Exhibition: “China through the Lens of John Thomson, 1869-1872”

June 5, 2016 - September 11, 2016
Mānoa Campus, East-West Center John A. Burns Hall Add to Calendar

Legendary Scottish photographer and travel writer John Thomson (1837-1921) set off to Hong Kong in 1868, and in the following four years he undertook several major journeys photographing regions of China from the Pearl River, the Min River to the Yangtze River and from Fuzhou, Shanghai to Beijing. The range, depth and aesthetic quality of Thomson’s photographic vision make him stand out as one of the most important travel photographers.

The method of taking photographs at that time required an exposure on a glass plate, in complete darkness, on location, in a portable darkroom tent. Thomson therefore had to travel with a large number of crates, glass plates and bottles of highly flammable chemicals. Given that his journeys took him through difficult terrains, sometimes to regions where the Chinese had never seen a white person before, it is all the more remarkable that Thomson was able to make photographs of such beauty and sensitivity. He was able to capture the land, the people and their daily lives in very a natural way, achieving what we call today a ‘photo-journalistic’ style.

Unlike most photographers working in the Far East at that time, Thomson was not a government official, nor a missionary. He was a professional photographer who was fascinated by China. Thomson possessed an open mind and was sensitive to the lives and surroundings of his subjects. His photographs form a unique archive documenting 19th century China’s landscapes, architecture, people and customs. This collection of nearly 700 glass plates travelled back with him to Britain in 1872 and today it is housed in the Wellcome Library, London. The photographs taken on these journeys form one of the most extensive records of any region taken in the 19th century.

The EWC exhibition will include 60 photographs from Thomson’s travels across China. The large, high-quality photographic prints are several feet in height and width, presenting a life-size, immersive experience. A similar exhibition is currently being shown at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (http://museum.gwu.edu/china)

As the exhibition year (2016) coincides with the 150th birthday anniversary of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (iconic Chinese revolutionary and widely considered “Father of Modern China”), and the time period of the Thomson photographs roughly matches the same period in which Dr. Sun lived in Hawai‘i (1860s-1870s), we plan to supplement the Thomson photographs with select images of Dr. Sun and of Chinese in Hawai‘i, to draw the connection between life in China and life in Hawai‘i for immigrant Chinese in the mid/late 19th century. Open June 5, 2016 to September 11, 2016.

Gallery Info:
East-West Center Gallery
John A. Burns Hall, 1601 East-West Road (corner Dole St. & East-West Rd.)

Hours: Weekdays: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; Sundays Noon-4:00 p.m.
Closed Saturdays, July 3rd, September 4th.

Admission: free

Visitor parking is available on the UH-Mānoa campus for a fee during the week, and is normally free and ample on Sundays.

Free school and group tours available.

In cooperation with Wellcome Library, London. This exhibition was made possible by generous support from Richard H. Cox; The Hawaii Pacific Rim Society; and Aston Hotels & Resorts.

EWC Arts Programs are supported by EWC Arts ‘Ohana members, Jackie Chan Foundation USA, Jean E. Rolles, and other donors.

Ticket Information
Open to the public; admission free; general seating; first-come; first-served.

Event Sponsor
East-West Center, Mānoa Campus

More Information
(808) 944-7177, arts@EastWestCenter.org, http://arts.EastWestCenter.org

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