November 01, 2010

The Getty Research Institute Reinterprets the History of Early Photography in China

Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China

At the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center

February 8 — May 1, 2011

Collage of many photographs. China, late 1800s. Anonymous.
Albumen print. Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES—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.

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.

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.

Brush & Shutter: Early Photography in China 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 from December 7, 2010 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).


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

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 or call (213) 477-2929.

Sunday, March 20, 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.

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Julie Jaskol
Getty Communications
(310) 440-7607

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