Sidney Gamble photos, housed at Duke University Libraries will be exhibited at the Capital Library of China in Beijing
(6 June 2013, Durham, NC) – A new exhibit of historical photographs at the Capital Library of China offers a rare glimpse of daily life in Beijing in the early 20th century, a turbulent period in Chinese history.
Beijing Through Sidney Gamble’s Camera will run June 16-30 and October 14-30 as part of the library’s centennial celebration this year. A public talk with the exhibit curators, Guo-Juin Hong and Luo Zhou of Duke University and Beijing specialist Han Pu, will take place from 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, June 19.
The exhibit is a joint project with the Duke University Libraries, which hold the originals of the photographs on display.
Photographs of China from the early 20th century are relatively uncommon. Of those images that survived the political upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, most were taken by foreign travelers whose photos returned home with them. Such was the case with the extensive amateur photographic work of renowned Princeton sociologist and China scholar Sidney Gamble (1890-1968).
Gamble took his first images of China in 1908 during a trip with his family. He returned three more times between 1917 and 1932 and continued photographing scenes of daily life while traveling throughout the country to collect data for socioeconomic surveys. The images he captured depict ordinary scenes of urban and rural life, architecture, religious statuary, public events, funerals, festivals and a cross-section of pre-revolutionary Chinese society.
Gamble visited China in the midst of its transition to a modern industrial nation. His photographs represent the way people of the time adapted to the emergence of modern institutions, such as hospitals, prisons and schools. These transitions were also marked by new modes of transportation and infrastructure that changed the Chinese landscape and way of life.
“This collection never stops fascinating me because of the wide scope of its subject matter and the variety of geographical locations covered,” said Luo Zhou, Chinese Studies librarian at Duke and one of the exhibit’s curators.
“As a sociologist, humanist and missionary, Gamble documented Chinese life and culture in a time when China was in turmoil,” Zhou said. “These carefully designed snapshots provide a great source to look into real life and real people in those turbulent years.”
Gamble also worked as secretary for the Beijing YMCA, helping to coordinate educational and social reform projects. His position gave him access to wide-ranging elements of Chinese society, and he built a close relationship with China and its people that is reflected in the intimacy of his photographs.
Gamble’s photos also document pivotal events in China’s history, such as the Thanksgiving celebration of the victory of World War I in 1918, the May Fourth Movement in 1919 and Sun Yat-sen’s funeral in 1925.
Gamble’s portfolio eventually grew to more than 5,000 images. A few of them appeared in his scholarly publications and lectures, but most were never exhibited during his lifetime. In fact, they were largely forgotten until 15 years after Gamble’s death. In 1984, Catherine Curran, Gamble’s daughter, discovered a trove of nitrate negatives in a closet in the family’s home in New York and hired an archivist to help preserve them. She then began the process of organizing them into albums.
In 1986, Curran established the Sidney D. Gamble Foundation for China Studies to provide for preservation and access to the photographs. An agreement to bring the Gamble collection to Duke was signed in March 2006. Gamble’s original photographs are now held in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke, and the entire collection of images has been digitized and is available online at http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gamble/.
The complete, illustrated announcement is here: http://today.duke.edu/2013/06/gambleexhibit