Call Him an Early Adopter: Thomas Child, a 19th-Century Photographer in China
Thomas Child, a British engineer, traveled to China in 1870 for work but was so entranced by the scenery and culture that he stayed for nearly two decades. He imported cameras to set up a sideline business as a portrait and landscape photographer, and his works were published in magazines and books. He also marketed them to tourists and dignitaries. The accompanying texts were a mix of admiration and condescension for traditions that Westerners of the time considered primitive.
The Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection, which belongs to photo dealers in Brooklyn, has reunited hundreds of Mr. Child’s works and traced the descendants of people who posed for him. An exhibition of part of the Loewentheil holdings, “Qing Dynasty Peking: Thomas Child’s Photographs,” opens Friday at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College in Manhattan.
斯蒂芬·洛文希尔中国历史摄影收藏公司(Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection)是布鲁克林的几个照片交易商办的。它收集了成百上千件蔡尔德的作品，追踪采访了一些拍摄对象的后裔。周五，展示洛文希尔部分收藏的展览《清代北京：托马斯·蔡尔德的照片》(Qing Dynasty Peking: Thomas Child’s Photographs)在曼哈顿巴鲁克学院(Baruch College)的西德尼·米什金画廊(Sidney Mishkin Gallery)开幕。
The Jade Belt Bridge at the Summer Palace in Beijing in an 1870 photograph by Thomas Child.
Stephan and Jacob Loewentheil, a father-and-son team, own about 15,000 photographs of China taken before the 1910s. The show’s curator, Stacey Lambrow, and Jacob Loewentheil are writing a book about Mr. Child. (It is partly based on Mr. Child’s diaries, which were preserved by Terry Bennett, a British historian who has long specialized in photos of 19th-century China.)
斯蒂芬和雅各布·洛文希尔(Stephan and Jacob Loewentheil)这对父子组合拥有约1.5万张在1910年之前的中国拍摄的照片。该展览的策展人斯泰西·兰姆布罗(Stacey Lambrow)和雅各布·洛文希尔正在写一本关于蔡尔德的书。（它部分基于蔡尔德的日记，这些日记由英国史学家特里·贝内特[Terry Bennett]保管，他长期致力于研究19世纪中国的照片。）
Mr. Child, a Shropshire native, left England at 29, leaving behind his wife, Ellen, and three children, though they eventually joined him. His assignment was to inspect gasworks for a government agency at a time of conflict between the Chinese and foreign powers. It is not known how he trained as a photographer. In China, the technology was so unfamiliar that people gathered when he took pictures.
Mr. Child photographed the Great Wall as well as pagodas, temples, bridges, crowded harbors, roadsides lined with stone sculptures and humble storefronts. He documented the practice of dismantling palace walls damaged by decay or war and recycling the stones for other construction. In his captions, letters and journals he complained about dirty streets, insects and rat infestations. He gently mocked local superstitions, the sound of temple bells that rang in “harmonious discord” and funeral rituals that “excel in pomp and expenditure.”
He photographed peddlers, beggars, religious leaders, and a young aristocratic bride and groom named Zeng Ji Fen and Nie Ji Gui on their wedding day. Raymond Watt, a descendant of that couple, is a retiree living in Queens. He said in an interview that he did not know the photo existed until the Loewentheils showed it last year in London. He is scheduled to attend the exhibition opening and meet some of Mr. Child’s descendants.
With the portrait, Mr. Watt said, “we get back the memory and refresh the history.”
In 1889, Mr. Child returned to England. He remained infatuated with China, and he gave his family home at the outskirts of London a Chinese name that has been roughly translated as Studio of Everlasting Tranquillity. He was killed in 1898 when his horse-drawn carriage overturned. His family kept some of his paperwork, but few other records survive. His photos sometimes turn up unlabeled at auctions; properly attributed, they can sell for thousands of dollars. They have also ended up in institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.; and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
到了1889年，蔡尔德返回英格兰。他依然痴迷于中国，给伦敦郊外的自家房屋起了一个中文名叫“永宁居”。他在1898年死于马车倾覆事故。他的家人保存了他的一些文字档案，但没有多少其他记录留了下来。他拍的照片有时会无名地出现在拍卖会上；如果有了正确署名，便能卖出数千美元。它们还出现在艺术机构中，包括大都会艺术博物馆(Metropolitan Museum of Art)、马萨诸塞州塞勒姆的皮博迪艾塞克斯博物馆(Peabody Essex Museum)及洛杉矶的盖蒂博物馆(Getty Museum)。
Collections of early photos of China at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington will be covered in a book due out early next year, “Painting With Light: Photography at the Freer/Sackler.” David Hogge, one of the authors, said the photos are treasured partly as documentation of buildings and artworks that were later destroyed by looters or warfare, or taken to American or European museums.
史密森尼学会(Smithsonian Institution)设在华盛顿的弗瑞尔艺廊(Freer Gallery of Art)与赛克勒画廊(Arthur M. Sackler Gallery)收藏的中国早期照片将集结到一本名为《光之画作：弗瑞尔-赛克勒摄影集》(Painting With Light: Photography at the Freer/Sackler)的著作中，定于明年初问世。作者之一霍大为(David Hogge)表示，这批照片颇为珍贵，一部分原因是它们记录的一些建筑与艺术品后来因掠夺或战争而遭到损毁，或者是被带去了美欧的博物馆。
The art historian Roberta Wue, who is an editor of a coming book about early photographs from China and Japan, said scholarship in the field has burgeoned in recent years despite the widespread destruction of archives in China. Evidence has surfaced that Chinese photographers quickly adapted the equipment brought in by Westerners, and that their clients, including prostitutes, began commissioning photos of themselves as advertisements.
The Loewentheils have been building their collection partly through auctions. In 2014, at Cordier Auctions & Appraisals in Harrisburg, Pa., they paid about $500,000 for an album of China images from 1860 by the Italian-born photographer Felice Beato. In November, at the China Exchange in London, the Loewentheils will exhibit hand-tinted 19th-century photos of Shanghai by William Saunders, a British engineer. Stephan Loewentheil wrote in an email that his family’s holdings are still growing and are not for sale. “I hope to place my collection into a worthy location intact,” he wrote.
洛文希尔父子一直在通过拍卖会来扩充收藏。在宾夕法尼亚州哈里斯堡的科迪尔拍卖与评估行(Cordier Auctions & Appraisals)于2014年举行的拍卖会上，他们花了大约50万美元拍下意大利出生的摄影师费利切·贝亚托(Felice Beato)于1860年拍下的一本中国影集。今年11月，在伦敦的中国站(China Exchange)，洛文希尔父子将展出英国工程师威廉·桑德斯(William Saunders)拍摄的19世纪上海的手工上色照片。斯蒂芬·洛文希尔在电子邮件中表示，他们家族的收藏还在不断扩充，不会出售。“我希望把自己的收藏完好无损地放到一个好地方，”信中写道。