Remediating “Interior Landscape”: Chinese Lyrical Tradition and Modern Photography

This paper engages the debate concerning the hybrid intermedial quality of art photography in order to show how visual verisimilitude and literary imagination interact in early twentieth-century China. With an awareness of the limits of directly referencing the world, amateur photographers in the 1920s merged the traditional idea of beautiful, poetic scenes and landscapes with pictorial photographic visions. Motivated by the desire for idealism and aesthetic resonance, these photographers treat photographic landscapes less as a resemblance to the real world, but more as a new tool for constructing the ideal scene, capturing the ultimate “truth” in idealistic terms.  This paper first offers a brief summary of different critical views on key ideas in early art photography. Photography’s myth of transparency and objectivity has been challenged and negotiated by scholars and practitioners such as Liu Bannong (1891-1934), who draw on substantial ideas of Chinese lyricism to understand the medium’s representational power. It then turns to considering examples of how traditional aesthetic ideas were involved in adopting and indigenizing this foreign medium, a practice captured by the combined image of the “brush and shutter.”



  • East Asian Studies