Photography and Culture Volume 15, 2022 - Issue 3: Theorizing New Photographies in China
Pages 227-254 | Received 14 Apr 2022, Accepted 31 Aug 2022, Published online: 30 Sep 2022
As the first part of a long history-ethnography dedicated to amateur photography in China – an understudied, yet impactful, visual culture within the country's modern history and contemporary society – this article provides a historical account of the shifts in the definition of ‘amateurism’ in Chinese social, cultural, and ideological scenes from the 1840 s to the present. It argues that the idea(l) of amateurism is rooted in traditional Chinese cultural elites and representative of an avant-garde spirit, which was invested in photographic practices before the technology was popularized in China in the 1980s. The article also identifies how a new kind of photographic amateurism began to develop with the rise of the urban middle class in the 1980s. Today, photography embodies the thriving mass culture and has become ubiquitous in ordinary people's everyday lives as a medium that empowers the invisible to emerge and the muted to speak.
Keywords: photography in China, history of photography, photographic amateurism, visual modernity
Dr Yunchang Yang is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Arts, Peking University and co-editor of Photography and Culture. His research interests include the anthropology of art, visual anthropology, and modern and contemporary Chinese visual culture.