Chinese Photography

Figure 1.--This Chinese image was captured by Ernst Boerschmann (Germany, 1873-1949). He was a German architect, historian, and photographer who dedicated his professional life to the study of China. Boerschmann undertook a 3 year photographic expedition through China documenting the architecture, landscape, culture & inhabitants of this fascinating land (1906-09). This phoyograph was titled: 'On the journey to the Monastery of the Celestial Boy near Ningpo." Ningpo is located near the coast south of Shanghai. We do not understabd the title.

Photography was invented in Europe. The first commercial process was invented by Louis Gaguerre in France (1839). Photography proved so populr that it quickly spread arond the world. This occured as European photographers set up shop shop in foreign countirs and colonies where local people did not have the technical sophistication to launch unknown new technologies. The first studios in Chinawere thus set up by foreigners, mostly in coastal cities. These were commercial studios to sell portraits. Gradually Chinese nationals also began to set up studios which began to appear in inland cities. The chemistry was not all that complicated and thus not aeal barrier to local competition. There was an enormous demand. Virtully all middle-class Chinese peoples wabted portraits of themselves and family. And with the appearnce of the CDV the price for a portrait fell substantially. Withina a few decades photographic studios existed in all major Chinese cities. Almost all of the early Chinese photography were studio poraits. Only slowly do we begin to see gnre images of Chinese himes, streets, and the countryside. Almost all of these early genre images were taken by foreignrs who were intragued by China, as in India sometimes falling in love with the people and their culture. This was a process seen arond the world. Local people often did not find it all important to record what they saw everyday. Foreigners found the local people, culture, ansd scenery remarkable were the first to take photogrphs outside the studio. We begin to see the first genre photography (1860s). William Saunders (183292) was the first important genre photographer in China that we know about. Local interesrt in photography may have occured quicker in China than other countries. Lai Afong (18391890) was a early Chinese photographer. Slowly this began to change. Affluent Chinese began to take up photography as a hobby. Important people wanted portraits tken. Even the tradition-obssessed Empress Dowager Cixi had many portraits taken. By the 20th century, photography in China began to take on the charactetitics common in the West. Photograohy in the 20th century was subject to considerale cenorship by the Nationalists abd Communists during the Civil War (1930s-40s), the Japanses durung the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), and the Communists after their victory (1949). The other major difference between photography in China and the West is that povery in China until the post-KMao market reforms (1990s) limited the number of people who could afford portraits or engage in amateur photogrohy. Most cameras and photigraphic materials were imported until after World war II when the Communists essentially severed commercial relations with non-Communist countries.


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Created: 1:15 AM 8/10/2015
Last updated: 1:16 AM 8/10/2015