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Facing Asia: histories and legacies of Asian studio photography

Event Details

Facing Asia: histories and legacies of Asian studio photography

Time: August 21, 2010 to August 22, 2010
Location: National Gallery of Australia
City/Town: Canberra
Website or Map:…
Event Type: conference
Organized By: Luke Gartlan and Gael Newton
Latest Activity: Mar 8, 2010

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Event Description

This is an international two day conference on early photographers and their studio practices in Asia, and cross-cultural exchanges in the Asia-Pacific region. From the beginning, the studio photographic likeness was the pre-eminent genre of the successful enterprise in Asia. Photographs of local subjects in the studio—whether as foreign tourist mementos, anthropological or ethnographic documents, statements of indigenous political authority, or for domestic use and circulation—were produced, distributed and collected in their millions.

In the wake of postcolonial critiques of the camera’s objectivity, such colonial-era photographs have often been interpreted as symptomatic of colonialist attitudes and fantasies toward their subjects. However, local communities and indigenous elites quickly adopted the technology for their own domestic purposes and nationalist agendas. Enterprising indigenous studio photographers such as Francis Chit in Bangkok, Afong in Hong Kong, and Uchida Kuichi in Tokyo, also catered to appreciative foreign clients and markets, reversing the initial relations between photographers and customers in the studio. While the studio often served as a space of cross-cultural encounters between photographers and sitters, its practices and procedures were often inflected by local cultural preferences and traditions.

This conference aims to explore the photographic portrait in the first hundred years of the medium in Asia. It intends to promote inter-regional comparative analyses between scholars working in diverse cultural and national contexts. The conference will not only analyse photographic representations of Asian peoples for the global market, but also consider the domestic adoptions and adaptations of the visual technology for local forms of self-representation and cultural practice. It will also consider the studio photograph as collaboration between photographer and sitter, and the diverse performed identities invoked in photographic sittings.

FACING ASIA refers to the significance of the camera in the historical depiction of the peoples in Asia, whether defined in such historical terms as types, costumes, portraits, icons or mug shots. We wish to invoke debate on the photographic likeness—its producers, subjects, viewers, and collectors—which will highlight and enhance our understanding of the histories and legacies of such visual materials across national borders. Facing Asia also intends to provoke debate on the theoretical approaches and contemporary claims to such archives in a field of growing academic, curatorial and collecting interest.

For further information see the conference website:

Presented by the Research School of Humanities and the Arts, Australian National University and the National Gallery of Australia.

Convenors: Dr Luke Gartlan, School of Art History, University of St Andrews
Gael Newton, Senior Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Australia

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