Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato's Photographs of China
Accompanying the British Army during its decisive foray into China in 1860, Felice Beato (1820-1907) was the first photographer to document a military campaign in progress. He captured not only the immediacy of war, the aftermath of battle, and strategic military positions, but also the sumptuous new Summer Palace (seen by few Chinese and even fewer foreigners) before its destruction by the British. His photographic record of the Second Opium War consisted of approximately one hundred images, including a number of panoramic views, which survive in the form of private albums originally compiled by British officers as a record of their victorious campaign. One such album, now in the collection of Jane and Michael Wilson, is presented here.
In addition to providing a strikingly beautiful glimpse of nineteenth-century China, these images also reveal how photography functioned as an integral component of British imperialism by shaping perceptions about a distant country and its culture. Essayist David Harris provides an overview of Beato's work in China, and his extensive catalog notes describe and contextualize each of the photographs.
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