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In Session: Imaginaries in Motion: Early Transnational Photography in and beyond Asia
2: Scopophilia and World's Fair Photographs: Books versus Stereographs
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Jung Joon Lee
Rhode Island School of Design, United States
Representations of non-Western pavilions and exhibits published in conjunction with world’s fairs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuryarecharged with European and North American interests—often colonial—in the Asia Pacific region. However, the photographs published in contemporaneous world’s fair books, such as those for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition and the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, largely emphasize the pavilions’architectural distinctions and the craftsmanship of the exhibited items; on the other hand, stereographs produced by individuals and photo studios showcase non-Western bodies. The divergent focus of the documentation of the fairssuggests a further analytical approach to the different forms of reproduction and circulation. This paper proposes that photographic reproductions of the 1876 and 1893 events offer two distinct visual practices for viewing Asian subjects: book publications versus stereographs. Focusing on the Smithsonian Institute’s collection of stereoscopic images and books published on world’s fairs, the paper examines the phenomenon in whichAsian bodies in situ, while largely excluded from the published books,were readily photographed and reproduced as stereographs. This practice is grounded in the ways that the optics of desire—especially the act of looking, that affirms the power of the viewer over the looked at—is amplified by the intimacy of handling the stereoscopic imagery. The paper argues that those representations of the Other deemed unfit for published books were ideal content for the stereographic form, ably fulfillingWestern scopophilic desires, vis-a-vis imperialist agendas, in its presentation and viewing of Asian bodies.