TAASA Review Issues

September 2008

Vol: 17 Issue: 3
Photographing Asia
Guest Editor: Jim Masselos

Cover Image
Investigating a camera, 1948 Eduardo Masferre, Philippines 1909–1995, Gelatin silver photograph, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. See p. 14 September issue.

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Editorial

This issue celebrates photography in Asia from its earliest days when it was practised by an eclectic mixture of amateurs and professionals through to its present form in the hands of contemporary practitioners. Across the years, the technology of the photograph has developed and evolved – and with it the kind of image and the tones and colours that can be produced. So too have the ways in which the photograph is used and the purposes for which it is made. The photograph has been constantly reinvented in its existence as an artefact, in its usage and in the viewpoints it expresses.

The following articles provide an overview of the kinds of developments that have occurred in photography from the 1850s through to the recent past. There is the experimental, typified as much in Divia Patel’s account of photographs created by a number of early – and outstanding – amateurs in Bombay in the 1850s and 1860s as in the images produced by artists of our time in China or Japan. There is also the commercial, as in the pictures produced by photographic studios throughout Asia, intended for sale to visiting Europeans and expats, as well as to local gentry, princes and others who were privileged, wealthy or established. The studio photographers are represented here by Stephanie Roy Bharath’s analysis of Saché’s career in India. In the last third of the 19th century possibly more photographic images were purchased and collected than any time since then. In her article about Royal tours in India, Sophie Gordon dwells on a special example of what happened to many of these purchased images. Commercial photographs – and not only those acquired by or for royalty – were regularly and customarily brought together in albums for official presentation and retained as part of the record of an important event, or else they were used as a store for personal memory, and in gifting exchanges. As with the preceding articles, this points to another underlying aspect of such photographs – the foreign gaze which looked at Asia through European eyes and through the eyes of foreign rule. Inevitably what they saw was different from what local nationals saw.

Simeran Maxwell picks up on a different gaze, that of the first Asian-born generation of photographers. She argues that they saw their own country and people differently from the way foreign rulers surveyed their dominions. yet, in common with preceding photographers who were much influenced by Victorian notions of the picturesque in art and by a drive to create photographs that were ‘art’ and ‘artistic’, this generation was equally subject to world wide artistic trends and influences, pictorialism and modernism among them. At the same time they continued to operate within their own autochthonous aesthetic norms. By the end of the 20th century and into our own times, photographers like those introduced by Russell Storer, Isabel Crombie and Judy Annear, picked up not only on their particular national environment – looking at it with the eyes of a local – but also played with conceptual forces in contemporary art and contributed to ongoing theoretical artistic debates as to the visual and what it constituted. It is a potent mix, as these Chinese, Japanese and South Asian photographers demonstrate.

This issue is timed to appear during a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Picture Paradise. Asia-Pacific Photography 1840s-1940s. The exhibition claims to be the first – anywhere – to bring photography in the Asia-Pacific region into the one conceptual and physical space, and signals an intention to continue to develop the Asian photography collection in the Gallery. Given that most of the images in the show are from the NGA’s collection and that most in turn were acquired over the past three years, this bodes well for future study of the medium as practised in Asia. Other places in Australia also have collections of Asia-related photographs as the articles on the National Library of Australia and the Powerhouse Museum remind us – and this apart from holdings in state galleries, state libraries and other repositories. The great collections are overseas of course. Most are in publicly owned national collections like the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Library but there are also major private collections, among the most prominent of which is the Alkazi collection only recently built up and now located in Delhi. Let us hope that public collections in this country will also continue to grow and continue to reflect the great richness of the medium. And that there will be many more such shows.

Table of contents

3 Editorial: Photographing Asia – Jim Masselos, Guest Editor

4 The Indian amateur’s photographic album – Divia Patel

7 John Edward Sache: Master of the picturesque – Stephanie Roy Bharath

10 The Royal Tour In India – Sophie Gordon

13 Paradise from within: Asian-born modernist photographers – Simeran Maxwell

16 In the public domain: Hedda Morrison in the Powerhouse museum – Christina Sumner

18 Body language: Contemporary Chinese photography – Isobel Crombie

20 Nasreen Mohamedi: The stillness of the captured moment – Russell Storer

21 The Chika project: Mayu Kanamori – Interview by Ann MacArthur

22 Yasumasa Morimura and Yukio Mishima – Seasons of passion – Judy Annear Research: Karen-Anne Coleman

24 In the public domain: Highlights from the National Library of Australia –  Sylvia Carr

25 Recent TAASA Activities

25 TAASA members’ diary

26 What’s on: September – November 2008

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