Politics of Landscape Photography in East Asia

Title: 1084 | Politics of Landscape Photography in East Asia
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Jeehey Kim, University of Arizona, United States (organizer, chair, presenter)
Anne Kuo-An Ma, NYU Shanghai, China (presenter)
Kathy Mak, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong (presenter)
Yoshiaki Kai, University of Niigata, Japan (presenter)
Quincy Ngan, Yale University, United States (discussant)


This panel explores the ways in which landscape photography involves national identity as well as a discourse on photographic genres in East Asia during the postwar period. Professional photographers in countries, such as China, Korea, and Taiwan, engaged themselves in creating images of local views, while consciously aware of a mode of visualizing a new national identity. At the same time, amateur photographers actively participated in creating and challenging the genre of landscape photography in Japan. This panel aims to address various modes and imaginaries of landscape in East Asia from the 1950s to the 1990s. The speakers ruminate on how photographs and picture magazines have served to structure a collective identity with ideological or post/colonial implications. Architectural photographs and images made by amateur photographers raise a question on what makes landscape photography a genre in the region. The experience of Japanese colonialism plays a crucial role in creating a postcolonial genre of photography both in Taiwan and Korea. The Cold War and legacies of colonialism obviously affected how the genre of landscape photography was interpreted and consumed in the region. The panel attempts to present a comparative view toward landscape photography in the postwar East Asia through looking at diverse practices of photography.

Panel Abstracts:
Nostalgia and Landscape Photography in South Korea
This paper explores the ways in which landscape photography structures nostalgic nationalism during the 1960 and ‘70s in South Korea. Photographers created works depicting rural areas that were on the verge of disappearance due to the government-led project of modernization called New Village Movement (Sae’maeul Undong) in the period, while actively engaging multiple projects to structure essentialist identity of Korea through keeping records of heritage and tradition. Cultural essentialism was actively sought out both by pro-government/ military dictatorship and by anti-Park Chung Hee regime groups of people. This paper addresses how landscape photography created nostalgic sentiment at the time when different groups of people imagined new or alternative national identity of Korea, while the genre had a strong resonance with the photographic practice of the Japanese colonial period. In particular, the nostalgic landscape photographs of the 1960s and ‘70s shared many elements of the photographs of the 1930s as the Korean photographers had been trained of their techniques and styles during the Japanese colonial period. I will focus on the photographers, such as Woon-gu Kang and Myung-duk Joo, who worked for major picture magazines, including Space and Deep Rooted Tree.

Portraying (De-)Coloniality: Ethnologic Science and the Technologies for Ethnic Documentation in 1950s Taiwan
This study examines the ways in which concepts for “nationality” and “ethnicity” were “reinvented” through ethnographic images and ethnologic science—as discipline and discourse—produced and established in 1950s Taiwan. For more than half a century, post-1949 Taiwan history is primarily confined to the realm of postcolonial studies which is largely demarcated by the convoluted narratives of Kuomintang’s (Nationalist Party) political indoctrination of Chinese nationalism, the diasporic story of the fleeing/relocated Chinese “mainlanders,” and the politics of Taiwan “indigeneity” that were further re-structured in the aftermath of Japanese colonialization. In other words, caught between these narratives that have been overwhelmingly articulated as discourses of nationalism, is a forgotten history that premises upon an isolated, desperate regime, its rising rivalry (Chinese Communist Party), and the emerging global order reshaped by the Cold War. To start with, the KMT regime utilized the colonial archive of ethnologic and ethnographic data it inherited from the colonial government, and a group of mainland historians, ethnologists and anthropologists also began compiling their own studies on ethnicity in Taiwan. Using news stories, journal articles and the visual and textual reports from the field trips the Chinese anthropologists took in Taiwan during the 1950s, this study looks at how the post-1949 discourses for “Chinese nationality” and pre-1949 legacy for “ethnologic science” fueled part of the current notions for “nationality” and “ethnicity” in Taiwan as well as modern East Asia. Ultimately, this study proposes to review the relationship between visual technology and ethnologic science vis-à-vis the modern regimes of coloniality.

Obsession with Speed and Scale: Architectural Photography and the Articulation of the Chinese Socialist Modernity in China Pictorial (1950 – 1976)
The Mao’s era (1949 – 1976) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was a critical yet often overlooked era in the study of the human’s impact on the earth’s surface. Seeking to radically modernize its nation’s industry and economy, the socialist state executed all over its territory a wide range of infrastructure projects, ranging from national hydroelectric dams and reservoirs, interregional railways, train stations, and brand-new residential complex. How did the nationwide blossoming of those monumental buildings spoke to its viewers? How did the socialist state appropriate those structures to reconfigure the spatial and power relationship between humans and their living environment? This research investigates the Chinese socialist architectural photography published by the PRC-run periodical, Renmin huabao 人民畫報 (hereafter China Pictorial), from the early 1950s through 1976. Specifically, I examine how the journal’s photographers employed a repertoire of visual devices to articulate a sense of the Chinese socialist modernity, epitomized by tis slogan, “shidai jingshen” 時代精神 (the spirit of the era). These include the use of (1) intrusive oblique line, (2) radical scale and proportion, and (3) artificial geometric form to glorify the human’s powers to control nature. Ultimately, I argue that this photographic practice was traceable to the similar technique of the Stalin Period of the Soviet Union from the 1930s through the early 1950s. These photographs succeeded in serving as a critical state apparatus in conceptualizing the human’s invincible powers over the nature.

Landscape as a Popular Genre of Japanese Amateur Photography
The growth of the Japanese photographic industry has been sustained by (mostly male) photo enthusiasts sporting their expensive SLR cameras, who have spent a large amount of money on photographic equipment. One of the most popular genres among these serious amateurs is landscape photography (fūkei shashin). There are numerous photography contests devoted to this genre, and mainstream camera magazines, such as Asahi Camera, regularly carry how-to articles for readers who want to take “good” landscape photographs. A few Japanese photographers whose work can be categorized within the landscape genre, such as Shibata Toshio and Hatakeyama Naoya, have received international attention. Contrary to their works, which explore the outcomes of human intervention on the natural environment, landscape photographs taken by amateurs tend to depict nature as pristine as possible, often by selecting predictable subjects such as autumn leaves reflected in the lake surface, or snow-covered mountains. Despite its importance in Japanese photographic culture, amateur landscape photography as a genre has rarely been mentioned in the literature on the history of Japanese photography. My presentation examines amateur landscape photographs published in photography magazines in the 1990s as well as those works by professional photographers admired by amateurs. I will argue that, even though their nominal subject was Japanese nature, the aesthetics of amateur landscape photographs was influenced by postwar advertising photography in Japan, which, inspired by its American counterpart, used vivid colors as a symbol of prosperity and optimism

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