Terry Bennett has written a three-volume history of photography in China in the nineteenth century. He has previously shared a chapter about early Chinese photographers in Hong Kong, and today he is back with two chapters about the Western photographers.
The first chapter documents the very first commercial photographers in Hong Kong, starting with Mr George West. Sadly, none of his photos are known to have survived, but his watercolours remain as evidence of his abilities:
Fig. 7. George R. West. ‘Chinese Blacksmiths. Macao,’ 1840s.
Watercolour. Caleb Cushing Papers, Manuscript Division,
Library of Congress.
West sailed to China in 1843 as part of Caleb Cushing’s diplomatic mission from America. He was given the title "Artist to the Expedition".
After China and America signed the Treaty of Wanghia, the diplomat's work was done. West could have sailed home with him, but instead stayed on. That decision led to him becoming the first commercial photographer in China, starting out in Canton in 1844, but moving to Hong Kong soon after:
Mr West begs leave to inform the inhabitants of Victoria that he has opened a Photographic or Daguerreotype Room in Peel Street, near Queen’s Road. His room will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Single miniatures $3. $2 charged for each additional head in a group.
China Mail, 6th March 1845.
Sketching was his first love, so he went back in to China to continue his work. He tried his best to travel unnoticed:
... he was obliged to disguise himself and adopt the Chinese costume and habits. Having a clear olive complexion, dark eyes and hair, his transformation was complete. Securing the services of a faithful native servant, and generally affecting to be deaf and dumb, Mr West wandered for seven long years through various parts of the Chinese Empire, visiting places never before seen or known to Europeans.
But sometimes even his best precautions weren't enough: <Read more ...>