Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
When she was barely out of her teens, the future Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) arrived in the court of the Manchu Qing dynasty as a mid-level concubine, but her status as the mother of the sole imperial heir kept her in de facto control for 47 years, from 1861 until her death. Despite her reputation for rigid conservatism, greed, and incompetence, she was also an enthusiastic patron of the arts. Using keen political acumen, she understood how to manipulate and use photographs to create a favorable image of herself among her subjects and the foreign community. She did this at the very moment photography was becoming a mass-media vehicle and the Qing dynasty was struggling to survive.
David Hogge explores Cixi’s pivotal role in the waning days of the Qing dynasty. He is head of the Freer/Sackler Archives and curator of the exhibition Power/Play: China’s Empress Dowager (on view through Jan. 29), which showcases original glass-plate negatives taken by the court photographer Xunling.
A curator-led tour of the exhibition is on Sat., Oct. 22 (times announced at the lecture).
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