Performative Photography in Late Qing China: Capturing Women's Evolving Identities Amidst Treaty Ports and Global Interactions by Qiuzi GUO
Photography's advent in China during the Opium Wars set the stage for a significant cultural evolution. Within this context, the domestic space, traditionally reserved for women's activities, began incorporating this emerging medium. Women, often limited to their traditional roles, started actively engaging with photography, moving beyond the usual depictions and stereotypes. The performative nature of photography became a platform for them to experiment with diverse roles, challenging and reshaping gender norms. Recognizing this growing interest, studios, such as the renowned Pow Kee Photo Studio in Shanghai, tailored their offerings to cater to upper-class Chinese women. The enrichment of their photographic experiences captured the nuances of women's shifting roles and identities amidst the societal transformations of the era. Such a shift in studio photography empowered them to explore and express their multi-faceted identities, positioning photography as a medium of self-expression and entertainment. As the century unfolded, the trend signalled the broader democratization of photography, evolving it from a specialized art to a prevalent leisure activity.
The Art of Deceit: Lao Xie Xie and Contemporary Queer Photography by Maximilian LANGEFELD
This talk will examine the intersection of deception and queerness in contemporary Chinese photography and offer the first-ever scholarly analysis of the disgraced artist Lao Xie Xie老谢谢. Born in an impoverished village somewhere in Sichuan province, Lao Xie Xie made a living as a baozi maker before he was given a simple point-and-shoot camera by a friend in 2019 and started taking photographs. Despite his disadvantaged background, the self-taught artist managed to establish himself as a recognised photographer in record time. A true success story, one might think. Except that everything Lao Xie Xie told the world about his upbringing was pure fabrication. The Italian expatriate, who used to work in the creative industry in Shanghai, had been accused of many things after his true identity was revealed in October 2020, most severely of cultural appropriation. Yet a serious discussion about the idiosyncratic style of his photographs and their queer potential has been largely omitted in the public discourse. Is Lao Xie Xie a mere charlatan, who capitalised on minoritarian identities, or has he in fact paved the way for more queer representation in contemporary photography despite his deceitful behaviour? Based on a critical analysis of Lao Xie Xie’s œuvre, social media posts, interviews and photographs by queer artists Ren Hang 任航 (1987–2017) and Lin Zhipeng 林志鹏 (b. 1979), this talk will shed light on contemporary Chinese photography and reconsider deception as an inherently queer strategy that challenges the photographic canon.
Qiuzi GUO (Lecturer, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)
Qiuzi Guo is a Lecturer at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), where she offers courses on Art and Digital Culture. Alongside her teaching role at HKUST, she is involved as a Digital Humanities Specialist with the Digital Humanities Initiative. Her research primarily focuses on the history of Chinese photography, contemporary digital culture, and the digital adaptation of cultural heritage. Guo was affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut as a Postdoctoral Fellow. She holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Art History from Heidelberg University.
Maximilian LANGEFELD (DPhil Candidate, University of Oxford)
Maximilian Langefeld is a DPhil Candidate in History of Art at the University of Oxford, where he researches queer art and visual activism in the Sinophone sphere. His broader area of interest includes transculturation, postcolonial discourses and curatorial practices. Maximilian holds degrees in Contemporary Art & Art Theory (SOAS, University of London) and East Asian Studies (Heidelberg University). He is the author of several articles for DIG Into History and has previously held research positions at the National Trust, Sotheby’s in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His current research is generously supported by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation and the University of Oxford.