, this paper will focus on documentary photography of Sunil Janah (1918-2012). I will juxtapose Janah’s works during the Bengal Famine (1943) and his portrayal of emerging Indian heavy industries (1950s) to analyse two historically distinct, yet structurally similar moments of imagining the nation during India’s passage from the colonial to the post colonial. Reflecting on these images, Janah mentioned that he was visually responding to history, while also feeling responsible towards his photographic subjects. Janah wanted to salvage his subjects by making his viewer sensitive to the situations that structured his photographs.
I read Janah’s photographs “as a space of political relations,” (Azoulay 2012) that demands ethical engagement with the visuals. This space allows us to imagine photographs of subjects and citizens in ways beyond the dominant discourses, which often designate a secondary status to viewers. I argue, Janah’s aesthetics of addressing audience made possible a critical interrogation of the historical moments he was documenting. While making the famine victims “visible,” Janah was inviting his audience on behalf of the colonized British Indian subjects, who were forgotten for the sake of the World War II. Likewise many of Janah’s industrial photographs were to prompt viewers to question the Nehruvian vision of industrial development, which often sacrificed social welfare in the name of “greater common good.”
Of Other Landscapes: Contested Environments in Representation
Symposium and Exhibition, Denison University, November 13-14, 2014
Gated Precarity: A Post-Socialist Forbidden City in Global China
Tong Lam, Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto
Xiancun, a semi-demolished urban slum in central Guangzhou fenced by ameliorative propaganda hoardings, conjures up a different imagery of the gated community. It is however an eyesore to Chinese authorities and urban planners, and home to many migrant workers subjugated to precarious living conditions. This talk analyzes the symbolic significance of Xiancun in China’s recent history and in the wider global context. It also reflects on the challenge of creating visual images of urban ruins and slums in a world that is increasingly dominated by spectacle.
The Sinification of Nihilism?
Jason McGrath, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Minnesota
This talk addresses, on the one hand, the nihilism intrinsic to capitalism as described by Marshall Berman in his reading of Marx and Engels, and relates it to Tong Lam's images of China under the current development boom. On the other, it will address a quite different "nihilism" implied by ecocritical thought on the "late anthropocene”.
Redefining the Local Lifeworld: Documentary Filmmaking and Political Empowerment in Hong Kong’s Inner City
Chunchun Ting, Doctoral Candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
This talk examines the changing meanings of inner-city neighborhoods in post-handover Hong Kong. The social perceptions of these neighborhoods reveal society’s attitude toward redevelopment, the collective past, the urban poor, and Hong Kong itself as a city and a community. Focusing on an art/activist group that collaborates with evictees, I observe a gradual shift in the discourse of urban preservation from cultural heritage to housing rights and the communal ownership of neighborhoods.
The Shared Landscapes of Asia: How an Exhibition Found Space for Japan's War Memories
Julia Adeney Thomas, Associate Professor Department of History, University of Notre Dame; Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard, 2014-15
This talk contrasts two exhibitions, both at the Yokohama Museum of Art, one in 1995 and the other in 2004. In the first exhibition, “Photography in the 1940s,” Japanese aggression was occluded; in the second, through a mixed-media display of landscapes, inventive curators found another point of view that could reveal atrocity while creating space for mutual understanding. The seemingly most benign of art genres was brought to bear on a violent, troubled past, and proved capable of providing a better line of sight.
On the Freedom of Ruins
Catherine Stuer, Assistant Professor of Art History & Visual Culture, Denison University
This talk explores how the figure of the ruin, so-called master-trope of modern reflexivity, shares structural affinities with the past trace in imperial China. Both medium for nostalgic fetishization of the past and for symbolic contestation of the present, I compare both figures to investigate the historical concurrence and aftereffects of Euro-American and traditional Chinese modalities of ruin-representation. I focus here on photographic landscapes produced by early 20th century colonial explorers and local critics of urban destruction in China.
Symposium: Photography and the Art of East Asia, University of Chicago, May 22-23, 2015
Collectable Artifacts: Beijing, the Former Capital, of the 1930s in Photographs
Wei-Cheng Lin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Published in 1935, Jiudu wenwu lue 舊都文物略, or Compendium of Cultural Relics in the Former Capital, was the first official undertaking in modern China to document historical remains of Beijing, the perennial political and cultural center until 1928, when Nanjing was designated the new capital of the Republic of China. As its text is composed in classical language that frames the documentation of the historical city in a definite erudite feel, the Compendium nevertheless illustrates not so much an old as a renewed former capital with over 400 photographs. Described in the book as “true views” (zhenjing 真景), these photographs, I will argue, were meant to capture the renovated old Beijing, while disenchanting its symbolic ambience. The former capital, or jiudu 舊都, as such was a visually invented and constructed reality, providing a cohesive representation of the cultural past for the present. In this representation, photography turned the material remains into historical artifacts—appreciable at present while leaving their temporality behind in the past. Photographs of the Compendium thus essentialize Beijing into a collection of past artifacts, not to evoke nostalgic sentiments of its pastness, but to reinforce the nationalistic tenor amid China’s building of a nation-state during the 1930s.
