180 Years of Chinese Photography

180 Years of Chinese Photography is the first exhibition in China to present the history of the nation’s photography. Several thousand works and more than five hundred documents allow the audience to systematically access the development of photography in China and its constantly changing themes, features, and significance, providing an understanding of historical changes over the past century and more.
With photography’s invention by Louis Daguerre, Western art collection underwent a dramatic change. People began to see things in new ways. This also explains why the West could no longer produce a Hans Holbein; instead, Peter Henry Emerson, Henry Peach Robinson, and Alfred Stieglitz stepped into his shoes.
It is interesting to contrast the development of Western photography and that of Chinese photography over the past 180 years, and we discover a parallel continuum. Following its almost simultaneous invention in France and England in 1839, photography was introduced to China in 1842 just after the Opium War ended. By the end of the 1850s, talented Chinese photographers, such as Lai Afong in Hong Kong, as well as generations appeared. In oil painting it can perhaps be said that Chinese artists followed Western trends, but in photography, due to the lack of formal and technical obstacles, as well as the endless major historical changes, the Chinese field of photography was imbued with vitality and unique dramatic charm.
During the ROC,China's first photographic groups flourished, such as the China Photographic Association, which was one of the earliest organizations of its type in Shanghai, and the later Black and White Photography Society, which became China's largest art photography organization. Members of these societies then formed the backbone of China's limited photographic traditions. During the Republican period, many outstanding photographic artists emerged, experimenting with the interaction of realism, fantasy, and artistic interest.
With the change of historical context, a Courbet-style realism was soon replaced by revolutionary idealism, and people favored increasingly dramatic photography. Photography hovers between visual meaning and capture, between the ideal and reality. Actually, the two traditions of photographic romanticism and realism had been constantly present in the 180 years of Chinese photographic history. It is this fundamental contradiction that has shaped our attitude towards photography and even the social culture of today.
One hundred and eighty years ago, when photography was invented, people proclaimed that the age of painting was coming to an end. Today, painting has not disappeared, but has ushered in a more brilliant era of globalization. For China's young artists, the digital revolution is a beginning of another new world. Chinese photographers have created an extraordinary visual world from the 19th century to the present, and these fruitful achievements deserve to be included in all serious art collections. There is no need to add that the belief in the historical task of photography is still widely held, and people still hope to witness the evolution of civilization and the change of history through photography.
This exhibition has the express intention of providing a review of the history of civilization, the history of images, and the history of art through the genre of photography.
Recovered: Vintage Photographs of the late Qing Dynasty
"Recovered: Vintage Photographs of the late Qing Dynasty" is the first part of the exhibition, "180 Years of Photography in China." Here we see nearly 200 vintage prints by dozens of early photographers who practised their craft in China. 
Until recently, relatively little progress into the research of the early history of photography in China has taken place. One of the reasons has been our past inability to discover the identities of the photographers concerned. This lack of progress was not helped by the scarcity of historical data and facts, the absence of financial support, and perhaps a lack of scholarly focus. In recent years, the excellent work by some Chinese and foreign scholars has added significantly to our knowledge in this field. 
Before 1860, most of the photographers who worked in China were foreigners working in Hong Kong. Expansion of their operations to the mainland took place after the Second Opium War. As photography became more widespread after 1880, with the introduction of dry-plate techniques, Chinese photographers began to replace foreign practitioners and, by the end of the century, they dominated the field.
In the early years of photography, commentators argued over whether it was a science or an art. Nowadays, we know that photography can and does produce works of fine art. Among the early photographers in China, both foreign and native, some were highly proficient artists. Look carefully at the wording of the old photo studios' advertisements which refer to the proprietor being a 'photographer and painter'. One sees evidence of this, for example, in the exquisite landscape photography of Tung Hing (Tongxing) or John Thomson. It is also possible to sense the artist's influence in the compositional arrangements of particular group portraits or genre scenes.
Whether a 19th - century photograph can be seen as a significant work of art will depend on many factors. Apart from the all-important verdict of the art critic, we might include here knowledge of the photographer's identity, the background details to his life, his personal experiences and cultural milieu, and also his motivation and purpose in capturing the image. Answers to these questions would greatly expand the scope of historical research in many fields such as art, social economic and political history, visual communications and cultural exchange.
This exhibition includes a wide range of photographic and printing processes, including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, woodcut engravings and collotype book illustrations. Most of the vintage photographic prints on display here were struck from original glass negatives, perhaps some 150 years ago. Our appreciation is enhanced by the visual impact of being in the presence of such precious antique objects - many of them exhibited in China for the first time. They reflect the progress made in photo history over recent years, which would be engaged in what is a particularly exciting time for research into early Chinese photography.
