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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Photography and China

With its lush and diverse landscapes, ancient ruins, and stunning architecture, China is a photographer’s dream. Exploring this visually rich and evocative country, Photography and China highlights Chinese photographers and subjects from the inception of photography to the present day.

Drawing on works in museums, and archival and private collections across China, the United States, Europe, and Australia, Claire Roberts locates images from commercial, art, and documentary photography within the broader context of Chinese history. She focuses on the images as well as the studios and individuals who created them, describing the long tradition of Chinese artistic culture into which photography was first absorbed and subsequently expanded. As she recounts the stories of practitioners—from China and overseas—who were agents in that process of change, she also examines the commercial, political, and artistic purposes for which they used photography. Featuring one hundred striking, little-known images, Photography and China will make a significant contribution to photography, Chinese art, and twentieth-century history.

200 pages | 80 color plates, 20 halftones | 7 1/2 x 8 2/3 | © 2013


Art: Photography

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“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 practiced 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

“A brave and welcome undertaking. . . . One could quibble with some of the author’s choices, but the book’s 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.”

Roberta Wue | Journal of Asian Studies

Table of Contents

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

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