The Persistent Imperial Portrait: Emperor Taishō as Multifarious Icon
Alice Y. Tseng, Boston University
Extant scholarship on imperial portraiture in modern Japan has focused primarily on the emperors Meiji and Shōwa. The creation of the former’s photographic likeness testified to the dramatic modernization process underway in late nineteenth-century Japan, while the circulation of the latter’s reproduced image rallied his people through the lengthy Asia-Pacific War and ensuing postwar rehabilitation in the twentieth century. The emperor in between them, Taishō, has been conspicuously skipped over, although not for a lack of exposure or of consequential historic events during his reign. This paper seeks to address this gap in scholarship by inserting Taishō back into a continuous narrative about visual representation and modernization of the Japanese monarchy.
The use of photography in concert with other artistic and reproductive media allowed for relatively easy circulation of Taishō’s image within the country and abroad. Like his predecessor and successor, he is identified by one iconic formal portrait that endures persistent replication for a variety of sanctioned and unsanctioned formats, objects, and uses. Repetition and manipulation of Taishō’s image effected new conventions for the Japanese emperor as artistic subject, political subject, and popular subject. Through consideration of the mechanical and aesthetic choices that produced wide-ranging iterations of the imperial portrait, this paper pushes the current understanding of the tightly regulated sacred imperial image, the go-shinei, to accommodate a messier history of pedestrian and profane reimagings.
A Proprietor's Instinct: Sculptural Gestures, Decisive Cliches and Segalen's Wild Beasts of Liang
Catherine Stuer, Denison University
In a letter addressed to Edouard Chavannes, dated April 6th 1917, Victor Segalen (1878-1919) reports with confidence that he is “fixing all aspects of the statuary” of Southern Dynasties imperial tomb sites. Referring explicitly to the large-size photographic plates made in situ in the Spring of 1917, executed by unnamed Chinese photographers and accompanied by the curator of sculpture at the Louvre, this representational project has so far mainly been discussed as an authorial act of aesthetic or archaeological discovery. My paper will argue that the photographs per se require unpacking, not only because they stood at the heart of his renewed plans for a personal, grand narrative of Chinese sculptural art, self-consciously aiming to occupy pride of place in the photographic canon of the discipline. Reinserting these into a highly competitive network of visual and textual production, I will explore the position of Segalen’s photos at the intersection of mediatic appropriation, disciplinary practices in sculptural photography, and wartime aestheticization of masculinity and the colonial body.
Utsushi: Imaging Art and Antiquities in Nineteenth-Century Japan
Chelsea Foxwell, University of Chicago
What did photography do for the (art) object in late nineteenth-century Japan? From the 1870s onward, the status of antiquities (kobutsu 古物) was in flux due to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the Westward-oriented policies of the new government. Previous scholars focusing on the work of Ogawa Isshin (Kazumasa) 小川一真 (1860-1929) have argued that the collective image of Buddhist statues and other objects he photographed was formed through reference to Western photographic conventions, which were used to visually constitute them as “art” in the context of Japanese nationalism. While these observations are significant, they do not represent the earliest phase of photographing the art historical artifact in Japan. In contrast to this later period of standardization and nationalization of the art object, I argue that there was an earlier moment in the 1870s that was more distant from the Western Orientalist drive to acquire and comprehend Eastern objects. I focus on the photography by Yokoyama Matsusaburō 横山松三郎 (1838-84) of sites and antiquities associated with the Jinshin Survey (Jinshin kensa 壬申検査) of 1872. By examining the photographs and associated textual materials for Yokoyama and for his patron Ninagawa Noritane蜷川式胤 (1835-82), I argue that the earliest Japanese photographs of antiquities were far more continuous with earlier, pre-photographic approaches toward transcribing the “art” object than we tend to assume.
The Devil is in the Details: A Study of the Costume of Chinese Officials in Nineteenth-Century Photographs
Daisy Yiyou Wang, Curator of Chinese and East Asian Art, Peabody Essex Museum
One of the most depicted and prominent Chinese subjects in nineteenth-century photographs is the official, or the “mandarin” known to Westerners. Sartorial attributes provide critical clues to their identity, intended spectatorship, and the occasion when the photographs were taken. This paper focuses on a group of portraits of Chinese officials created by Chinese and non-Chinese photographers and studios from the 1840s to 90s. Supplementary to this core group of research materials are nineteenth-century Chinese garments and accessories.
Through the sartorial lens, this paper analyzes how photography as a newly emerged visual representational technology constructed the image of Chinese officials as an emblem of China, its government and its military force. A comparative study of paintings and photographs of Chinese officials as well as portraits of Chinese and non-Chinese officials situates photography and clothing culture in a broader realm of visual culture and in a cross-cultural context. This paper demonstrates that while vestimentary attributes of Chinese officials did not change radically in the nineteenth century, their meanings shifted significantly against the backdrop of China’s domestic and international politics. Moreover, while drawing on earlier visual conventions, photography led to new ways of staging and fashioning the image of Chinese officials sartorially.
Buddhism and Photography: How Both Came to Matter in China around 1900?
Eugene Wang, Harvard University
The revival of Buddhism and the emergence of photographic medium in China around the turn of the twentieth century is no coincidence. Nor is it accidental that sensitive minds of the time—e.g. Kang You (1858-1927) and Tan Sitong (1865-1898)—were drawn to both. The confluence of the two spheres of experience at the time reveals a particular disposition of the Chinese quest for modernity. Instead of the presumed hardening of the familiar oppositions (e.g., mind vs. matter, religion vs. science, or belief in paranormality vs. empirical disbelief), spiritual yearning and technological aspiration were in fact closely aligned. Their synergy, however, is not necessarily the kind that surged around the Euro-American spirit photography. Rather, its energy stems from a paradox: verisimilitude breeds a growing disenchantment with the real, which in turn feeds the Buddhist conviction about the world as illusion.
Drape, Dream, Journey: The Art of Photographic Advertising in Meiji Japan’s Department-Store Magazines and the Commodification of Japanese Elite Culture
Julia Sapin, Western Washington University
As Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida, a photograph “points a finger at certain vis-à-vis,and cannot escape this pure deictic language.” For Japanese consumers during the Meiji period, advertising photography created a more direct connection than ever before between consumer and consumable, whether the commodity was product, prestige, or place. Advertising photography, in particular that which graced the pages of department-store magazines, embedded elite values into the commodification of Japanese culture. Advertising photography allowed shoppers to experience the stores’ rich material goods, their grand architecture and interiors, and suggestions of sophisticated cultural pursuits through the pages of these magazines, bringing the sensation of direct access to these commodities even to remote mail-order customers. Each of the three primary categories of photographic subjects—product, figure, and landscape—had the capacity to touch the potential shopper in a unique way, embellishing explorations of sartorial elegance with a sense of visual reign over the store’s physical and psychic enterprises. Advertising photography helped inform a new “scopic regime” in Japan, one which commodified high culture for an audience increasingly blended with members of the growing middle class.
Conceptualizing Art Photography: Visual and Written Rhetoric in Shashin geijutsu
Karen Fraser, Santa Clara University
This paper considers the development of photography as a modern artistic genre in the early twentieth century and the concurrent emergence of new photographic art journals that were key in promoting the field. Following the watershed Foreign Photographic Art Exhibit (Gaikoku shashinga tenrankai) held in Tokyo in 1893, photography journals such as Shashin shimpō (Photographic News, est. 1882) and Shashin geppō (Photography Monthly, est. 1894) began to promote the idea of photography as an art form through articles advocating artistic approaches. However, these two major photography periodicals as well as other new journals published in the first two decades of the twentieth century tended to focus primarily on technical advice, intended to elevate photography as an art form by helping practitioners achieve results that imitated paintings. The inception of the journal Shashin geijutsu (Photography Art), founded by Fukuhara Shinzō and the members of the Shashin geijutsusha group in 1921, marked a distinct shift in the tone of photography journals, to one that articulated a philosophy of artistic photography. Shashin geijutsu was marked by its sophisticated conceptualization of art photography, conveyed through articles that espoused a spiritual and theoretical approach emphasizing photography as an art form with its own distinctive merits separate from painting. This paper will examine how this philosophy was conveyed via the journal’s articles, but also looks beyond the written rhetoric to examine how the presentation of visual content (works of art as well as artistic photographs) further underscored the value of photography as an artistic endeavor.
War through the Lens: Case Studies of the Photo-Journalists Shen Yiqian and Sha Fei
Kuiyi Shen, University of California, San Diego
The early 1930s was an important period for Chinese art, during which thorough exploration of the different media available in fine and commercial art enabled urban artists to catch up with the practices of their colleagues in the international art world. Especially in Shanghai, one of the most sophisticated and complex metropolises in the world, use of new media, particularly in relationship to the publishing industry, boomed. However, this took place in the context of the increasingly tense relationship between Japan and China. Many Chinese artists, at the same time that they explored the potential of the techniques and the potential functions of new media, became very involved in the rising movement of resistance to Japan. They adapted the different forms of art at their disposal to reflect peoples suffering in war, with the goal of helping domestic and foreign audiences understand the urgent situation, even in the most far-flung parts of China. This paper takes two photo-journalists, Shen Yiqian (1908-1944) and Sha Fei (1912-1950), as a case study. The photography, drawing, painting, cartoons, and essays produced by each of the two journalists, which were intended to alarm and educate people in their own time, created a coherent body of visual images that tells a certain story of the wartime years and which formed part of the visual imagination and visual memory of all readers of the Chinese mass media.
