The Father of Asian Photography

Photography continues to give me so much joy. Often I never see where that joy may come from until it arrives and last week has been a perfect example of that.

While running a workshop in the north of Scotland, one of my clients - Anmeng - told me that my photography reminded her of a photographer from her homeland of China. She explained that Lang Jingshan's photographs almost feel like paintings, and she saw the same aesthetic in my own imagery. I was intrigued, because I know my influences well: Michael Kenna's work from China and Japan have made quite an impression on me and I think I've learned a great deal about composition from immersing myself in his beautiful work. So I had a hunch that what Anmeng was seeing in my own work, was perhaps Kenna's influence on me. 

  Drawing Water from the River at Dawn, 1934, photograph   by Lang Jingshan

Drawing Water from the River at Dawn, 1934, photograph by Lang Jingshan

After the workshop, Anmeng came round to show me some of the work she had been mentioning and also to tell me about some places in China that she thought I would really enjoy visiting. The conversation was very good and I felt I learned a bit more about China, but also, that I got to hear about a great photographer that I'd never heard of before.

The images you see in this post today were made by Lang Jingshan, who died in 1995 at the age of 103. He is considered to be the father of Asian photography by many.

Some of the work you see here dates from around the 1930's or earlier. I read up a bit about him today and discovered that he 'defined a style', which I feel is almost a photographic version of Chinese historical painting. It's very beautiful and I believe many of the images are the result of merging several negatives together in the darkroom. This is nothing new of course as photographers have been combining negatives and other such manipulations in their work since the dawn of photography. But I think there is a very eastern 'elegance' to the work shown here.

  Photograph   by Lang Jingshan

Photograph by Lang Jingshan

There's obviously a sense of romance, but also of space and delicate use of light and space in the work. I think I am a fan.

I had a look around to see if it's possible to buy some books of Lang Jingshan's work, but they are either out of print or simply impossible to get. Which is a real shame.

I'd like to know more, and continue to be inspired by what I see in his work. He makes me want to go to China now, and although I have no intention of copying the style, I can't help wonder what might come of spending time in some of the beautiful landscapes of China.

  Mooring in the Misty River at Night, 1937, photograph by Lang Jingshan

Mooring in the Misty River at Night, 1937, photograph by Lang Jingshan

As one thing leads to another, so to does inspiration move from one photographer to another. I believe that what my Chinese friend saw in my work, was Kenna's influence, and Kenna in turn, has been influenced by his study of Chinese art and other photographers. I know so because Michael told me of his love for another Chinese photographer who's work he has collected in the past.

  Photograph   by Lang Jingshan

Photograph by Lang Jingshan

Maybe these images look historical or old to you. Maybe you see the beauty in them that I see also. There's so much to be gained by learning about photographers, old as well as new. Sometimes work that was created long ago, is only interesting from a historical perspective, but it's also wonderful when something like Lang Jingshan's work leaps out at me and fills me with wonder. I think that's just such an amazing thing to happen: that we can be inspired by work that was created so long ago, and is, to most, long forgotten.

Many thanks to Anmeng Li for coming to Skye with me, and for sharing Lang Jingshan's work with me :-)