Flooding in China

This winter will be remembered in the UK for extensive flooding.  Floods in China are on a vastly different scale, the Yellow River having the solemn sobriquet ‘China’s Sorrow’.  There are many photographs of various floods in HPC collections.  It is interesting that the photographers were interested enough to risk their kit in capturing these expressions of a devastating force of nature.

Tientsin flood, September 1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-149.

Tientsin flood, September 1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-149.

Watermarks, Tientsin flood, September 1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-143.

Watermarks, Tientsin flood, September 1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-143.

Playing football on a flooded pitch, unidentified location, 1930s, Masson collection, Ma01-173.

Playing football on a flooded pitch, unidentified location, 1930s, Masson collection, Ma01-173.

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The time in between

A guest blog from Alejandro Acin: I sometimes feel that street photography has become just a game where photographers try to create simple easy to understood messages in standalone photographs often meant to be amusing. There are many exceptions of course, but a majority of photographers belong to a group where this sort of standalone photographs is their main goal. One street photography work that caught my eye is The Present by Paul Graham published by Mack in 2012.  Jörg Colberg reviewed the book:  ”The Present goes about street photography in a different way. In a nutshell, Graham uses the tropes of the genre to subvert it. That short moment street photography is centered on loses its relevance by being placed alongside another short moment, right there, occasionally even yet another short moment. Just like in real life, the focus might shift – from one person to the next, from one configuration of people to another one. Groups form, groups dissolve. It is as if life on the street was a gigantic card game where the cards are constantly and slowly shuffled while the game is going on.” (Read the full review).

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Image from The Present © 2012 Paul Graham.

Image from The Present © 2012 Paul Graham.

It is very interesting to see how a photograph, which appears generally uninteresting, becomes extremely meaningful when it is placed next to another photograph taken seconds before or after it. This way of approaching the urban environment is very powerful, as we can feel how the ‘urban troops’ flow through the streets making the city landscape very volatile. Graham also questions the qualities and weaknesses of photography as a medium, in representing the real world through time and space parameters.

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Image from The Present © 2012 Paul Graham.

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Image from The Present © 2012 Paul Graham.

The essence of The Present came to mind while I was working with the Montgomery collection. This is a large collection of images taken during the two traumatic phases of the Japanese invasion of Shanghai.  I have chosen some of these images to illustrate Graham’s point.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-16.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-16.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-015.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-015.

In these images, the photographer is following a group of soldiers in Shanghai.  Suddenly something happens and one of the soldiers is on his hands and knees on the pavement, while the other two look back as if someone had shot at them.

A similar situation appears later on in the album: in one of the photographs a soldier walks alone; in the next photograph two soldiers are carrying a casualty on a stretcher. These photographs were placed next to each other in the album, so we suppose that they were taken almost one after the other. In war, a ‘normal’ situation can quickly become a dangerous one.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-020.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-020.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-021.

Image digitised by Historical Photographs of China. Montgomery Collection, JM04-021.

We cannot be completely sure of what happened to those soldiers, photography doesn’t tell us everything – but one thing we can demonstrate is: a decisive moment leaves out many other decisive moments, which together could create a much more complex narrative.

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On the British perimeter

On the British perimeter. Shanghai beauties out for a “look-see”, Shanghai, c.1937.  Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt.  Rosholt collection, Ro-s075.

On the British perimeter. Shanghai beauties out for a “look-see”, Shanghai, c.1937. Photograph by Malcolm Rosholt. Rosholt collection, Ro-s075.

Valentine’s Day approaches and look-seeing is in the air.  Most probably taken in 1937, this photograph by Malcolm Rosholt, has a certain tension that may have mirrored the tension of a city at war, or on a war footing.

Rosholt’s captioning (for publication use) on the back of the photograph Ro-s075.

Rosholt’s captioning (for publication use) on the back of the photograph Ro-s075.

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Year of the Horse at BMAG

龍馬精神

The Chinese new year galloped in at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery over the weekend.  Canton Camera was exhibited, among many other celebrations.  The atmosphere was great (there were over 9,000 visitors) and the Mayor announced his intention to hold the event in the streets of Bristol next year.

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Snaps by Jamie Carstairs

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Happy New Year 新年快樂

Say goodbye to the aged Year of the Snake – and hello to the new year.

John Lee Guinness Oswald, posed on a saddle, c.1908, Foochow (Fuzhou), Oswald collection, Os05-112.

John Lee Guinness Oswald, posed on a saddle, c.1908, Foochow (Fuzhou), Oswald collection, Os05-112.

Best wishes for the Year of the Horse to all friends of ‘Visualising China’.

馬年大吉

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Chess in Canton

Buddhist monks playing Chinese chess, Temple of the Five Hundred Gods, Canton (Guangzhou), c.1869.  Photograph by John Thomson.  Wellcome Images (L0055983).

Buddhist monks playing Chinese chess, Temple of the Five Hundred Gods, Canton (Guangzhou), c.1869. Photograph by John Thomson. Wellcome Images (L0055983).

The Wellcome Institute announced recently that all historical images that are out of copyright and held by Wellcome Images are being made freely available under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.  Search for, download and study images by, for example, John Thomson or Patrick Manson, at http://wellcomeimages.org/.

Page from an album at the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, London (RSAA reference RSAA/SC/BOW/1).

Page from an album at the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, London (RSAA reference RSAA/SC/BOW/1).

As it happens, an image by Thomson (Buddhist monks playing Chinese chess, Temple of the Five Hundred Gods, Canton (Guangzhou), c.1869) is to be exhibited this weekend (1st and 2nd February) at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, as part of Bristol’s Chinese New Year celebrations.  The nineteen images in the pop up Canton Camera exhibition are from Historical Photographs of China collections and each decade is represented, from the 1860s to the 1940s.

