Tingting Xu

Award Information

2018 IDRF Program

Art History/ArchitectureUniversity of Chicago

Beyond Treaty Ports -- Early Chinese Photography: Practitioners, Trends, and Contexts

In recent years, considerable scholarly attention has been paid to the photographs taken by studio photographers in the treaty ports and concessions along the China coast after the two Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860). In contrast, there is a paucity of scholarship on how Chinese subjects beyond the social circles of concessions learned and adapted photography for their own purposes, and how indigenous sensibilities, especially the methods and conventions in Chinese pictorial art, negotiated with the photographic technology of Western origin, historically, aesthetically, and philosophically. This lacuna makes the current accounts of early Chinese photography incomplete and distorted. What were the actual historical agencies that stimulated and prompted the spread of photography from the loci of the globalized, semi-colonial, foreign enclaves in the coastal cities to the vast, indigenous interior? In particular, since the earliest Chinese to come into contact with photography were the elite few, either by status or wealth, how did the Chinese court and literati culture use the camera to carry out their agendas, molding it to their particular interests and tastes? And finally, how did the camera embed itself into the ongoing radical social and political transformations that were occurring in the process of China's dramatic self-remodeling from an imperial empire to a modern nation-state? These are the principal questions I address in this dissertation.