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The following article reviews a collection of photography on view at an exhibition named The Story of Light and Shadow: 20th Century Chinese Photography from Huang Jianpeng's Collection at the National Art Museum of China. Though an exhibition on Chinese photography, it included a sizable collection of Tibet-related photographs taken by early Han Chinese photographers during the early 20th century. Through a brief review of existing scholarship on photography of Tibet and a close reading of the works of Zhuang Xueben, one of the earliest Han Chinese photographers who took photos in Tibetan regions, we see how images produced during the early 20th century in Tibet are coded with layered agencies and complex motivations. Preliminarily contextualizing Zhuang Xueben’s photo-taking aspirations, I argue that early photographers of Tibet are embodiments of complex, overlapping and if not yet incongruous motivations – a complication of their own independent perspectives and professional responsibilities under the larger contextual influence from the society and its aspirations.
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