Feb 15 (fri), 4-6pm, CWAC 156
PhD Student, University of Chicago
“Seen, Imagined & Fabricated: American Stereographs of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion”
The 1900 anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion led by the Chinese “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists” coincided with the flourishing of stereography in the United States. The siege of 2,000 foreigners in the Legation Quarter of Peking had turned a local uprising into the most significant international event in the second half of the year. American stereoview companies, with their keen sense for global hot topics, paid an industry-wide attention to domestic public’s hunger for information about Peking’s crisis. Problematically, amongst the hundreds of stereoview cards produced by American companies on Chinese Boxers and related events between the year 1900 and 1902, discrepancies between images and their captions appear everywhere. The pictures were carefully selected, edited and interpreted. Many titles were consciously distorted from the reality. ──What is the nature of these photographs? To answer this question, I try to discover the real time and true environments in which the pictures were taken, and to analyze the individual reflections, cultural and political thoughts of the photographers and publishers. The conclusion is that Boxer stereographs were dominated by educative and entertaining purposes. They were by no means faithfully visual records, but image-text entities engaged in interpretation and fabrication. Extensively circulated in American living rooms, they helped to form the general public’s knowledge of the remote Rebellion in China. Though stereograph industry began to step down in the 1930s, the pictures didn’t stop circulating. Constantly reprinted by different book publishers around mid 20th century, they have become a collection of conceptualized scenes and portraits of Chinese civilization, which is still alive in contemporary context.
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