Studio portrait of a Chinese woman

Studio portrait of a Chinese woman, Carstairs collection, JC-s037.

This striking photograph (JC-s037), with strong diagonals in the style of Alexander Rodchenko, may well be the work of an unidentified Chinese studio photographer working in the racy, cosmopolitan Shanghai of the 1930s.

The precise combination printing and the masterly control of light and shade, makes for a somewhat surreal and tipsy, triple view portrait – surrealist photography being very much about ‘evoking the union of dream and reality’ (as the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History puts it, on the Metropolitan Museum website:  ‘The Surrealists did not rely on reasoned analysis or sober calculation; on the contrary, they saw the forces of reason blocking the access routes to the imagination’).

The original print is small (less than 2 by 3 inches).  The portrait sitter could look at this photo of herself gazing at herself – a witty, even post-modernist, at any rate modern, play on self-regard and on portrait photography itself.

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