Who is the Real Hero?: Seeing Doubles in Lang Jingshan’s “Portraits” of Zhang Daqian
Dr. Mia Yinxing Liu, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Bates College
In a 1963 print titled “Who is the Real Hero?” (何者是真雄？), photographer Lang Jingshan used his “jijin” (composite picture) technique and assembled an enigmatic “double portrait” of the renowned painter Zhang Daqian. Zhang is seen seated at the bottom of a rocky mound, looking up at a smaller figure standing on the top of the mound, which is also Zhang, wearing the same dark robe and silver beard. The title question, sounding quite existential, is a verse from Li Shanfu’s (late 9th Century) poem “Bidding Farewell to General Liu on His Military Mission”: “Many nowadays boast martial prowess, but who is the real hero?” The poem is originally an obvious rhetorical question stating that the General is the only authentic hero in a world of imposters. Lang seems also to intend to flatter Zhang as the authentic maestro of contemporary Chinese art. However, in the photograph, when there are two Zhang Daqians, and the two form an intriguing dynamic with “each other,” the title/question becomes more complicated: Is he asking who is the real hero, or who is the true hero? Or which one is the real/true hero? With both figures being Zhang Daqian himself, is Lang asking a cheekier question: Is there a true hero? Or even more provocatively, considering Lang is ostensibly exhibiting his pride in his “jijin” method here by producing a double portrait of Zhang—and therefore Lang is the true author of the splintered “truth,” “reality,” and “authenticity”—is he insinuating that he himself is also a candidate for the elusive status of “hero”?
This paper attempts to delve into this intriguing body of work from Lang Jingshan’s oeuvre, the “double portraits” of Zhang Daqian. While Lang is known today mainly for his landscape works, Zhang has appeared, sometimes more recognizably than others, in many of Lang’s photographic prints since the 1950s. Lang has embedded Zhang in his landscapes, but he also made more conventional portraits of Zhang, including pictures that feature Zhang sitting in studio poses or Zhang active on his Brazilian estate. In these pictures, the doubling and the question “Who is the real hero?” repeatedly presents itself. I argue these “double portraits” on the one hand continue the visual tradition of “shuangshen” (double body) or “erwo” (two “I”s) pictures in late Qing (and earlier) Chinese painting and photography, testifying to the enchantment of technology and medium and performing a spiritual interrogation of identity and “self-hood” in the complex social-political context of Lang’s time. On the other hand, since these are photographic pictures of an artist and often an artist at work, it also proposes inquiries into the notions and anxiety about the “real” and “authentic” in the art-making process, both in painting and in photography. Lastly, I argue that these “portraits,” by dividing up the individual sitter, open up a space of performative ambiguity between the artist and his sitter. In this portraiture of “me” and “myself” of Zhang “the Chinese Picasso” (according to the Taiwanese press in the 1960s), Lang has superimposed himself as an agent and an actor, as an emulator and also an ambitious rival.
Prince Yihuan and the Photographer Liang Shitai: A Case Study of an 1888 Album
Tingting Xu, Ph.D Student, University of Chicago
Prince Yihuan (1840-91), the biological father of the child Emperor Guangxu (Zaitian, 1871-1908), was arguably the first patron of photography among members of the imperial family of Qing. In the 1880s, he commissioned the well-known Canton photographer Liang Shitai (alias See Tay) to undertake series of photo projects. Their cooperation was productive as well as creative. Pictures created include family portraits, documentary shots of court events, and a unique set of fifty-three photos of buildings and sceneries in the prince’s mansion. The photos are mixed with some portraits in an 1888 album in the Library of Congress’ collection. Through close observation of qualities of the images, with the assistance of textual clues in Draft History of Qing and other court archives, I suggest that these fifty-three architectural photos in this one-of-a-kind album form an independent series loaded with a unique mission. They were made to commemorate Yihuan’s residence at the Taiping Lake to be upgraded to Guangxu’s “Qian-long-di,”a special Qing concept referring to places where the emperors-to-be lived before ascending the throne. Yihuan’s emotional connections with this place together with his political concerns were well processed through Shitai’s artistic arrangements in constructing, titling, retouching and serializing the photographs. This album as an example demonstrates that specific commemorative purposes, as core but oftentimes underlying messages, must be clarified in the first place when discussing formal, stylistic and technical features of photos made for late Qing imperial patrons.
