In those days of conflict between the Eastern civilization and its Western counterpart, photography, one of the most ingenious inventions then, played an incredible role in Chinese culture since its introduction into China. It was regarded as a practical technology, but more importantly, a “magic art” beyond social life and sensory experience. As photographic technology became more available, China saw its first native photo studios and first native photographers. The perspective that had been dominated by Western photographers has since then changed, and the view and the perception of “the other” culture therefore became bidirectional by virtue of photography. This process, however, was closely related to the improvement and development in photographic technology. Archaic as those techniques and methods may seem to most of us today, they still afford food for thought, particularly when we take a closer look at these faded photos impregnated with historical connotations.
This exhibition, titled “At China: Early Photography and Photographic Technique”, consists of three parts.
The first part, “Photography at China: 1845-1895”, following the clue of the early diffusion of photography in China, offers a rich and invaluable collection of over 200 CDVs (carte de visite) and cabinet cards by almost all the important Western photographers and their Chinese colleagues in the 19th century, showcasing how this technology was introduced into China by the early colonizers and how it was accepted and spread in this country. The second part, “A View from West towards East”, referring to over 40 paintings and photos about the 19thcentury when photography was first invented, provides a China in a totally Western perspective, that is, optionally viewed by Westerners in their imagination.
The third part, “Early Photographic Techniques”, deals with the history and the reality of more than 10 major techniques in photography, stretching from the early days to the application of gelatin silver print. Our sincere thanks should go to the six photographers here who are still keen on photographic technology: Liu Baokui (Daguerreotype), Zhang Yajun (Cyanotype, Vandyke Process, Kallitype), Sun Nuo (Wet Collodion Process, Ambrotype, Albumen print), Lu Di (Platinum print), Yan Siwen (Carbon print), Sun Weiwei (Gum Bichromate Process). Their photographs in this digital age become an embodiment of the beauty of photography as a technology, as well as their persistence in photographic art.
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