Sunday, 27 February 2011

Joseph F. C. Rock: Western China

Photo © Joseph Francis Charles Rock
Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884 – 1962) was an Austrian-American explorer, botanist, and anthropologist. For more than 25 years, he traveled extensively through Tibet and Yunnan, Gansu, and Szechuan provinces in China before finally leaving in 1949.

His travels in Western China is featured by On Shadow, and I thought I'd show the gallery of his more than 275 photographs made in the 1920s. It's always fascinating to me to view photographs made during these early years of photography, which required lugging heavy cameras and large amounts of developing chemicals. What we present-day photographers carry is a mere trifle of what these photographers had to schlep. They certainly had porters to do it for them, but imagine the difficulties this still was, as well as having to develop the films in situ.

For those of you who are patient and interested enough to scroll through the 275 images, you'll notice one that is captioned as "Lamas with trumpets, drums, and cymbals chanting the prelude to the Black Hat Dance in front of the main chanting hall at Cho-ni Lamasery" and was taken in December 1925. Compare it with contemporary photographs of Bhutan's Black Hat dances at its tsechus, and you'll realize that not much has changed.

On Shadow is primarily run by Nicholas Calcott, and was founded in January 2008, originally as the blog arm of the publisher 12th Press. It presents projects and essays from invited scholars and artists.