对于骆伯年作品的风格化分析，使我们用全然不同的视角看待他的摄影。除了关于大自然的影像，骆伯年也创作了与众不同的静物及拼贴作品。静物作品通常描绘的是巧妙布置的桌布、水果和机械零件，然而骆伯年最著名的一些作品则探索关于抽象。例如，曾于1934年《中华摄影杂志》发表过的《汲翁》，拍摄了一个水晶女人雕像面对着粗重的锯齿形线条 （图三）。更为难得的是一系列无题、未发表的拼贴，它们利用建筑或有机的中相同的条形细节，整理成以中心点对称的方形组合 。这组静物在风格上如同德国现代主义艺术家阿尔伯特·伦格-帕契（Albert Renger-Patzsch)或洛特·戈尔德施特恩·富克斯 (Lotte Goldstern-Fuchs)对于光与影进行的研究，拼贴作品则是与玛格丽特·沃特金斯对纺织物的摄影设计呈现了惊人的相似。骆伯年可能曾在如在上海出售的德国摄影年鉴《德国图片》，或者沃特金斯编著的《美国画意摄影》等国际出版物中看到过以上所有作品。3这些照片在另一方面展现了骆伯年对于曝光、底片分层、底片冲洗和拼贴的实验，印证了骆伯年对于摄影的兴趣已经从简单记录大自然，进入到对于非表现的探索和对于媒介本身的表现过程。关于这些新现代主义技术传入中国还需要更多的研究。像骆伯年这样的业余摄影师能获得什么样的国际期刊、杂志或者其他资源？它们是如何帮助塑造当时中国的本体论状态？像骆伯年这样的业余摄影师能获得什么样的国际期刊、杂志或者其他资源？它们是如何帮助塑造当时中国的摄影图像的本体论状态？对出版物中照片风格化的对比，及对相应文本的详细解读，将会为我们带来解答这个问题的更好方法。
- 当时在上海有少量的店售卖国际摄影杂志及照相器材。骆伯年曾在1932年至1935年居住于此。在他的档案中保留有A.S. Watson & Co.（一家颇受欢迎的可以冲洗负片及销售相关用品的药剂店） 的收据。德国图片杂志由一家上海本地名为Kelly & Walsh的出版社进行分销，很有可能骆伯年因此接触到这些材料。
Stephanie H. Tung
The recently recovered archive of Luo Bonian’s photographs is an invaluable resource for research into the art and society of Republican era China. By all definitions, Luo was an ordinary man, born into a prosperous family of Hangzhou government officials in 1911. Yet his photographs of landscapes, portraits, and still lives provide a rare glimpse into a particular sector of Chinese society in the years leading up to and during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Trained as a banker, Luo purchased a camera after graduating from college in 1932, and quickly joined a small, but growing community of cosmopolitan amateur photographers linked by societies, journals, magazines, and exhibitions in China. Through this archive, we are able to learn about some of the issues at stake at the time, including the status of photography in relation to traditional painting, the connections between international and Chinese photographic communities, and the significance of amateurism as an ideal in Chinese society. Much of this work would not have been possible without the efforts of Luo Bonian’s great-grandson Jin Youming – a banker and amateur photographer in his own right – who preserved Luo’s collection of prints, negatives, albums, and journals and made them accessible to researchers like myself. In this short essay, I hope to highlight a few directions of inquiry inspired by the archive, in hopes that fellow researchers may continue to learn from and explore this material.
For context, Luo Bonian’s archive consists of nearly three hundred medium-format vintage, silver gelatin prints and an even greater number of negatives from the era. Other photographic paraphernalia, such as manuals and journals in Chinese and English, also form part of the archive. A collection of this size by an individual photographer from early twentieth century China is exceedingly rare, as most photographic materials were considered bourgeois and destroyed or hidden after 1949. Luo Bonian himself stopped taking photographs in 1951. According to Jin Youming, Luo’s collection of photographic material survived the Cultural Revolution only because Luo asked to be transferred back to his hometown in Hangzhou after a long stint away in 1951. Out of the spotlight and relatively insulated from the violence and political intrigue as a retiree, Luo was able to keep his prints and negatives hidden away in boxes and albums in his home.
Luo Bonian’s anxiety about the photographs is understandable. The subjects of Luo’s photographs seem relatively benign, but link him to artistic traditions in both ancient China and the West that were taboo during the Cultural Revolution. The majority of Luo’s photographs are of the natural world: plum blossoms, willows, lotus flowers, and bamboo, as well as scenes of small reed boats on the water and pavilions and pagodas set against Hangzhou’s famed West Lake. They are all staple subjects of literati art and attest to Luo’s classical Confucian education. Indeed, family anecdotes indicate that the Luo household had a substantial collection of paintings and calligraphy, including works by Tang Yin, Zhang Daqian, and Qi Baishi, which were subsequently lost in the Cultural Revolution.
