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‘Darwent Revisited: Shanghai now and then’ – photography exhibition

The Historical Photographs of China (HPC) project and Special Collections present a pop-up exhibition, ‘Darwent Revisited: Shanghai now and then’, in the Foyer of the Arts & Social Sciences Library, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol. The exhibition which features photographs by Jamie Carstairs (Digitisation Officer, Special Collections) and by the Reverend Charles Ewart Darwent, minister of the Union Church Shanghai (新天安堂) from 1899-1919, coincides with the Chinese New Year, fraught as it is this year.

Jamie Carstairs was inspired by the Revd C.E. Darwent’s Shanghai: A Handbook for Travellers and Residents (1904; 2nd ed. 1920). Jamie went on a first-time visit to Shanghai in May 2011, with the idea of exploring how the city might be photographed if Darwent’s instructions in his 1904 handbook about what, where and when to photograph, were followed today. Moreover, rather than simply follow them to the letter, the aim was to photograph the city in the spirit of the guidebook’s hints – inspiration was also found in Darwent’s own photographs.

Portrait of moustachioed Revd C. E. Darwent, Eastern Sketch, vol. 1, No. 6 (1904).

Portrait of moustachioed Revd C. E. Darwent, Eastern Sketch, vol. 1, No. 6 (1904).

The Yorkshireman was a leading light in the Shanghai Amateur Photographic Society, which was active on and off, with some long off periods, between 1902 and about 1924. His handbook showcases some of his work, and until an album of his original prints came to light in 2009, annotated by the man himself, the Handbook’s grainy shots were all we had. All the prints from the album are on the HPC site. After the demolition of the Shanghai city walls, Darwent predicted, in the 1920 edition of his Handbook, ‘…as time goes on, old Chinese life will assert itself … So that, as the old life masters the new conditions, the photographers of the future may hope still to find subjects’.

A woman selling a children’s toy, Nanjing Road, Shanghai, May 2011. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

A woman selling a children’s toy, Nanjing Road, Shanghai, May 2011. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

This is not a definitive exhibition of contemporary Shanghai. It is a personal response to a vibrant, colourful city, informed by the hints and suggestions, as well as the confident partisanship, of a mentor from the past. Charles Ewart Darwent died in Tianjin in 1924, five years after leaving the city with which his name has become so firmly associated, and far from the town of his birth, and the city of Hull, where he had first made his name as Minister of the harbour-side Fish Street Church.

A Foochow pole junk, with a full cargo of poles, Shanghai, c.1902. Photograph by Charles Darwent. HPC ref: Da01-21.

A Foochow pole junk, with a full cargo of poles, Shanghai, c.1902. Photograph by Charles Darwent. HPC ref: Da01-21.

Darwent Revisited was first exhibited in 2013 and was funded by the AHRC and the British Academy. This blog is a close copy of one by Robert Bickers, posted in February 2013 on http://visualisingchina.net/blog/.

The current exhibition is on until Friday 31st January 2020.

新年快樂 Happy new year