Rare photos of China’s Qing dynasty on display for NYC’s Asia Art Week

China 24

It is hard to imagine what China looked like during its last imperial dynasty – the Qing – in late 19th century because few photos currently exist. But one New York collector has amassed one of the largest private collections of photographs from this era. 

CGTN’s Liling Tan reports from New York.
Follow Liling Tan on Twitter @LilingTan

What did people wear during the Qing Dynasty? How did they live? Stephan Loewentheil, founder of the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop in Brooklyn NY, has a display of 30 rare photos, including this 13-part panorama of the Shanghai Bund, a waterfront area in central Shanghai.

 “It is the only surviving example of this view, what the great city of Shanghai looked like at the moment when it was becoming an international trading point. And now it’s completely unrecognizable.” says Loewentheil.

For decades Loewentheil collected these photos captured through the lenses of Chinese and Western photographers. They’ll be shown together for the first time at this New York exhibition titled: Masterpieces of Early Chinese Photography—one of the highlights of Asia Art Week that runs through March 20.

The early days of paper photography date back to the 1850s. And it wasn’t until about a decade later when it became commercialized around the world, including in Asia.

“Due to anomalies in history, many of these photographs were destroyed and not too many survived. Those that survived tend to have left China with visitors to China in the 19th century. And those were then dispersed,” Loewentheil said. “So that collections of these photographs were not accumulated as either art or history. And it isn’t until recent years that people have realized the significance of documenting the glory, the beauty and the culture of China at a very formative period.”

Loewentheil said the photographs have artistic as well as historical value.

This exhibition not only seeks to capture a moment in Chinese history, but also celebrates China’s place in the history of photography.