The Inscribed Studio Photo as “I-Portrait”: Photographing a New Self in Early Twentieth-Century China

Talk by Wu Hung, University of Chicago

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This talk studies photographs that subtly disrupt the classification of portraits and self-portraits. These are studio portraits that bear the sitters’ inscriptions. Using a group of images related to the “queue-cutting” movement in early 20th-century China as examples, Wu Hung suggests that when an inscription is imbued with a distinct “I” voice and expresses the sitter’s personal feeling, experience, and aspiration, it transforms the anonymous portrait into a “self-image.” This case study further leads us to contemplate on photography’s role in facilitating such transformation.

Wu Hung is Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Chinese Art History at the Departments of Art History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the University of Chicago. An elected member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has published widely on both traditional and contemporary Chinese art. His recent publications include The Art of Yellow Springs: Understanding Chinese Tombs (2010), A Story of Ruins: Presence and Absence in Chinese Art and Visual Culture (2012), Contemporary Chinese Art: A History (2014), and Zooming In: Histories of Photography in China (2016).

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Duration: 00:53:35


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Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018