Photography and China


Claire Roberts

ISBN : 978-988-8139-88-0

Film, Media, Fine Arts

November 2012

200 pages, 7.5″ x 8.5″

For sale in Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan only

  • HK$250.00

Covering the period from the inception of photography to the present day, this is the first comprehensive account of photography in China to be published in English, illuminating in detail this previously neglected subject. Bringing together material held in museums, archives and private collections all over the world, Photography and China explores the long tradition of Chinese art and visual culture into which photography was initially absorbed and which it went on to expand in new directions.

Locating these images within their particular social and temporal contexts, Claire Roberts describes the varied purposes with which photographers in China created their work, which included the commercial, political, artistic and journalistic. The book places emphasis on the practitioners themselves and the images they created, which cover an astonishing array of subjects, from landscapes and rural scenes to propaganda and the documentation of social upheavals, and from the earliest self-portraiture to radical contemporary art practices.

This rich and evocative volume gathers over 130 images, many unfamiliar, to chronicle photography’s relationship to this complex country, underlining the medium’s status as both witness to and agent of historical change.

Claire Roberts is a scholar and curator of Asian art. She is Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Adelaide and has held fellowships at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. Formerly Senior Curator of Asian Arts and Design at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, she has curated exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Queensland Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery of Australia and the Beijing World Art Museum at the China Millennium Monument. She has published widely on Chinese visual culture, including Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong (2010) and Go Figure! Contemporary Chinese Portraiture (2012, as editor).

“This masterful work impressively sustains a flowing narrative on the development of the medium from 1840 to 2011 within the framework of Qing dynasty history and the emergence of China as a nation. The author’s deep knowledge of China and its culture are evident throughout. On many levels, the text is insightful for how it relates the aesthetics of photography to older painterly traditions or contemporary trends in film or commercial art in China. Just as significantly, Roberts draws comparisons between aspects of photography as practised in China and foreign artistic movements that inspired Chinese photographers, but she shows how they were adapted for new purposes.” —Frances Terpak, Curator of Photographs, Getty Research Institute

“Anything on this subject by Claire Roberts is sure to generate a great deal of interest and respect. She has proven herself time and again via her scholarly studies of China’s visual culture, and her long stint as a prominent curator. Despite the current enthusiasm for China photography and nostalgic fever for old photographs depicting a real or imagined past, there still are very few authoritative texts to consult. What Roberts does that no one else has done is to place photography in China within the larger context of Chinese visual arts that both pre-dated and exist concurrently with photography.” —Raymond Lum, Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University