Liang Shitai, Portrait of Li Hongzhang, Tianjin, 1878 ©The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2006.R.1)
Chinese photography has gained increased attention in recent years. Even so, there is no complete overview of its history. The exhibition Brush & Shutter, which is the first part of Stavanger Art Museum’s focus on photography in China, is produced by The Getty Research Institute and on show for the first time in Europe. The exhibition centres on the introduction of photography in China, as well as the mutual influence between traditional artistic media and early photographic images. The historical period covered in the exhibition ranges from photography’s arrival in China, at the time of the Opium Wars in the 1840s, to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.
Before the invention of photography in 1839, the pictures China exported to the West were mainly painted in oil or gouache, or they were decorative motifs on porcelain tableware. This imagery was limited to a few well-known, rarely challenged themes. Tea houses, pagodas and rural landscapes were so common that they helped create a stereotype of China subsequently repeated in photographs. For this and other reasons, the West’s interest in chinoiserie continued. Nevertheless, some photographers broke with this tradition, using the new artistic medium to document old traditions as well as cultural changes. Brush & Shutter presents works by Chinese artists and photographers, but also works by Western photographers who worked in China.
The exhibition is curated by Frances Terpak and Jeffrey Cody at The Getty Research Institute. Text by Vibece Salthe, curator at Stavanger Art Museum.