The Republic of China: A Cradle of Photography
 At the beginning of the 20th century, the artwork of both photographers and artists coexisted in some publications, for example, The World, a photography-centric publication, claimed it was a pictorial of “art paintings,” which helped the public to imperceptibly accept photographs as works of art when shown in this manner. In China, early “fine-art photography” was referred to as “art photography”.
Actually, before the May 4th Movement in 1919, fine art photography gradually deviated from the commercial photography and reappeared with a refreshing look that encouraged diverse themes and forms. At the time, photographers to start doing landscape photography and photojournalism instead of commercial studio photography. 
At the beginning of the 1920s, “The Light Society,” the first photography association in China, was founded with the fundamental principle of “gathering photographers for the purpose of exchanging knowledge and wisdom, and doing research in fine art.” Liu Bannong, Chen Wanli, and other intellectuals, who would later become well-known photographers in China, joined the Society. Changes in the  photographic societies and the influence of cultural movements accelerated the development of Chinese photography. The idea of “fine art photography” created under the influence of the “New Culture Movement” was a manifestation of the literati’s general concepts of photography in early Republic. 
The group of knowledge photographers who experienced the cultural movement in China contributed to the development and boom of photography, a western media, in China during this period by blazing the trail and using photography with extensive knowledge and spirit of exploration. The 1920s and 1930s were a period of transformation for photography in China in terms of exploring artistic forms of expression. The mindset and artistic tendencies of the literati in the fields of art and literature encouraged photography to transform from the age of mechanical reproduction to artistic creation. However, most Chinese photographers at that time still followed the paths of pictorialism that had flourished in Europe, especially England, 50 years before.
Photographers emerged in ROC along with the high volume of sales of compact cameras, the publication of photobooks such as Practical Imaging and Photography, and more and more photos published in media. They were freed from earlier restrictions, such as the commercial, and they broadened their choice of subject matter to demonstrate social concerns as well as artistic attributes. Therefore, this exhibition includes historical archives, such as important photography publications and associated objects, from the Republic of China. 
The four section are displayed in the part two: Dawn, Convergence and Divergence, Universal and Origin. 
1. Dawn
This section shows the vintages works by the members of the Light Society’s members. The predecessor of “The Light Society” was the “Art Photography Research Society,” founded at Peking University in 1923. The establishment of “The Light Society” was a milestone in Chinese photography and proof that an association of photographers emerged in China as early as the beginning of the 20th century. 
2. Convergence and Divergence 
This section shows the vintages works by famous photographers in the ROC. The period from the 1920s to the 1930s witnessed the first flourishing of fine art photography in China. Photographic societies such as “The Light Society” in Beijing, “The Chinese Photography Society” in Shanghai, and “The Black and White Society” sprang up like mushrooms. Intellectuals, who both created photos and studied photography, gathered together and made up two influential Chinese photography groups: the Northern photographers and the Southern photographers. Both of them held exhibitions, published photographic journals, and also engaged in researching the history of photography and its theories. Meanwhile, the development of the publishing industry encouraged peoples to translate the knowledge of photography from western and edit photographic publications in China, in which many groundbreaking artworks were created. For example, the works created by Chen Wanli, Liu Bannong, Lang Jingshan, Zhang Yinquan, Hu Boxiang, Shu Xincheng, Wu Zhonghang, Cai Junsan, and Chen Chuanlin etc.  heavily influenced to the path of fine art photography in China.    
3.Universal
The section displays the commercial and pictorial photographs. Until the May Fourth Movement in 1919, photography had been in the country for over 70 years. It had previously been thought of as a craft that could not be accepted as a form of high art. Although intellectuals occasionally advocated for photography as an art form, taking photographs was still considered merely as a way to make a living in China at this era. The social environment thus limited the subject matter from which early studio photographers could chose. 
4.The Origin 
This section shows the vintage works (before 1937) by the master photographers, such as Fang Dazeng and Wu Yinxian.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Western photography broke away from pictorialism and aestheticism and embraced photography to document and raise social awareness. Documentary photography became increasingly popular in China due to the influence of Western practices. 
Furthermore, photobooks, pictorials, and literature in the ROC
In the 1920s and the 1930s, the daily supplements, magazines and pictorials skyrocketed as a sign of the booming of photography in China. 
