This talk studies photographs that subtly disrupt the classification of portraits and self-portraits. These are studio portraits that bear the sitters’ inscriptions. Using a group of images related to the “queue-cutting” movement in early 20th-century China as examples, Wu Hung suggests that when an inscription is imbued with a distinct “I” voice and expresses the sitter’s personal feeling, experience, and aspiration, it transforms the anonymous portrait into a “self-image.” This case study further leads us to contemplate on photography’s role in facilitating such transformation.
Wu Hung, a member of the American Academy of Art and Science, is a well-known art historian, critic, and curator. Currently he holds the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professorship at the Department of Art History and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, and is also the director of the Center for the Art of East Asia and the Consulting Curator at the Smart Museum at the same university. He sits on many international committees including Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council, and chairs the Academic Committees of OCT Contemporary Art Terminal and Yuz Museum. He is the author and editors of more than 20 books and anthologies on traditional and contemporary Chinese art; the most recent ones include A Story of Ruins: Presence and Absence in Chinese Art and Visual Culture(2012), Contemporary Chinese Art: A History (2014) and Zooming In: Histories of Chinese Photography (2016).