Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China – Getty Center

Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China – Getty Center

Getty - Wu Man


Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, from February 8 through May 1, 2011, seeks to redefine the history of photography in China by illuminating the intersection of traditional Chinese artistic media and the modern technology of photography, drawing special attention to indigenous Chinese photographers.

Getty - Portrait of Li Hongzhang in Tianjin, 1878

PhotoPortrait of Li Hongzhang in Tianjin, 1878, Liang Shitai (also known as See Tay) (Chinese, active in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tianjin, 1870s-1880s), albumen silver print. The Getty Research Institute, 2006.R.1.4

Brought to Asia in the early 1840s by European travelers, photography was both a witness to the dramatic changes that took place in China through the early-twentieth century, and a catalyst for further modernization. Employing both ink brush and camera, Chinese painters adapted the new medium, grafting it onto traditional aesthetic conventions.

“Until now, these early photographs have received scant attention and there has been little attempt to study them within a social and cultural context. This exhibition helps provide a historical and visual background for understanding modern and contemporary China and its current relation with the West,” said Frances Terpak, curator of photographs in the Getty Research Institute.

The exhibition features more than 100 works, culled primarily from the Getty Research Institute”™s strong holdings on the early history of photography in China. The works in the exhibition range from an 1859 portrait of a Chinese family made near Shanghai to glass slides of revolutionary soldiers created in 1911 in Shansi province.

Getty - Brush and Shutter

Organized into five sections, the exhibition, which coincides with the beginning of the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit, includes works by Lai Afong and Tung Hing, two of the most notable Chinese photographers of the nineteenth century. Lai”™s specialty was the closely observed portrait group, while Hing was a master of Chinese landscape, excelling in extraordinary multipart photographic panoramas. Hing”™s six-part landscape of the Min River snaking through the city of Fuzhou exemplifies how Asian photographers drew upon the Chinese literati tradition of landscape scrolls for inspiration. Also notable are a series of photographs depicting street trades and goods made for Chinese export, and rare gouache and oil paintings made by Chinese painters, such as the Cantonese artist Tingqua, on loan to the exhibition from The Kelton Foundation in Los Angeles.


Contemporary Chinese photography has received increasing attention both within China and beyond; however, the origin of photography in China is not fully understood. Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China takes its name from the way that the medium of photography was learned and readily adapted by Chinese export painters, who grafted this new technology onto traditional conventions. Representing the work of both Chinese and Western artists, the photographs in this exhibition range from a portrait of a Chinese family taken in Shanghai in 1859 to unique glass slides of revolutionary soldiers in Shanxi province in 1911.

Before the invention of photography in 1839, images of China for export were painted in oil and gouache as well as on popular blue-and-white porcelain. Illustrating a limited repertoire of subjects””tea gardens, pagodas, and fanciful rural scenes””a stereotype of China emerged that was often repeated by photographers, who found a ready market among Western buyers. In this regard, photographers were following a tradition in the West””which blossomed in a European craze for chinoiserie during the 17th and 18th centuries””of reproducing stereotypical images about China on porcelain, wallpaper, furniture, and tapestries; however, photography in China also broke from that tradition of reproduction by capturing images that surprised viewers.

Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China exhibition runs concurrently with Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Western Road and Photography from the New China (on view in the J. Paul Getty Museum”™s Center for Photographs through April 24, 2011), which explore nineteenth-century views of Asia and contemporary Chinese photography.

Along with In Focus: The Tree, opening February 8, the photography exhibitions this winter and spring at the Getty Center represent important thematic links across the programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China is co-organized by the Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum, and is curated by Jeffrey Cody, senior project specialist in the Getty Conservation Institute”™s Education Department, and Frances Terpak, curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute.

Cody and Terpak also share a substantial role in the richly illustrated exhibition catalogue of the same name, published by the Getty Research Institute and the Hong Kong University Press. The catalogue – with 75 black-and-white and 61 color reproductions – explores the introduction of photography to China, the cultural shifts that heralded the technology”™s arrival, and photography”™s reception by indigenous Chinese reformers. The essays shed new light on the birth of a medium within a culture defined by tradition.

Related exhibition events include curatorial, guest lectures and tours in English and Mandarin, screenings of early Chinese films, and a highly anticipated concert by Wu Man, an acclaimed virtuoso of the pipa (Chinese lute) in March.

Getty - Wu Man with pipa


All events are free, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, call (310) 440-7300 or visit the official site.

Concert: Wu Man, pipa

In partnership with the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary”™s College.

Internationally renowned virtuosic pipa performer, Wu Man has also carved out a career creating and collaborating on projects that give this ancient Chinese instrument, a four-stringed lute, a presence in the Western world and a new role in today”™s music. Designed especially to complement the exhibition Brush and Shutter: Early Photography in China, Wu Man”™s performance will transcend time and musical genres.

$55.00. For tickets, please visit their official site or call (213) 477-2929.

Sunday, March 20, 2011. 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Museum Lecture Hall

Film Screening

An early Chinese film (to be confirmed) introduced by Getty Scholar Weihong Bao, assistant professor of Chinese film and media culture in the department of East Asian Languages and Culture at Columbia University.

Sunday, April 17, 3:00 p.m.

Museum Lecture Hall

Gallery Talks and Tours in English and Mandarin will also be scheduled.


Brush and Shutter: Early Photography in China

Available February 2011.

Getty Publications, Hong Kong University Press. $45.00

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations:  the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library – housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier – is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library’s special collections include rare books, artists’ journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.

Visiting the Getty Center

The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Monday and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Center is always free.  Parking is $15; free after 5pm on Saturdays and for special events.  No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call (310) 440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is (310) 440-7305.

Additional information is available here.

Sign up for e-Getty here to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit the official site for a complete calendar of public program.

Report by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.



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