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Conceptualizing an alternative to the Rieglian analyses of the correlation between power and composition in group portraiture, this article proposes a ritualistic approach to understanding the group photo and its commemorative purpose. The proposal is raised through a case study of the photograph of Tohoro Duanfang (1861-1911) and an assembly of scholarly officials with the altar bronzes in his collection. Despite the obscurity of time and location, the photograph has been widely published in books on Chinese ancient bronzes and the culture of collecting. This article dates, decodes, and contextualizes this image within the imperial tradition of reinstating ancient bronzes in Confucius worship. It also discusses photography’s primacy in the late Qing antiquarian praxis of studying, cataloguing, and displaying bronzes. Meanwhile, this study demonstrates that the process of taking a group photo consists of a composite ritualistic event in which a "pro-photographic" event is imbricated with a "photographic event." This imbricated flow of event and ritual may shed light on understandings of group photos with an intelligibility that is not visual, but temporal.
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Talks in this series will be followed by discussion, including a Q&A session with the audience.
Chair: Meredith Gamer, Assistant Professor of Art History
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- Fellow Tingting Xu Lecturer in Art History Columbia University