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Groundbreaking early photographs of Shanghai head for London

By Samantha Vadas (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2016-08-10 13:49 Comments

Groundbreaking early photographs of Shanghai head for London

Portrait of a wedding

Building on the success of the Qing Dynasty Peking Exhibition, Loewentheil will showcase another rare collection of prints in London in November - this time, displaying images of Shanghai.

The latest exhibition is the first devoted to the work of William Saunders, who, similarly to Child, was a British engineer who became a photographer after traveling to China in 1860. He is now recognized as one of the most important photographers of nineteenth century China.

Saunders made his photographs - some of the earliest of the city and its people - at a critical time in Chinese history; just as Shanghai was emerging as an international commercial city.

"His photographs offer an intimate view of the diverse inhabitants of Shanghai and their traditional ways of life, as the city began to emerge as the global economic dynamo it has become today," Loewentheil said.

"This unprecedented photographic exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see Shanghai and its people as they were at the historical moment before the epochal transformations of the 20th century."

Of the very few 19th century British photographers who traveled to China, only Saunders set up a professional photographic studio in Shanghai, that remained in business for over a quarter of a century, according to the exhibition's US-based curator, Stacey Lambrow.

"The early photographers who established studios in China generally stayed in the country for only a few years, whereas Saunders owned and operated the longest running nineteenth century photographic studio in Shanghai belonging to a westerner," she said.

"As a photographer and businessman, Saunders had remarkable ambition - the sheer audacity of setting up his studio in Shanghai at that time was extraordinary."

Saunders was one of the first photographers to produce hand-colored photographs of the Far East, at a time when many Chinese artists in China were transitioning from painting to photography.

"Early photographers sought to convey an accurate representation of visual reality and color was a crucial component," said Lambrow.

"Saunders used applied paint to accomplish this for his clients."

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