Lai Fong: Photographer of China

Rare early photographs of China by the Chinese photographer Lai Fong, from the Loewentheil Photography of China Collection, will be exhibited for the first time at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.
This exhibition introduces viewers to the work of Lai Fong, arguably the most ambitious and successful photographer of nineteenth-century China.

Lai established his studio in Hong Kong around 1870, and over the next twenty years built a towering reputation on his illustrious clientele, impressive product range, and a catalog of views of his rapidly changing country “larger, choicer, and more complete… than any other in the Empire.” Managed by his son and daughter-in-law after his death, his studio persisted into the 1940s, an instance of remarkable longevity in a famously difficult field.

The exhibition brings together almost fifty images, many of which have never been previously published or exhibited, suggesting them as emblematic of one of the nineteenth century’s most significant, and significantly overlooked, photographic careers. They are drawn primarily from the singular collection of Stephan Loewentheil, JD ’75, who over three decades has assembled one of the world’s foremost collections of early photographs of China. Other lenders to the exhibition include the Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Getty Research Institute.

This exhibition was curated by Kate Addleman-Frankel and Stacey Lambrow. Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography at the Johnson Stacey Lambrow, Curator of the Loewentheil Photography of China Collection. It is supported in part by the Helen and Robert J. Appel Exhibition Endowment.

In addition to the exhibition in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Lai Fong and Thomas Child: Photographs of Late Qing Dynasty Chinese Street Life will be held in the Rotunda Gallery in the Rare and Manuscript Collection at Cornell University Libraries, Ithaca, New York, February 6 – April 18, 2020.

Lai Fong and Thomas Child: Photographs of Late Qing Dynasty Chinese Street Life is the first exhibition devoted to 19th-century photographs of street life in Chinese cities. The show will feature images of the streets of Beijing and Hong Kong by the 19th-century master photographers Lai Fong and Thomas Child. Street photography has evolved as a unique and enduring art form since photography’s invention in the second half of the 19th century. Both Lai Fong and Thomas Child created systematic photographic portfolios of the Chinese cities in which they lived and worked. Each of their portfolios contained some of the earliest photographs of Chinese street scenes. 

Lai Fong (c.1839–1890): Photographer of China

Cornell University, Johnson Museum of Art,
7 February 2020 – 14 June 2020

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