On June 9th, 1920, Eastern Times became the first Chinese newspaper to published a photo supplement, titled Photo Weekly. From mid-1920s to early 1930s, approximately ten photo supplements emerged in major Chinese cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. Among them, Peking Press, Shanghai News (also known as Shen-pao), and the World Journal were the most influential. The innovation and growth of newspaper supplements fostered the development of fine art photography as well as photojournalism in China. There were about 350 pictorials published during the 1920s and the 1930s, including 230 specialized pictorials and 120 comprehensive pictorials. Among them, influential publications, such as "Good Friends Pictorial", "Beiyang Pictorial", "Time Pictorial", "Popular Pictorial" and "Art Life", have published a large number of current affairs photos and photographic works. Dominant pictorials, which published a lot of current affairs news photos and fine art photographs, were the Young Companion, the Pei-Yang Pictorial News, Modern Miscellany, the Cosmopolitan, and Arts and Life. Following the publication of Guangzhou’s Journal of Photography, Shanghai’s Chinese Journal of Photography (1924) and Pictorial Weekly, The China Focus became the leading specialized photography magazine in the late 1920s. In the 1930s, Kodak Monthly (1930), the Chinese Journal of Photography (1931), Chen Feng, and Fei Ying dominated the market.
III Documentary: From Pictorialism to New Documentary Photography
This section of the third part displays the photographic development in China during the last century. It includes photography in new China since 1930s, documentary photography since 1950s, new documentary photography since 1990s and various types of non-mainstream photography respectively.
Since the 1950s, official photographers dominated Chinese photography. only official photography and portrait studio were maintained in mainland China. This situation is epitomized by China, the large photo-album published in 1959.The key of photography at that time is documenting and straight. The prerequisites of the work showed the here are by well-known photo artists, with the social awareness and influences, the achievement of visual impact, crucial historical and political value. Even pictorial photography had an obvious ideology orientation.
The end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 and the subsequent reform and Opening-up sparked off a revolution in photography in China. Folk photography groups practiced anti-tradition together and contributed to the ice-breaking in photography。 First, these groups broke away strategically from the hegemonic ideology tradition of photography by adopting both realistic and symbolistic approaches. Furthermore, they emphasized on artists’ individuality and self-expression of conceptual ideas. These efforts brought about awakenings in the art form and started a new era of artistic creation in Chinese photography in the 20th century. Some photographs went beyond simple recording and disseminating of visual information during that time, with the characteristics of fine art photography and also has the significance and value of the history of photography. These photographs which made up the basic achievement of photography in the turn of the Century, illustrated the trend where new documentary photography and photojournalism fused with contemporary art.
Contemporary Photography:New Ideas 
Tremendous changes in photography have taken place since its invention more than a century ago. They include advancement of photo techniques, equipment, and printing, which lead to the invention of digital photography. More importantly, it relates to the expansion and broadening of people’s recognition and understanding of photography.  
Photography is no longer a straightforward mirror imaging of the objective world, recording of current affairs and real-life events, nor collection of images. It has, however, been transformed into a medium of artistic expression. The visual image being presented does not represent the subject itself. Instead, the image has different connotations and concepts. Some artists even use the photographic medium and their images to express a strong attitude and deliver a profound message. The use of visual language makes the difference between contemporary and traditional photography. This new form of photography challenges the symbolic representation of photographs by separating “the signifier” of a photograph from “the signified.” As “the signified” is split from “the signifier”, it becomes a free referencing zone. 
When contemporary photography breaks new ground in the theory of representation and objectivity, it not only broadens out photography as a medium, but also the inclusiveness of art history. The emergence of contemporary conceptual photography renders the cornucopia of contemporary art unparalleled. It becomes the mainstream contemporary art medium because of its technical aspects, speed, flexibility and freedom; and undoubtedly, it will leave its mark in the 21st century art history.
The main categories of contemporary photography are performance photography, staged photography, conceptual landscape photography, conceptual digital photography, and conceptual documentary photography. While visual rhetoric changes visual intuition and the physical properties of a photograph, the reading and interpretation of a photograph should be guided by the introduction of a strong central theme of the subject. The meaning of a photograph is generated in an open system where an audience can express his or her unique understandings by immersing themselves in the artwork. The characteristic of image reproduction in contemporary photography benefits art creation, bringing photography to become an accepted form of contemporary art.
Chinese artists have been studying and researching photography’s contemporariness in the past three decades. They wisely utilized the contemporary characteristic of photographic medium and created artworks that are of significant meaning to the world. These creations are not only a development and continuation of the 180-year history of Chinese photography, but also a contribution to art history worldwide. We could offer enough proof through exhibitions that the invention and development of photography is a demonstration of cultural modernity, and this inspires artists of today to further improve their photographic creativity.