Wood engraving from ‘In the Valley of the Yangtse’ by Mrs Arnold Foster.

Wood engraving from ‘In the Valley of the Yangtse’ by Mrs Arnold Foster.

It is interesting to compare the Wellcome’s scan of Thomson’s negative with the RSAA print.  The wood engraving appears in Mrs Arnold Foster’s children’s book ‘In the Valley of the Yangtse’ (1899), in which she describes Chinese chess:  “Across the middle of the board is a river, guarding which on each side stand five soldiers.  Besides these there are a general, two secretaries, two elephants, two horses, two chariots, and two guns”.  This 32-piece game, said to have been invented c.1120 BC, is similar to the Western game – an even older Chinese version had 300 pieces!

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Making popcorn

The Historical Photographs of China project team were delighted to see in a recently digitised album a sequence of three photographs showing popcorn being made the Chinese way, c.1938:

Making popcorn, Peitaiho (Beidaihe), c.1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-121.

Making popcorn, Peitaiho (Beidaihe), c.1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-121.

 

Making popcorn, Peitaiho (Beidaihe), c.1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-122.

Making popcorn, Peitaiho (Beidaihe), c.1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-122.

Making popcorn, Peitaiho (Beidaihe), c.1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-123.

Making popcorn, Peitaiho (Beidaihe), c.1938, Morrison collection, Mo04-123.

When this blogger was in Shanghai in 2011, I photographed popcorn being made in the same way (see below) – a method believed to have developed during the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279), originally for puffing rice (source: Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popcorn), which describes the process as follows:  The un-popped corn kernels are poured into a large cast-iron canister — sometimes called a ‘popcorn hammer’ — which is then sealed with a heavy lid and slowly turned over a curbside fire in rotisserie fashion. When a pressure guage on the canister reaches a certain level, the canister is removed from the fire, a large canvas sack is put over the lid and the seal is released. With a huge boom, all of the popcorn explodes at once and is poured into the sack.  See also videos on YouTube, for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ta5jh9VglDw

I can vouch for the huge boom – the people waiting for their corn to pop kindly warned me about it, by miming ‘block your ears’!  Popcorn is recommended this Blue Monday – and indeed any day.

Making popcorn, Old City, Shanghai, May 2011.  Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Making popcorn, Old City, Shanghai, May 2011. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Making popcorn, Old City, Shanghai, May 2011.  Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Making popcorn, Old City, Shanghai, May 2011. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Making popcorn, Old City, Shanghai, May 2011.  Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Making popcorn, Old City, Shanghai, May 2011. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

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Burning bright in the forests of the night

Tiger, Aw Boon Haw Gardens, Hong Kong, c.1952, Love collection, BL05-32.

Tiger, Aw Boon Haw Gardens, Hong Kong, c.1952, Love collection, BL05-32.

This tiger sculpture was in the Aw Boon Haw Gardens amusement park (Tiger Balm Gardens) in Happy Valley, Hong Kong. The Tiger Balm Gardens were a sort of Chinese Disneyland theme park, but somehow even more gaudy, ostentatious, sometimes bizarre, and even psychedelic.  This however is a sober black and white photograph (complete with a reality check of barbed wire), taken by an unidentified photographer about 1952, in an album, entitled ‘In and Around Hong Kong – with my Rollei’.

The Aw Boon Haw Gardens have since been demolished and the site redeveloped, although the nearby Haw Par Mansion, which was also built with the Tiger Balm fortune, survives today – see Wikipedia article. This blogger well remembers the comforting whiff of camphor, when rubbing the balm on his temples to relieve headaches, his vintage Tiger Balm tins below.

Tiger Balm.  Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Tiger Balm. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

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Isabella Lucy Bird – photographer and traveller

Isabella Lucy Bird, Carstairs collection, JC-s091.

Isabella Lucy Bird, Carstairs collection, JC-s091.

Mrs Isabella Lucy Bishop (née Bird), FRGS (1831-1904), was a remarkable traveller, writer, photographer, horsewoman and natural historian.  In 1892, she became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society and she was elected to membership of the Royal Photographic Society in 1897.  Travelling in China in 1897, she visited the China Inland Mission centre at Paoning-fu (Langzhong) and met Dr W.W. Cassels (later Bishop of Western China).  Afterwards she sent him a cheque for £100 towards founding the Isabella Bird Hospital, pictured below.

Isabella Bird Hospital, Paoning (Langzhong), 1917, Elliott collection, El01-59.

Isabella Bird Hospital, Paoning (Langzhong), 1917, Elliott collection, El01-59.

Among other travel books, Bird is the author of ‘The Yangtze Valley and Beyond’ (1899) and Chinese Pictures: Notes On Photographs Made in China’ (1900), both containing many of her photographs – some of these can be viewed on the Royal Geographical Society Picture Library site.  More of her photographs and papers are held at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh – a city she made her home when not on the road.  Isabella Bird was fascinated by China and, when she died in Edinburgh, aged 72, her bags were packed for a return trip.

Interest in Isabella Bird was revived when some of her travel books were republished by Virago Press in the 1980s.  She is the subject of the BBC radio programme Great Lives – Meg Rosoff on Isabella Bird.

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Christmas card

Road after snowfall, with rickshaw, Hulme collection, OH03-007.

Road after snowfall, with rickshaw, Hulme collection, OH03-007.

Compliments of the season to all friends of ‘Visualising China’ – and all best wishes for the road ahead.

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