Recollects My Great-Grandfather Luo Bonian
My great grandfather Luo Bonian (also known as Luo Jun) was born in a family of country government official in Hangzhou, Zhejiang in March 1911. As the name “Bo” suggested (according to Chinese tradition of naming their children), he was the oldest brother in the family. 1911 was an important year in Chinese history. In November, Xinhai Revolution overthrew the governance of the Qing Government in Hangzhou. However, my great grandfather seemed be immune to the overwhelming change in the outer world. In 1932, he graduated from Hangzhou Business College at age of 21, and then was successfully admitted by Zhejiang Commercial Bank, working as an accountant in this emerging industry and starting his career as a banker.
Hangzhou, a middle-sized city near to the international metropolis Shanghai, attracted a great number of photographers during the period of the Republic of China for its physically beautiful scenery in the West Lake. Maybe it started from the time when my great grandfather begin to work; like famous photographers such as Zhuang Xueben and Wu Yinbo who also worked in bank, and influenced by the middle classes he socialized with in the financial community, he, with his good command of English language, found his after-work pleasure in the art of photography, which was considered as a sort of fashionable, costly activity in those days. Upon reviewing the remaining pictures among his works, it can be calculated that the West Lake, Lan River, Yandang Mountain and Lanke Mountain within Zhejiang Province were his most frequented places.
He was admitted by Hangzhou Branch, Bank of China in 1934, and sent to Lanxi Branch to work as an internship. One year later, he was transferred to Shanghai Administrative Office due to his outstanding performance. During his stay in Shanghai, he received the rapidest progress in the profession of photography. That should be attributed to the international vision and convenient international exchange of the city, which greatly accelerated the mutual communication and interaction among photography enthusiasts.
The year of 1937 witnessed the most important photo exhibition “Friendship” in his life, which was held in Shanghai and inscribed by Yu Dafu in person. In those existing large-sized silver-salt works, some were inscribed by a number of learned scholars and friends in art and political circle during the period of the Republic of China, including Yu Dafu, Chen Lu (also known as Chen Zhishi), Cao Xiyu (also known as Cao Jingtao) and Zhao Zongding, and some were inscribed by himself, which were left from the exhibition. As a banker, he spent most of his time and energy in photography. According to all the available information, Ji Weng and Berthing in Lan River at Night were collected in the 10th issue of Flying Hawk in 1936, Ji Weng collected in Chinese Photography Magazine, New Prospect, Great Ambition and Duckweed collected in photography magazine and pictorial, such as Special Collection of Fine Art Photography.
With the outbreak of Anti-Japanese War, since 1938 he began to be assigned to branches of Bank of China in different regions including Hong Kong, Chongqing and Chengdu, and returned to Shanghai in 1946 when the war was over. Although always working in banks in Kuomintang-controlled areas, and drifting about during the years of war, he never stopped photographic creation. Most of his works during this period focused on indoor still life, abstract photography and some experiment. During the eight years of shifting from place to place around the world with his whole family, he carried along with him his exhibition works over the years, a lot of negative films, foreign photographic materials, photographic yearbooks and pictorials, which he saw as the most precious treasure.
His photographic style received both domestic and foreign influences. On the one hand, his works were influenced by salon photography and Chinese traditional pictorial photography in Kuomintang-controlled areas where he was living; on the other, his long-time experience of working and living in two international metropolises Hong Kong and Shanghai provided him with access to first-hand photographic news in Europe and America, which also brought the great impact from modernistic photography in America and Germany to his works. That’s why his works take on the feature of German modernistic photography. It was quite an advanced and unique style in the period of the Republic of China, which was different from the style of some photographers at that time, such as famous Lang Jingshan.
After the liberation in 1949, he stayed in China mainland and was engaged in the rebuilding of head office, and was transferred to Beijing. Due to the limitation of economic conditions and lack of photographic materials, he quitted from this profession after the establishment of new China, and applied for permission to be transferred to Hangzhou, his hometown in 1951. For all the time, he took this profession as an amateur, and stopped his photographic creation after liberation, choosing to live in Hangzhou, where was far away from new China’s political center. That’s why all his original works and films could be reserved instead of being damaged in a series campaigns in the Cultural Revolution. That’s also why his first-hand historic materials in the period of the Republic of China could be completely reserved, which allows us to resurrect a photography master who lived an obscured life in the period of the Republic of China.
History may play a joke on me. When I graduated from my university and worked in a bank in Beijing by chance, I accidentally entered into the circle of photography in this city, where my great grandfather quitted from this profession. While when I found the hereditary representative work Ji Weng of my family in the China's History of Photography 1840—1937 (compiled by Hu Zhichuan, Ma Yunzeng, Chen Shen in 1987, China photography publishing house), my surprise was beyond description. I immediately developed great interest in the achievement my great grandfather had made in the period of the Republic of China. After meeting Chen Shen, the last author who is still alive, I also got the chance to know many more photography friends who admired my great grandfather’s works. That’s how we could offer his remaining works to this world again.
I hope that with my many years of effort, I could let everyone see a different photographer in the period of the Republic of China and the colorful photographic history at that time.
Text Originally published in: The Chinese Photobook Collection: Luo Bonian. Beijing: Beijing United Publishing, 2016
装帧：布面精装，24.7 x 31.1cm，128页
Luo Bonian was a Chinese photographer who worked primarily during the Republic Era (Minguo, 1912-1949).
2016 "Chinese Photography: Twentieth Century and beyond", Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing, China