Growing up amidst these treasures, the values of the literati scholar-official surely shaped a young Luo Bonian’s worldview, yet how did they manifest in his photographs? If we examine the images iconographically, we find traditional representations of Confucian gentlemen in the upright bamboo that survives winter or the trope of the lone fisherman as unemployed recluse scholar (Fig. 1 & 2). Luo Bonian – whose courtesy name “Jun” meant “bamboo” – was born six years after the abolition of the civil service examinations, in the same year as the Xinhai Revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty. With little hope of following his father’s footsteps as a government official, could Luo’s choice of subject matter be a subtle way of expressing frustration, or perhaps endurance in light of uncertain times? Did he identify with the “yimin,” or “leftover subjects,” as generations of marginalized literati caught between two dynasties did before him? Or were the subjects of his work simply standard for photography enthusiasts at the time? A more thorough analysis of the iconography of Luo’s pictures will tell us about his relationship to the tropes of traditional Chinese painting, and more broadly, the mindset of an elite, educated man in the years immediately after the fall of imperial China.
A stylistic analysis of Luo Bonian’s works sheds light on an altogether different aspect of his photography. Aside from the images of the natural world, Luo also made highly unusual still lives and collages. Most of the still lives depict artfully arranged tableware, fruit, and machine parts, however some of Luo’s most famous images venture into the abstract. For example, Ji Weng or “Drawing Water from a Well,” published in Chinese Photography Magazine in 1934, depicts a crystal statuette of a woman set against bold, zigzag patterns (Fig. 3). Even more unusual is a series of untitled, unpublished collages featuring identical slices of architectural or organic details arranged around a central pivot to form symmetric, square compositions (Fig. 4). The still lives appear to be investigations of light and shadow in the style of German modernists like Albert Renger-Patzsch or Lotte Goldstern-Fuchs (Fig. 5), while the collages bear a striking resemblance to Margaret Watkin’s photographic designs for textile (Fig. 6). Luo could have seen all of these works in international publications like Das Deutsche Lichtbild, a German photography annual sold in Shanghai, or Pictorial Photographers of America, edited by Watkins. The reverse sides of these prints reveal experiments with exposure, layering of negatives, negative printing, and cut collage, which demonstrate that Luo’s interest in photography ventured beyond simply recording the natural world into explorations of the non-representational and performative processes of medium itself. More research needs to be conducted on the transmission of these new modernist techniques into China. What international journals, magazines, and other resources were available to amateur photographers like Luo Bonian? How did they help shape the ontological status of the photographic image in China during this period? Stylistic comparisons of photographs found in the publications, in addition to close readings of the accompanying texts, will provide us with a better means of tackling this question.
A third approach to Luo Bonian’s works is to focus on the socioeconomic status of the amateur photographer in Chinese society. Just a few years earlier, in 1927, the photographer and poet Liu Bannong published a treatise on the supremacy of art photography as a form of self-expression. In another article that same year, he defended the actions of the amateur as one who does something “purely for oneself,” rather than for any commercial, social, or even political interests. These texts circulated widely in the Beijing and Shanghai photographic communities and served to elevate the work of the amateur photographer to that of “fine art.” Their publication, along with the development of amateur photography societies, journals, and exhibitions in the late 1920s, point to a shift in bourgeois tastes and values, and perhaps even an increase in economic mobility. While Luo Bonian was not an active member of the Shanghai photo clubs, he did see himself as part of the greater photographic community, regularly submitting work to journals such as Fei Ying, Chinese Photography Magazine, Xian Xiang, and Kodak Magazine. In 1937, he and two colleagues from the bank organized a small exhibition of photographic works in either Shanghai or Hangzhou. The well-known literary editor and writer Yu Dafu wrote the calligraphy for the exhibition, titled Lianyi Yingzhan or the “Friendship Photography Exhibition,” and many surviving prints carry poetic inscriptions and remarks from the participants. By examining the inscriptions on Luo’s photographs, we can recreate the network of relationships and hierarchies that existed within this peer group. Who were Chen Lu, Cao Xiyu, and Zhao Zongding, and what can they tell us about class, leisure, and pro-social practices like gift exchange and calligraphic inscriptions? How did they relate to past, romantic notions of the amateur painter idealized by the literati? And how was the amateur photography community similar or different from other amateur societies of say, opera or poetry? Focusing on the social and economic circumstances of these amateur photographers would yield productive insights into concepts of class and taste during the Republican era and beyond.
As a photographer, Luo Bonian was by no means an avant-garde artist. But that’s precisely why his collection of photographs is important. Looking at Luo’s photographs through different lenses – iconographically, stylistically, or socio-economically – allows us to ask so many questions about life and society during the Republican era. I hope that, by elucidating some of these questions through various methodologies, I’ve been able to highlight some of the larger stakes in studying the amateur photography of early twentieth century China and make a case for its continued preservation and study.