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Welcome to the first issue of the Trans-Asia Photography Review. We are pleased to be launching this new open access, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the discussion of photography from Asia, and look forward to it flourishing as a lively nexus of ideas and information. In this issue we are publishing commentaries on photography from China, Japan, Korea, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. We plan to expand this base, and welcome proposals for articles or curatorial projects on all topics related to photography in any part of Asia. By “Asia” we mean the nations traditionally encompassed by East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as other related regions. We intend the term “photography” to include photographs made or used for artistic, documentary, commercial, scientific, political or personal ends; via analog, digital or other imaging technologies. Though photographers from many countries have worked in Asia, we are especially interested in encouraging research and commentary on those who come from the region.
Photography was brought to Asia by Europeans and Americans soon after its invention in 1839. We have records of photographs being made in India as early as 1840 and in China by 1842. Since the mid 19th Century, photographers in Asia have run businesses, pursued artistic goals, and responded to surrounding events – both mundane and cataclysmic - thereby becoming actors in the unfolding of history.
Yet with all the richness and complexity of the photographic work made in Asia, there has been, until recently, little recognition of this work in international forums. If we look at the major histories of photography that have been written in or translated into English – the contemporary international language - we find only slight mention of photographers working in Asia and other non-Western locations.
The last two decades have seen a gradual change, coinciding with global shifts in economic power. Important books and exhibitions have detailed specific photographic histories in India, China, Japan and other areas, and historic scholarship about photography in Asia is developing. We are very pleased that several of the pioneering researchers responsible for this development have contributed to our first issue of the TAP Review.
At the same time, contemporary photography has been experiencing a recent growth spurt in many parts of Asia, and this work is reaching international audiences. The work of contemporary photographers from East and South Asia is now frequently exhibited in Western cultural centers, sometimes showcased as something out of the ordinary and sometimes quietly mixed with Western work. An increasing number of festivals and biennials in Asian locations also bring the work of Asian and Western photographers together. With images fluidly circulating in these forums and on the internet as well, several questions arise. In relation to what concepts and histories can photography from Asia be best understood? Is the cultural context of a photograph integral to its meaning? Is a trans-national history of photography possible?
For the first issue of the TAP Review, we have sent versions of these questions to a group of 13 thinkers - art historians, anthropologists, curators, artists, theorists and critics based in the U.S. the U.K., Japan, Taiwan, Korea, India and the Philippines. We have published their stimulating and diverse responses here, and hope that these responses will establish a basis for continuing discussion.
In this first issue we have also set out a template for future issues which includes articles, book reviews (along with an annotated list of recent publications), curatorial projects, essays translated into English from Asian languages, a regular section (“Focal Point”) featuring non-profit institutions which encourage or preserve photography in Asia, summaries of academic symposia and links to relevant websites.
For our first curatorial project, photography curator and TAP Editorial Board member Alexander Supartono has brought together the work of three Jakarta-based photographers in a project entitled “Mohammad and Me”. In response to Supartono’s question, “What does it look like to live in the world’s largest Muslim country?” each photographer offers an individual and idiosyncratic view from within Indonesian society.
Essays will represent a range of scholarly approaches. For instance, in this first issue, Nina Hien’s personal meditation on the retouching (sometimes manual, sometimes digital) of family/ancestor photographs in Vietnam is a fine example of imaginative scholarship. Kinoshita Noayuki’s essay, on the other hand, is a detailed historical examination of the photographic/pictorial magazines which flourished in early 20th century Japan, beginning , as he proves, much earlier than was previously thought. We are delighted to be able to make this essay available in English, thanks to the work of translator of Honda Erumi.
Reviews and Resources Editor Raymond Lum will regularly write an annotated column “Recent Publications of Note” and also coordinates our links to digital archives and other sites of interest. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions of not-for-profit websites, publications and events that you think should be included. In addition, the “Focal Point” section of the journal will be coordinated by Contributing Editor Abby Robinson. Our current issue features her article on the important and unique Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Beijing; other organizations will be profiled in future issues.
A large number of people have been essential to the launching of the TAP Review. Sheila Pinkel, ever aware of the creative possibilities of technology, suggested starting an online journal in the first place. Ralph Hexter, president of Hampshire College, was an enthusiastic supporter from the beginning. Aaron Berman, Alan Goodman and Norm Holland have also lent important institutional assistance at Hampshire, while Mary Malo and Jean Sepanski have dealt graciously with the details of budget. Peter Harrington and Beth Carmichael provided crucial legal and risk management advice. Sura Levine, experienced with online journals, has been extraordinarily generous with her expertise. David Velleman inspired me with the elegant simplicity of his publishing model and suggested that I contact the University of Michigan Library Scholarly Publishing Office, where Maria Bonn, Kevin Hawkins and Becky Welzenbach skillfully and cheerfully worked out the specifics of our collaboration. Zinj Guo and Michele Turre, web designers extraordinaire, have flexibly consulted at every stage of production and designed the beautiful journal home page. Many individuals active in the publishing world, among them Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Eve Sinaiko, Betty Leigh Hutcheson, Joe Hannan, Ralph Faulkingham, Liz Hanssen, Pamela Grant-Ryan, Dominic McIver Lopes and Petra Chu have taken time out of their busy schedules to give me essential advice and respond to my questions. Our stellar editorial board has contributed greatly to the success of the first issue; I am especially grateful to Christopher Phillips, Raymond Lum, Young Min Moon, David Odo, Abby Robinson, Alex Supartono and Ajay Sinha for their substantial contributions. Anne Tucker, pioneer in cross-cultural photographic projects, has been extremely generous with her ideas and contacts, as was Yasufumi Nakamori, Jane Debevoise, Joan Lebold Cohen, Michiko Kasahara, Nancy Goldring, Heejin Kim, Jamason Chen, Eve Tam, Gael Newton, Bill Johnston, Richard Vine, Wawi Navarroza, Taro Amano, Luke Gartlan, Angel Shaw, Sudhir Mahadevan, Sandhini Poddar, Doreen Lee, Wong Wo Bik, Joseph Fung, Jean Loh, Laura Wexler, Gerry Pryor, Brown Kennedy, Tom Rohlich, Sam Morse, Doris Bargen, Edwin Lai, Ann Schoenfeld, Cecily Cook, Terry Bennett, Melissa Chiu, Howard French, and Zhang Li. Hampshire College students Jiemin Liao and Benjamin Turk lent their energy and linguistic expertise to the project. My heartfelt thanks go out to all these people and the many others, including my wonderful family, who have helped the TAP Review come into being.
The study of photography from Asia is a new and growing scholarly field. We see the Trans-Asia Photography Review in part as a means to build a worldwide, interdisciplinary network of interested individuals. We look forward to working together with you, our readers, and to receiving your feedback.