Five Storied Teahouse, Shanghai
29 cm x 22 cm
A skilled, but anonymous photographer made this rare early view of the famous Five-Storied Teahouse on Fuzhou Road in Shanghai. It was taken from an elevated vantage point offering a bird’s eye view of its fashionable patrons. The men on the balconies face the camera with confident expressions. The photographer portrays them as successful cosmopolitan men representative of progressive nineteenth-century Shanghai.
The ornate storefronts reveal the distinct characteristics of this particular commercial district. Indeed photographs like this street view help to convey the social and cultural structure of China’s cities. Teahouses, which began to appear in Shanghai in the 1860s and 1870s, served as centers of entertainment and performance.
A Chan Studio (Ya Zhen)
Heavenly Peace Street in Guangzhou
29 cm x 22 cm
Street photography has been an enduring art form since photography’s invention. This view by A Chan (Ya Zhen) Studio is characteristic of the art of capturing moments of urban life with the camera. This fine photograph includes a shop sign for the photography studio at the right side of the image. The photographer has posed figures on on the street to reveal the size of the narrow alleyway. People peer out from behind a variety of signs for shops offering a wide range of goods: tea, noodles, dim sum, paper products, stone tortoises, and floor bricks.
The image, with its precisely timed light cascading onto the otherwise dark alley, is at once a work of art and a fascinating glimpse of everyday life for people living in nineteenth-century China. Heavenly Peace Street developed into a commerical street named Tian Ping Jie during the Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) Dynasties. In the Ming Dynasty, paper and ink traders gathered in this area making it one of the most vibrant printing industry districts in Guangzhou. Today, renamed Heavenly Accomplishment Road, it is once again one of the most active locations for the printing industry in Guangdong Province.
Hand-colored albumen print
22 cm x 29 cm
William Saunders was one of the most important and innovative photographers of nineteenth-century China. He was the first artist known to hand-tint photographs in the Far East. Saunders’s experience with with Chinese art and culture heavily influenced his photography. New hybrid modes of photographic art in Saunders’s work echoed the artistic, cultural, and commercial exchanges taking place in Shanghai and throughout China.
In this hand-tinted photograph Saunders presents a woman weaving on a simple loom. The weaver, viewed in profile, appears engaged with the loom rather than with the photographer. China was one of the world’s most important sources of rich and finely brocaded silks. This photograph demonstrates an ancient means of production of the traditional luxury Chinese textiles sought throughout the world for centuries.
9 cm x 5 cm
Occupational photographs like this one, showing a woman holding a broom, were designed to show the many facets of daily life in 19th century Chinese society. The best of these photos, like the present example, transcend their intended purpose emerging as fine art. Here, a woman holds a broom diagonally across her torso, the fingers of her right hand holding it loosely, with her thumb resting on the broomstick. Her left hand touches the tip of the broom distractedly, as she stares into the camera. The slight hunch of her back, and rounded shoulders, indicate a life spent engaged in hard manual labor. At the same time, her gaze suggests someone who is unaccustomed to visiting a photographer’s studio. Combined, her gestures and expressions provide a window on her personality that is both universal and timeless.
Georges Auguste Morache
29 cm x 22 cm
Georges Morache is now widely recognised as a landmark figure in 19th century Chinese photography, but for many decades his career was little known to scholars. Morache was one of the first photographers active in Beijing, and he was the first to feature the people of the city as he saw them on the street. While these photographs have the naturalistic appearance of a real-life encounter, in reality many were made in the courtyard of the French legation in Beijing. There the light was strong, and Morache could photograph without interruption. In this photograph he shows a blind vendor of toys and noisemakers, possibly for a festival, announcing their availability with a gong.