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China and Inner Asia
Reconstructing the Visual Reality of Dunhuang with Photography: The James and Lucy Lo’s Archive and its Afterlife in Taiwan in the 1950s-1960s
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Toronto, Canada
Dunhuang caves (Dunhuang, China), the ancient Buddhist site in Northwestern China, are captured with photography from the early 1900s onwards. Previous scholarship has used various photo archives by foreign or Chinese photographers to reconstruct Dunhuang artifacts’ appearances in the past. While recent studies discuss these archives in different cultural contexts, including colonial circumstances or photography developments, the visual reality of Dunhuang mediated through photography is rarely examined. Focusing on James and Lucy Lo’s photographic archive, especially its adoption in Taiwan, this paper points to the visual truth captured in Lo’s photos, which is continued to be pursued in mural copies and world’s fairs. While the context of archaeological research in Dunhuang in the 1940s results in the pursuit of visual truth in Lo’s photos, the emerging of a historical museum in Taiwan in the 1950s leads to a mural copying project, painted on gallery walls based on the photos to reconstruct a vivid cave space. Additionally, with showcasing copies rather than photos, photography is re-discussed at the New York World’s fair 1964-65 regarding the presentation of authentic Dunhuang artifacts. Revolving around visual reality, this paper aims to highlight photography’s role in mediating the Dunhuang artifacts far away from the site.