Power and Perspective: Early Photography in China (Peabody Essex Museum, on view through April 2, 2023)


Power and Perspective: Early Photography in China explores how the camera transformed the way we imagine China. Photography’s development as a new form of art and technology in the 19th century coincided with profound changes in the way China engaged with the world. The medium evolved in response to war, trade, travel, and a desire for knowledge about an unfamiliar place.

The exhibition features 130 photographs in dialogue with paintings, decorative arts, and prints drawn largely from PEM’s outstanding collections with select loans from public and private collections. Power and Perspective provides a rich account of the exchanges between photographers, artists, patrons and subjects in treaty port China, offering a vital reassessment of the colonial legacy of the medium. By calling attention to the power dynamics at play, the exhibition sheds light on photography as an inherently social medium that continues to shape our perspectives today.

A major publication, distributed by Yale University Press, accompanies the exhibition.

Power and Perspective: Early Photography in China is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Dr. Edward G. Tiedemann Jr., the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Additional generous support was provided by Stephan Loewentheil, Henry Birdseye Weil and Ann Uppington, Xiaohua Zhang and Quan Zhou, the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, the Blakemore Foundation, Robert and Bobbie Falk and two anonymous donors. Thank you to PEM supporters Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation and the individuals who support the Exhibition Incubation Fund: Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O’Neil, and Henry and Callie Brauer. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

The exhibition catalogue can be found here