4A Lab Seminar
Qiuzi Guo: The Shadow of Trees: Photography and Visual Realism in Early Twentieth-Century China
Snow, Jin Shisheng, 1930s, courtesy of the estate of Jin Shisheng.
The arrival of photography in China, with its rules of monocular perspective and mechanical conception of vision, challenged indigenous visual and perceptual models. On top of that, the geometrical optics encoded in a series of photography manuals written by European and Chinese amateur photographers between the late 19th and the early 20th century contributed to the transformation of indigenous perceptual models. Beyond documentary purposes, Chinese intellectuals and photographers treated photography as a symbol of scientific modernity, and its realism as representative of the dynamics of the modern world. Yet, Chinese art photographers attempted to adapt the visual realism associated with Western science (in particular with the concept of “camera eye”) to an indigenous way of seeing. Instead of using light and shadow as a means of modeling, they relied on lines and shapes for the depiction of trees—a technique that resonates with the pictorial conventions of Chinese traditional paintings. The incorporation of ink painting styles into the new medium activated a dynamic response to the “colonial picturesque” that was prevalent in the photographs taken by European-American travelers in China's early 20th century. Qiuzi Guo's presentation will discuss how Chinese photographers negotiated the optical experience across Western and non-Western paradigms, and the impact that such operation had on their rhetoric of vision and perception of nature.
Qiuzi Guo is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the interdisciplinary programme 4A Laboratory: Art Histories, Archaeologies, Anthropologies, Aesthetics (July 2021–July 2022). She completed her Ph.D in East Asian Art History at Heidelberg University in 2019. In her doctoral dissertation, titled “When Kodak Came to China: Photography, Amateurs, and Visual Modernity, 1900-1937,” she explored how early Chinese amateur photographers contributed to the growth of Chinese visual modernity by adapting the idioms of Euro-American artists to local artistic expressions. Qiuzi Guo’s main research interests are the history of Chinese photography and the digitalization of cultural heritage. Her published articles shed light on various archives of unpublished private photographs taken by both amateur photographers and ordinary hobbyist photographers in Republican China.
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