Between Portraiture and Self-Portraiture: Photographing a New Self in Early 20th-Century China
Wu Hung, University of Chicago
This paper investigates the emergence of a new subjectivity in portrait photography in early twentieth-century China. The discussion starts from a close reading of three portraits of three individual men, who took the photographs in early 1912 before cutting off their queues; two of them also recorded the event of taking the picture on the back of the photograph. Whereas the inscriptions offer interesting clues to think about the experiences of individuals at this historical moment, the shared pictorial format of the three photos, in which the subject is positioned in front of a full-length mirror, leads us to trace its origin in portrait photography. Comparing the two photos with earlier portraits employing this representational formula, we find several major changes in the identity of the subject, the function of photographs as physical objects, and the significance of taking such photographs. The paper finally connects the two inscribed photos with some portraits of famous political and cultural figures. Made during the same historical period and all bearing verbal expressions, these images, though taken by anonymous studio photographers, speak out in the first person and project a strong sense of the self. With such characteristics they can be considered images that fall between portraiture and self-portraiture.
Picturing Meishu: Photomechanical Representation of Works of Art in Early Twentieth Century Chinese Periodicals
Yanfei Zhu, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago
In William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature (1844)—the first commercially published book with photographic illustrations, there are two calotype prints capturing the front and profile of a plaster cast of the Hellenistic marble Bust of Patroclus. The photographic reproduction of works of art would gradually replace traditional methods such as drawing and engraving and have a pervasive impact on both the practice of art and the study of art history. In China, mechanical and commercial endeavors of making photographic images of art did not appear until the publication of Shenzhou guoguang ji (National glories of Cathay) in 1908 in Shanghai. Composed of halftone and collotype prints of photographed Chinese antiques, the journal established a norm of representing traditional art that was followed and improved by its imitators throughout the Republican era.
This paper examines the symbiosis of photography and printing as a new medium of promulgating and visualizing fine art in modern Chinese periodicals. Between the two Sino-Japanese Wars (1895-1937), evolving photomechanical printing technologies for representing works of art were employed by scholarly and popular magazines such as Shenzhou guoguang ji, Yilin yuekan (Art circle monthly), Liangyou (The young companion), and Meishu shenghuo (Art and life). The concept of meishu (fine art), introduced and debated by late Qing and Republican intellectuals, was also contested in the photographical print culture. Representing various forms of art—Chinese and foreign, old and new, photographs in Republican journals and pictorials facilitated diverse aesthetical and political understandings of fine art and contributed to the hybridity and multiplicity of modern Chinese art.
AAS Annual Conference, March 27-30, Philadelphia, PA
Panel 231. Shooting, Building, Dwelling: Urban Space and Contemporary Visual Culture in China. Xavier Ortells-Nicolau, Autonomous University of Barcelona
Roaming through Rubble: Aesthetic Experimentalism in Photographs of the Demolition Site *Xavier Ortells-Nicolau (Autonomous University of Barcelona)
While demolition is commonplace in projects of urban development and renewal around the world, the conditions of China's legal system and real state market have extended the living span of urban wastelands and architectural debris. Visual anthropologist J.P. Sniadecki is on the mark when he writes: “no matter where one turns in the People’s Republic, one beholds a sight—and site—of rapid change.”
A number of filmmakers and visual artists are confronting the demolition site to address their social and historical milieu. With their highly subjective take on the demolition site, these artists offer an alternative to State-led processes of symbolic ruinification, and the commodification of history and identity of the booming tourist sector.
Combining an urban studies contextual approach with a close reading of visual examples, this presentation outlines significant projects of experimental visual artists like Wang Qingsong, Chen Qiulin, and Sun Yanchu. Their projects, epitomizing the most experimental (shiyan) aspect of contemporary visual practice, provide a first-hand testimony to an experience of sensory estrangement, while testing the limits of their media and language. This paper focuses on the aesthetics of fragmentation and shock catalyzed by the intensified materiality of rubble, as well as the performative resources activated by a fruitless search for vanished human traces.
Abandoned Negatives and Themeless Parks: Ways of Seeing Contemporary China in Two Photographic Projects *Lu Pan (University of Hong Kong)
This presentation juxtaposes two photographic projects to illustrate ways of perceiving everyday space in contemporary China: on the one hand, “Silvermine Project” (2009-2013), by Beijing-based French collector and editor Thomas Sauvin, recycles a vast collection of abandoned film negatives from the 1980s to the early 2000s, and subsequently “curates” these amateur images into the frame of a quasi-ethnographic approach. On the other hand, Hong Kong photographer Dustin Shum’s “Themeless Parks” (2008) presents a series images of public parks in Chinese cities and towns.
The two projects propose different readings of the “postsocialist” condition in contemporary China. While the domestic shots curated by Sauvin actively mobilize individual and national identities in private and public spaces, turning photo-taking into a postsocialist ritual, Shum’s compositions of shape, color and architectural density, reveal a highly orchestrated “China” that evokes an historical rupture, and preempts the emergence of an individual identity.
This paper analyzes the textual articulations of individuality, space, and temporality present in the two projects. Furthermore, it contextualizes the subjectivity of the photographers/curators as “outsiders,” both in relation to contemporary notions of identity in China, as well as in the context of a transnational circulation of images.
Panel 102. Photographic Encounters in Republican China and Colonial India: The Work of Zhuang Xueben Seen through a Transnational Lens, 1934-1945. Yajun Mo, Long Island University, C.W. Post
Having vanished from the public eye for almost a half-century, the work of Zhuang Xueben (1909-1984), a pioneer in Chinese ethnographic photography, has been rediscovered in the twenty-first century. A self-educated documentary photographer, Zhuang traveled throughout the Sino-Tibetan frontier regions in the mid-to-late 1930s and across the border to India in the early 1940s, during which he took thousands of pictures of the culturally diverse peoples he encountered. Contemporary Chinese photography critics have referred to him as “China’s Edward Curtis.” However, these critics have largely glossed over the complex transregional and transnational networks and activities that facilitated Zhuang’s documentary production. Nor have they paid sufficient attention to the detailed ethnographic data chronicled in his pictures. This panel reexamines Zhuang’s career and images from a cross-border perspective, developing three themes. First, placing Zhuang’s career against a backdrop of the nation-building processes in China and the changing regional order in trans-Himalayas, we demonstrate that, unlike their predecessors in the Qing period, Han intellectuals from Republican urban centers viewed western frontiers as an integral part of the Chinese nation and a crucial place to define the contours of China’s geo-political body in Asia. Second, we explore how Zhuang’s photographs in China and India manifest the influence of, and the rebellion against, colonial habits of the Western colonizing powers and Japan. Finally, examining ethnic formations and national representations through Zhuang’s works, we explore how photographs can be used as both archive and counter-archive in anthropological and historical studies.
“Journey to the West”: Internal Orientalism, Nation-Building, and the Photographic Frontier in Republican China *Yajun Mo (Long Island University)
In March 1936, Shanghai’s Liangyou huabao, the leading mass-circulation pictorial in China at the time, debuted a new travel column titled “Journey to the West.” Unlike other travel columns in Liangyou, it does not feature major tourist attractions in coastal China or showcase exotic foreign destinations. Instead, it serializes photographs of China’s western frontiers and the non-Han ethnic groups residing in the area. Taken by Shanghai photographer Zhuang Xueben, these photographs featured in Liangyou provided a striking visual experience for Han Chinese readers in urban centers. Examining the specific cultural contexts and visual contents of Zhuang’s travel column, this paper explores the process through which Han Chinese visual intellectuals codified non-Han ethnic peoples as their internal Other. Although the ethnic minorities in these images were often portrayed as distant, exotic, and inferior, Zhuang Xueben also presented them in a positive light while identifying different ethnic groups as elements within the Chinese nation. How do we make sense of these seemingly paradoxical representations? Can we view Zhuang Xueben’s column as a product of internal Orientalism in Republican China? Or should we understand it as an effort to strengthen China’s internal cohesion in response to the ongoing effects of Western and Japanese imperialism? Through an analysis of Zhuang’s photographic accounts in Liangyou, this paper demonstrates how the operation of internal Orientalism and the agenda of nation-building were intrinsically linked in China in the 1930s.
Temples, Tribals and Sino-Indian Trade: Pan-Asian Nationalisms and the Everyday in Zhuang Xueben’s Photographs of India *Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa (University of Toronto Scarborough)
Zhuang Xueben was a pioneer in the fields of ethnic photography and anthropology in China, and his work has much to contribute to the construction of the ethnic “Other” in Republican period history. His engagement with cultural Others extended beyond China’s frontiers, however, as an important chapter in his career saw his camera turn to focus on Indian subjects. Zhuang spent several years in the 1940s working as a trade agent in British India, between the commercial centers of Calcutta and Darjeeling. This paper will focus on his photography from these years, which serves as a crucial record of Chinese perceptions of India during the sunset of British Empire. Zhuang’s photographs act as a rare window into everyday life in India presented by a Chinese intellectual during the 1940s, Sino-Indian trade relations, and, most crucially, inter-Asian engagement at a time of rapid change. His camera captured local cultures with his usual precision and, with his focus on cultural heritage sites, suggests an inter-Asian form of Orientalism. More significantly, his photographic work from his Indian years presents an archive of local interactions between Indian independence activists and businessmen and Chinese traders and intellectuals. A close reading of Zhuang’s photographs from the period suggests a dynamic intellectual space that facilitated a pan-Asian imagining of a world without European imperialism, thereby contributing to China’s nation-building process from beyond China’s borders while engaging with, and taking inspiration from, other Asian nationalisms.
