Staging Real Sites: Tableau Vivant Photography in Nineteenth-Century China

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Art History and Visual Culture


This article analyzes the earliest dated photographs of Nanjing taken by Chinese studios and looks at images featuring unknown actors at different historical sites across the city. He argues that these photos hold a special place in the history of photography, both in China and globally, witnessing a moment of experimentation that sought to reconstitute or “realize” the lyrical identity of ancient topography in a city through staged and site-specific performances. Reading these images as non-Western forms of tableau vivant photography, this article offers a fresh look at the critical legacies that shape our understanding of the ways photography imaged difference and identity across the world in the 19th century. . Thus, this corpus invites us to revisit the presuppositions surrounding the making of images by the photographic medium, in both local and global contexts, to rethink the analytical and descriptive categories applied to the circuits of the photographic imagination in the 19th century, and to reflect on its interweaving with pre-photographic iconographies of sites.


AAUC/UAAC(Association des universités d’art du Canada / Universities Art Association of Canada)