Walking in Panorama: The Photographic Shanghai Bund in Kung Tai’s Accordion Albums

Tingting Xu, University of Chicago

 

Of all the magnificent panoramas of the Shanghai Bund photographed by foreign and Chinese studios at the end of nineteenth century as treaty port souvenirs, the accordion-fold views produced by the Kung Tai studio are the most remarkable ones because of their extraordinary length, exquisite quality, and unique mode of mounting. In this essay, drawing on the landscapes painted by Gong Xian (1618-1689) and Robert Havel, Jr. (1793-1878), alongside the engraved riverscapes published by rival newspapers in London in the 1840s, I attempt to uncover a global trend in experimentation on the particular medium of accordion album up to Kung Tai’s time and the underlying views on its defining characteristics shared by Chinese and European painters and photographers. I will argue about the hybrid nature of the sources of Kung Tai’s work and the photographer’s unprecedented cleverness in adapting the format of the accordion album to come up with a distinctively Chinese solution for understanding and representing a foreign-originated, modern city landscape with direct correspondence to its geographical features.