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220 × 190 × 19 mm
200 pages
131 illustrations, 130 in colour
01 Aug 2012
  • £19.95

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Photography and China Claire Roberts

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 a Western audience, to chronicle photography's relationship to this complex country, underlining the medium's status as both witness to and agent of historical change.

‘In 1907, Fuzhou-born Ye Jinglü had the first of his annual portraits taken, a practice he maintained until his death in 1968. The three photographs from this series illustrated in Photography and China capture the profound impact of social and political change in China over the years, and are among the many fascinating images in this impressive publication . . . Roberts has done a superb job distilling a complex medium that has been both witness to and agent of historical change. Anyone with an interest in photography and China, or the history of visual culture, will want to give this volume a permanent place on their bookshelf.’ — Orientations

Photography and China is one of the first systematic attempts to critically examine the changing role and significance of photography in China from the nineteenth century to the present day . . . [It] evidences Claire Roberts in-depth knowledge and experience of China and Chinese art . . . a well-researched publication that is informative, engaging, and accessible to a wide audience. As the author notes, the book is astory of East-West exchange offering a valuable insight into the ways that locals as well as foreigners have used the cameras lens to view and document Chinas rise.’ — Australian Book Review

‘A brave and welcome undertaking . . . One could quibble with some of the authors choices, but the books most significant contribution may be that it brings this proffered canon together with multiple narratives that jointly demonstrate the exciting complexities and possibilities inherent to the history of photography in China. Photography and China offers an excellent and accessible introduction to its topic and will prove informative and rewarding for general reader and specialist alike.’ — Journal of Asian Studies

‘Roberts prose must be praised for its economy as it unfolds this nearly two century long story and it must be praised as well for its generosity, because it is only due to her economy that so much can be said. On a first reading, perhaps one might be simply excited by the panorama, but on a second and third thereafter, one comes to understand how very much is being seen and told. In large part, Roberts perspective is best supported not by her clear and careful prose argument, however, but by her exposition of how the beautifully reproduced photographs in the book both express and influence social change . . . It is impossible to do justice here to the pleasure of chapters that present such wonderful opportunities for contemplation by means of such a great richness of illustration.’ — Trans Asia Photography Review

‘a must-read for anyone interested in the ebb and flow of Chinese history and culture’ — SA Weekend Magazine

‘The book as a whole provides a panoramic picture, in 183 pages and with 131 illustrations, that surveys a complex history . . . Recommended.’ — Choice

‘Claire Roberts brings to this work a sophisticated understanding of both photography beyond China and China beyond photography. The book weaves a history of photography a technology of the modern age in China with a history of Chinas passage towards modernity . . . This book is beautifully written in language that is accessible.’ — The China Journal

‘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 authors 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 Chinas 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

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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).

1. China Exposed
2. The True Record
3. China Modern
4. War and Propaganda
5. Reportage and New Wave
6. U-Turn
7. Performing into the Present

Glossary of Chinese Names and Terms
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements