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A snapshot of Shanghai, past and present, marks Chinese New Year

One of Charles Darwent’s photos from 1904, captioned ‘Where did you get that hat?’

One of Charles Darwent’s photos from 1904, captioned ‘Where did you get that hat?’

One of Jamie Carstairs’ photos from 2011, also captioned ‘Where did you get that hat?

One of Jamie Carstairs’ photos from 2011, also captioned ‘Where did you get that hat?

Press release issued: 7 February 2013

A unique collection of photographs, comparing modern-day Shanghai with a snapshot of the city portrayed in a guidebook from 1904, is being exhibited as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Bristol this weekend. The special pop-up exhibition, entitled ‘Darwent revisited: Shanghai then and now’, is being shown at Bristol Museum on Saturday [9 February] and at M Shed on Sunday. It promises to be a visual feast, showing how the world’s most populated city has changed over the past century.

The special pop-up exhibition, entitled ‘Darwent revisited: Shanghai then and now’, is being shown at Bristol Museum on Saturday [9 February] and at M Shed on Sunday. It promises to be a visual feast, showing how the world’s most populated city has changed over the past century.

Photographer Jamie Carstairs, a Digitization Officer at the University of Bristol, followed in the footsteps of local church leader Revd Charles Darwent who wrote a book instructing tourists where to get the best shots of the city and to capture Chinese life in 1904 – a time when Shanghai was making the transition to becoming one of Asia's busiest and most important ports.

It’s part of the Visualising China project, which is a virtual online archive of Chinese life and gives users the opportunity to explore and interact with more than 8,000 digitised photos of China taken between 1850 and 1950.

Jamie’s inspiration came courtesy of a local woman from Bristol who brought in a cherished album of Darwent’s own original photographs when she heard about the ‘Picturing China’ exhibition at the Grant Bradley Gallery, Bedminster, in 2009.

The happy coincidence meant that Jamie could visit Shanghai not only with the guidebook in mind but also with Darwent’s own annotated photos and comprehensive advice.

He said: “It was fascinating to see the life of the city through his eyes, his camera lens, and then through mine.   For about 10 days, I pounded the pavements, juggling old and new maps and guidebooks, compass and camera kit, notes and quotes, ticking off the touristic spots of Darwent's day, and reflecting on the changes a hundred years have wrought.

“Shanghai is kind to photographers – the 20 million inhabitants are always up to something. People seemed utterly indifferent to the presence of the camera.”

The exhibition explores relationships between Darwent’s guidebook text, the photos Jamie took and Darwent’s own photographs. There will also be archive images from the Historical Photographs of China collections.

Professor Robert Bickers, historian and Project Director, said: “Our project depends on the generosity of families who let us see such family treasures, and make them available for people all over the world. They are not simply historic relics: as Jamie's photographs show, they can help us see afresh the world around us today.”

Support for the exhibition comes from Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through the British Inter-university China Centre.

  • The exhibition will run from 10am to 5pm at the Bristol Museum on Saturday and M Shed on Sunday. To find out more about the celebrations to celebrate the Year of the Snake, please see the Bristol City Council website.
  • For more information about the free activities taking place at M Shed to mark Chinese New Year on Sunday, please see here. The University of Bristol Lion Dance Troupe will also be performing at 12noon and 4pm, plus the University of Bristol Chinese Students and Scholars Association will be hosting an interactive stall where people can learn about Chinese New Year and Chinese antiquities, have a go at calligraphy and discover the world of imperial Mandarin scholars.