Johan Nieuhof Porcelain Tower of Nanjing

Eliphalet Brown Chinese Girl Engraving 2

William Saunders Trolley Engraving 20×25

William Saunders Trolley Albumen Print 2

William Saunders Barber shop, Shanghai E

William Saunders Barber shop, Shanghai A

Emil Riisfeldt Female musicians Engravin

William Saunders The completion ceremony

John Thomson Peep show Engraving 30×41cm

Thomas Child DaQing Gate Albumen Print

Thomas Child Albumen Print 20×26cm 18

Neurdein Studio, Paris Emperor and Empr

Charles Jacotin Studio, Paris Emperor G

Lock & Whitfield Guo Songtao Woodbury 11

Anonymity Girl in Tang Suit Daguerreotyp

Anonymity Potrait of Chinese Tintype 8.

Anonymity Chinese man holding hookah Ti

Anonymity Queen Victoria Albumen Print

Neurdein Studio, Paris Napoleon III Coup

Anonymity Empress Meiji Albumen Print

Giacomo Caneva Yuyuan, Shanghai Slat Pr

Pierre Joseph Rossier Qing Officials Cou

Pierre Joseph Rossier Chessing, Guangzho

Pierre Joseph Rossier Antique Shop Albu

Pierre Joseph Rossier Commecial St. Guan

Pierre Joseph Rossier Guangxiao Temple,

Pierre Joseph Rossier Wall, Guanghzou A

Pierre Joseph Rossier Birdview, Guanghzo

Pierre Joseph Rossier Fuxue Palace, Guan

Louis Legrand Guangzhou Governor's Mansi

Felice Beato Tongzhou Baliqiao (Eight Mi

Felice Beato White Pagoda, Jade Flower I

Felice Beato Panorama of the Tanggu For

Felice Beato View of the Imperial Winter

Sylvester Dutton & Vicent Michels Five-s

Sylvester Dutton & Vicent Michels Guangz

Milton Miller Seated Qing Official Album

Milton Miller Priest and Friends Albumen

Milton Miller Official Family, Guanghzou

Milton Mille Sedan Chair Albumen Stereo

William Pryor Floyd Portrait CDV Albume

William Pryor Floyd Portrait CDV Albumen

William Pryor Floyd Male Portrait Albume

Paul Champion Tiantong Temple, Ningbo Al

Gustav Adolf Rimer Chinese Believers, X

David Knox Griffith Tea Maker, Wuhan Al

Chan’s Eisenmann Dwarf Che Man Albumen

Bertall & Cie Studio, Paris Tea lady fro

Bertall & Cie Studio, Paris Tea Ladies f

William Saunders Colonel Xu Runzhi Album

William Saunders Prisoners Albumen Print

William Saunders Women with Umbrella Al

William Saunders Woman with Fan Albumen

William Saunders Wedding Albumen Print

Thomas Child The Little Emperor Guangxu

Thomas Child The Destroyed Yuanmingyuan

Thomas Child Zhaomiao Temple and Glazed

Thomas Child White Pagoda and Tuanchen,

John Reddie Black Yifeng Gate, Shanghai

Major J. C. Watson, Austrialia Yuyao, Ni

Lorenzo F. Fisler Peking opera Albumen

Lorenzo F. Fisler Peking opera Albumen P

Lorenzo F. Fisler Peking opera Albumen P

S.Yamamoto Women and Children of Manchu

S.Yamamoto Southwest Tower, Beijing Albu

S.Yamamoto DaQing Gate Panorama Albumen

S.Yamamoto Camel Train Albumen Print

S.Yamamoto Xisiku Cathedral, Beijing Al

Auguste Francois The Wife of Yunnan-Fu O

Samuel Bourne Tibatans Albumen Print

Samuel Bourne Tibatans Albumen Print

Anonymity French Missionaries in Sichua

James Ricalton China in Stereoscope (100

H. C. White Folk Custom in Shanghai Alb

Albert D'Amade Chongqing Albumen Print

William Edgar Geil Collodion POP

Photochrome Zürich Summer Palace Color E

Photochrome Zürich Summer Palace Color E

Photochrome Zürich Summer Palace Color E

Afong Studio Panorama of Liuzhou, Guangx

Afong Studio Official, Guangzhou Album

Afong Studio Sedan Albumen Print

Afong Studio Pan's Garden, Guangzhou Al

Afong Studio Ruins of St. Paul, Macao A

Afong Studio Street View, Guangzhou Alb

Afong Studio Commecial St. Guangzhou Alb

Afong Studio Downtown of Luomashi Stree

Afong Studio Downtown of Luomashi Stree

Pun Lun, Hong Kong Women and children in

A Chan Studio Shishi Sacred Heart Cathed

A Chan Studio Dragon-boat Racing,Guangzh