Ethnicity, Autonomy, and Creolization: Zhuang Xueben’s Images of the Tu (Monguor) as Counter-Archive *Gerald Roche (Uppsala University)
When Zhuang Xueben, a Shanghai-based photographer, visited northwest China’s Qinghai Province in the late 1930s, he took photographs of the Tu (Monguor) people, one of several small indigenous populations on the Tibetan Plateau. Zhuang took pictures in two distinct Monguor territories: Duluun Lunkuang “Seven Valleys” and Sanchuan “Three Valleys.” Zhuang’s materials, as presented in the recent compilation by Li, Wang, and Zhuang, conflate these two populations under the ethnic rubric “Tu,” thus assuming a homogenous culture for both populations. Western scholarship of the same period similarly conflates these two populations, as does the contemporary state’s ethnic classification project. A close reading of Zhuang's images, however, reveals a far more complex reality. In this paper, I use the concepts of ethnicity, autonomy, and creolization to tease apart the cultural and historical complexities revealed in Zhuang's images. Creolization, here, refers to the cultural similarity resulting from prolonged contact between two or more originally divergent populations. Autonomy refers to distinctiveness resulting from self-determination in cultural production. Ethnicity, finally, refers to cultural similarity that results primarily from shared historical experiences of a population. Recourse to these three concepts allows for a more nuanced reading of Zhuang’s images of the Monguor, and also increases our understanding of the processes that patterned cultural difference on the pre-modern Tibetan Plateau. This reading of Zhuang’s images also allows us to situate them as a counter-archive: a rich data source that confounds the contemporary state’s ethnic classification project.
Panel 348. Cultural Representations of 'Fukushima' in Literature, Popular Culture and the Arts. Barbara Geilhorn, Freie Universität Berlin
Photography and Catastrophe: Enigmas of the Image after 3.11 *Marilyn Ivy (Columbia University)
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear catastrophe in March 2011, artists of various fields felt a need to react to the traumatic events through their work. The number of art works engaging in the discourse on 3.11 has been rapidly increasing over the past three years. Analyzing cultural representations of the triple disaster in Japanese literature, theater, popular culture and the arts, the panel will tackle questions such as: How can art address the calamity in a meaningful way and/or provide solace to the people living in the affected areas? Which role do creative arts and literature play as media of mourning and trauma processing? Are there privileged forms of representation? Research has shown that a documentary approach is often perceived as particularly helpful in coming to terms with trauma. We will also investigate how images of Tohoku (Northeast Japan) have been reshaped after the disaster and to what end. Scrutinizing various media narratives and taking account national as well as local perspectives, the panel aims to comparatively analyze patterns of disaster representation in literature, performing and visual arts as well as popular culture.
AAS Annual Conference, March 21-24, San Diego, CA
Panel: War Affect, War Memory: Contemporary Photographic Images and the Pacific War Memory in Japan - Sponsored by the Japanese Art History Forum (JAHF) Ayelet Zohar, Tel Aviv University
For many years, the history, atrocities and traumas of the Pacific War seemed like a an un-favored subject that many in Japan avoided discussing or directly considering its emotional, historical and cultural affects on contemporary lives. However, among artists and photographers, there has always been much interest in the subject of war trauma and its affect. Moreover, Second and Third Generation photographers, born after the war, contribute an added value to the discussion of war trauma and its presence in contemporary Japanese lives, re-examining the continuous presence of war images at present.
The panel proposes to address photographic projects which directly link to war trauma and war memory in contemporary Japanese photography, and their relations with quintessential images of wartime and the post-war eras. Papers in this panel discuss varying bodies of photography, including: Shomei Tomatsu's documentation of the military occupation of Okinawa and the Pacific War memory in the 1960s; Morizumi Takashi images of the Iraq War since 1998 and their relations to classic images of the atomic bomb as created by Kimura Ihei and Domon Ken in the 1950s; Ishiuchi Miyako's 2008 series "Hiroshima", representing the relics of personal possessions remaining from the atomic explosion and their contemporary affect; Morimura Yasumasa's 2010 "Gift of Sea: Raising a Flag on the Summit of the Battlefield" performance, re-staging of the historical image of The Second Raising of the Flag in Iwo Jima (Joe Rosenthal, February 23, 1945), as a link between contemporary culture, war trauma and the indexical and performative aspects of still-photography.
