Hong Kong Baptist University Library holds 166 lantern slides and 59 glass and film negatives produced in the context of European and North American missionary endeavors from circa 1900 to 1930. Donated to the Library from the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Illinois, USA, by 1998 the slides have been used in teaching and research. Since 2003 they are digitized and shared online. The photographs were taken by members of the China Inland Mission known today as Overseas Missionary Fellowship International, which had been founded in 1865 by James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) in England and was active in China until 1950.
In the exhibition “Fragile Impressions”, we present a selection of 26 lantern slides and glass and film negatives from the “China through the Eyes of CIM Missionaries” HKBU Library Special Collection. The selection represents “Fragile Impressions” in two ways: fragility and flimsiness in physical condition and the very fragile and ephemeral nature of the photographed. Many of the photographs are either printed on or enclosed by brittle glass plates, some of which are heavily damaged. In addition, the images’ motifs are “fragile” and unstable. Many of the photographs appear to be records of everyday life and historic snapshots, but, as we see when we look more closely, were in fact staged for the camera.
This small educational exhibition was developed in relation to the two courses “The Anthropology of Art” and “Critical Studies in Lens Based Media” offered by the Academy of Visual Arts at the Hong Kong Baptist University in Fall 2017. Under the guidance of the instructors, students from both courses wrote museum labels for the lantern slides, glass and film negatives of their choices. Lectures, first-hand experience with the collection, and writing workshops were provided to the students and prepared them for an engagement with the special collection and its presentation to the public. All selected lantern slides and glass and film negatives are presented with two separate museum labels. The idea is to engage with emic and etic viewpoints: on the one hand the perspective of the people in the images, their “imagined lives” as based on an interpretation of their body language, attributes and other key elements; on the other hand, the photographic perspective and the view through the lens of the photographers, who were working on behalf of the China Inland Mission and contributed to the documentation of life in China from non-Chinese viewpoints. Each image presented in this exhibition has two museum labels which illustrate different approaches to the material as seen through the eyes of an ethnographer or as analyzed with a focus on lens-based media and technology.
Anna Grasskamp and Lee Wing Ki from the Academy of Visual Arts are grateful to Emily Hayes from Oxford Brookes University for authoring a label and granting copyright for the video shown in the gallery and to Wong Suk Mei from Special Collections and Archives for support and for sharing her knowledge.
Enquiry: firstname.lastname@example.org / 3411 2750