Photo of Faculty Chang Tan posing for a photo in front of a building.

Faculty Fall 2021: Chang Tan

Fantastic Frames: Studio Photography of the ‘Global Chinas’

Assistant Professor of Art History and Asian Studies

My book project “Fantastic Frames: Studio Photography of the ‘Global Chinas’” studies the design, production, circulation, and usage of elaborately “staged” studio photographs in Hong Kong, San Francisco, Taiwan, and mainland China. Using recently discovered archival materials in multiple collections in East Asia and North America, my study aims to show how the photographers and their sitters collaborated with artists and theaters in their respective communities to create fantastic “frames” for their portraits—backdrops, props and costumes that were visually rich, culturally hybrid, and politically evocative. Such embellished photos, I argue, helped connect members of marginalized communities, allowing them to craft alternative realities and imagine new identities that are performative, mutable, and communal. Focusing on vernacular and composite photographs, my research tracks and historicizes photography’s complex relationship with other forms of visual arts, especially landscape painting and stage design. What emerges from those photos are diasporic “Chinas” that are interlinked yet diverse. The archival research of my project is also generously supported by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.