Letting War Memories Live: Tomatsu Shomei’s Photographic Strategy of Delay *Yu Hidaka (Gunma Prefectural Women’s University)
In its capacity to trace light, a photograph marks not only visible surface reality but also the photographer’s response to social reality. Post-war Japanese photography began by reacting to the devastation brought about in Japan by the Pacific War. For Tomatsu Shomei (1930- ), one of the representative post-war Japanese photographers, his encounters with Nagasaki and Okinawa became privileged subjects. However, his discovery was too late, thus missing both the real experience of war and its memory. When Tomatsu began to take photographs of Nagasaki on commission in 1961, he realized the difficulty of seeing and representing the experience of the atomic bombing. He worked in the transition period between postwar reconstruction and high economic growth; he found a prosperous society oppressing the torturous memory of Ground Zero. When he arrived in Okinawa under U.S. administration—the final destination of his project photographing American bases throughout Japan—in 1969, he was shocked by the prevailing “Americanization”: the discrepancy between Japan and America was difficult to discern. Consequently, his photographic engagement with Nagasaki and Okinawa touches on the essential issue of remembering and forgetting the war. In this paper, I will elucidate in what way his photographs reinvigorate war memory by analyzing the idea of a missed encounter and exploring his way employing it to capture the past. In the light of it, I will show that war memory latent in his photographs appears by his way of activating the specific association of the past with the present of photographic medium.
Floating Dresses and Stopped Clocks: War Memory in Ishiuchi Miyako’s Photographic Series Hiroshima (2008) *Lena Fritsch (National Museums in Berlin)
Ishiuchi Miyako’s series Hiroshima (2008) features large-scale colour photographs depicting the relics of clothing, shoes and other personal possessions remaining from the atomic explosion. Although the photographed items are taken from the display of the Hiroshima Peace Museum, the images do not indicate this in any way; often photographed on light boxes, appearing to float in a timeless space.
Ishiuchi’s photographic work has been concerned with various motifs, such as the town of Yokosuka, deserted apartments, human bodies, and the personal belongings of the deceased. However, one topic has been consistently relevant: the visual effects of time and decay, intertwined with human memory. Hiroshima embodies memories on at least three levels. First, the photographs of the few remaining relics of the atomic bombing remind the viewer of Japan’s history during the Second World War, as well as of ephemerality in general. Second, the photographed objects are from a museum of history which, as an institution, represents the idea of preserving collective memory. Third, due to its indexical nature, the medium of photography is per se inextricably intertwined with memory – every (analogue and “non-manipulated”) photograph appears to show a trace of something that happened in the past.
Focussing on these three levels, my paper analyses the ways in which Hiroshima is concerned with and reflects Japan’s “war memory”. How do the photographic images show the objects? Is their aesthetic linked with a (political) message? Do the photographs, taken more than sixty years after the bombing, represent something like a war trauma, still affecting contemporary Japan?
The Performative and the Performance: Rosenthal's "The Raising of the Flag in Iwo Jima" (1945) and Morimura Yasumasa's "Gift of Sea: Raising a Flag on the Summit of the Battlefield" (2010) *Ayelet Zohar (Tel Aviv University)
In their 2004 discussion of the index, under the framework of photography theory, Joanne Lowry and David Green suggested to consider the performative aspect of the photographic moment as its indexical, crucial factor of coming to existence. Their argument follows the idea that picture taking, is an action dependant on intention and performativity which becomes its indexical presence, more important that the actual chemical interaction of light and silver alidade that imprint the photographic trace. The two images discussed in this paper consider the relations and the tension between two very similar images: one is (nearly) a non-intentional snapshot, taken at a fraction of a moment after the photographer's attention was distracted, while the other is well-choreographed, fully directed performance, recreated for the sake of restaging the first image, which has become a classic. My discussion follows Morimura's recent shift from past practices of staging classic paintings, cinematic footage and movie-star shots, arguing that this strategic move into the analysis of photographic language, better exposes the meaning of the performative procedure involved in the production of the photographic still-image and the means recruited for its performative becoming. By allowing this exposure, Morimoura is able to expand his own language, and move forward from his past practices of grand-scale magnificent tableaux into the time-based video-art that captures the performative process that builds up into the moment of the unforgettable still image that have become an everlasting cultural signifier of war and conflict.
Visualizing Asia in the Modern World 2012
“Constituting the Feminine in Asian Photographies” (Annual AAS Conference, March 2012)
“Modern Media, Material Pasts: Photography and the Object of Culture in Early 20th Century China” (Annual AAS Conference, March 2012)
Visualizing Asia in the Modern World 2011
Global Photography and Its Histories (Rutgers University, February 8, 2011)
Transcultural Visuality: Photography in East Asia (College Art Association Annual Conference, February 2011)
“Imperial Exposure: Early Photography and Royal Portraits Across Asia” (Sackler/Freer Gallery of Art, December 2011)
Visualizing Asia in the Modern World 2010
Facing Asia conference (National Gallery of Australia, August 2010)
Symposia on 19th Century photography in India (Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, 2009)
Photographic Practices, Visual Transgression, and National Identity in Meiji Japan and Early Republican China (Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Chicago, March 2009)
The Role of Photography in Shaping China’s Image, 1860-1945 (Northwestern University, April 24-25, 2009)
China Seen by the Chinese: Documentary Photography, 1951-2003 (Princeton University, October 24, 2009)