Skip to main content

thomson peepshow

Contained Visions: John Thomson (1837-1921), Photography, and the Chinese Export Image

Roberta Wue Guest Lecture

March 5, 2024
6:30 - 8:00 p.m.
Structural & Materials Engineering Building, SME 149, UC San Diego


Can China and the Chinese be contained in an image? Acting as expert, traveler, and witness, the photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) appears to answer this question in the affirmative with the first photographic book on China, his monumental Illustrations of China and Its People (1873-74). However, within the documentary intentions of his photographs run complex interactions with earlier representations of China as seen in Chinese export art and its producers. This talk will address Thomson’s reproductions and imitations of the fanciful and fictive export image, and his engagement with the imagined Chinese artist.

photo of Roberta WueRoberta Wue is associate professor of Art History and director of the PhD Program in Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She has published on painting, photography, print culture, and advertising in modern China. She is author of Art Worlds: Artists, Images, and Audiences in Late Nineteenth-Century Shanghai (2014), co-editor with Luke Gartlan of Portraiture and Early Studio Photography in China and Japan (2017), and most recently contributed to the catalogue of the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibition, Power and Perspective: Early Photography in China.

Co-sponsored by 21st Century China Center