Introducing the Malcolm Rosholt Collection

Malcolm Rosholt working at The China Press, summer 1940

Malcolm Rosholt working at The China Press, summer 1940, Rosholt Collection, Ro-s001.

Today we are able to unveil a significant new addition to our collections that is now available for viewing: the photographs of Malcolm Rosholt. Born in Wisconsin in 1907, Malcolm Rosholt arrived in China in 1931 with the intention of undertaking graduate work at Yenching University in Beijing. Instead he parlayed some journalistic experience into what became a seven-year stint as a staff writer on the American-run China Press newspaper in Shanghai. He returned for a few months in late 1940, and in October 1944 arrived in Kunming assigned to work with the US Fourteenth Air Force. The majority of the 1,086 photographs date from his earlier stint, and in particular from the August-November 1937 conflict where, as Rosholt later put it, ‘I covered the battlefronts and press conferences and took a stack of pictures with the Leica, some of which were used in the China Press and others I sold to the Associated Press and New York Times.’

The original prints and negatives were given by Rosholt’s daughter Mei-fei Elrick to Tess Johnston, and then shared with us. As well as their interest as a historic record, the collection is also interesting as the archive of a working press photographer. Many of the negatives are marked up, with croppings indicated to strengthen the image. And we have variant shots, showing the journalist at work behind the camera. For example, how might this shot be made more powerful?

Woman and children in temporary shelter, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0384.

Woman and children in temporary shelter, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0384.

Answer: in the next frame, remove the smiling child.

Women and children in temporary shelter, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0385.

Women and children in temporary shelter, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0385.

And how might a Sikh watching the fires of Pudong be best framed? Horizontally? (There are three versions of this photograph).

Sikh man looking over Huangpu towards fires in Pudong, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0382.

Sikh man looking over Huangpu towards fires in Pudong, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0382.

Or vertically? I think vertically (and this might better have suited some print layouts).

Sikh man looking over Whangpoo towards fires in Pudong, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0344.

Sikh man looking over Huangpu towards fires in Pudong, Shanghai, Rosholt Collection, Ro-n0344.

Rosholt’s stint in US air force intelligence provides a few photographs here, but most cover the bloody months in 1937 when Chiang Kai-shek took a gamble, and threw his best-trained forces into a confrontation with the Japanese in full view of the world’s press. China won the moral victory, helped not a little by the work of photographers like Rosholt, but Chiang’s forces were shattered on the city’s battlefields.

Rosholt wrote about his life in a memoir, Rainbow Around the Moon (lgpress, 2004). Amongst other books, he returned to China with Days of the ching pao: A photographic record of the Flying Tigers-14th Air Force in China in World War II (1986), and The Press Corps of Old Shanghai (1994).

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