Released September 10, 2003
Salem, MA, September 10, 2003
(PEM) will open Vanished Kingdoms: The Wulsin Photographs of Tibet, China, and Mongolia, 1921-1925, an exhibition of 39 compelling color images of rare colored lantern slides taken by two young Americans, Janet E. and Frederick R. Wulsin, Jr., now in the collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Janet was one of the first American women explorers to reach western China, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet. Together they produced this series of superb photographs of the Ta’er, Labuleng and Zhuoni lamaseries, religious ceremonies, and landscapes they encountered during their expedition for the National Geographic Society in 1923. These photographs are being shown publicly for the first time.
This traveling exhibition is organized by PEM in conjunction with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, and the Aperture Foundation. Vanished Kingdoms will be on view in the Peabody Essex Museum from October 17 through May 9, 2004. Vanished Kingdoms will tour nationally through 2007.
Vanished Kingdoms showcases 39 stunning exhibition prints, on loan from the Frederick R. Wulsin photographic collection at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. PEM commissioned renowned digital artist Fernando Azevedo to create the archival inkjet prints, which reveal, in large scale, the intricately detailed interiors as well as breathtaking landscapes found in the original hand-colored lantern slides.
Frederick and Janet Wulsin
As the young American couple Janet E. and Frederick R. Wulsin, Jr. traveled in China, Inner Mongolia and the borderlands of Tibet between 1921 and 1925, they joined the ranks of explorers drawn to the people, cultures, and geography of unfamiliar and distant places. In March 1923 the Wulsins launched a nine-month Central China Expedition, sponsored by the National Geographic Society. Their assignment was to photograph the people and places of Inner Mongolia and Gansu and Qinghai provinces, where National Geographic Society photographers had never been. During their journey, Frederick established himself as a cultural anthropologist, and Janet came into her own as an explorer. Together, they became accomplished photographers with keen eyes for detail, composition, and mood.
Janet Wulsin’s daughter is Mabel H. Cabot, who organized the exhibition and authored Vanished Kingdoms: A Woman Explorer in Tibet, China, and Mongolia 1921-1925, the critically acclaimed book that accompanies the exhibition. She says Janet was the chief creative force behind this remarkable collection of photographs:
“She took many of the pictures in the exhibition, carefully developing and cataloguing the negatives each week during the couple’s various expeditions. The artistic beauty of the Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian landscape images is readily apparent, as she captures both awe-inspiring splendor and intricate details on film. Notably, the great Labuleng, Ta’er, and Zhuoni lamaseries, had never been photographed before. Although the images present a Western interpretation, they nonetheless offer an exceptional window into the art, architecture, and culture of that region of Asia.”
Janet Wulsin’s photographs were further brought to life by artisans in Beijing who painstakingly hand-colored these two-inch by two-inch glass positives. The Chinese painters used their knowledge of local customs, colors, and scenery to interpret the images. The result is an intriguing juxtaposition of an American photographer’s eye and Chinese design sensibilities.
The lantern slide came into use in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century for illustrating lectures and for home entertainment. This glass projection transparency was made by exposing the glass plate, prepared with a photographic emulsion, under an enlarger with a negative as the primary source material. Instead of a piece of photographic paper, the prepared glass plate was exposed to the negative much like a paper print would be. The glass plate positive would then be developed, washed, fixed, washed again and, finally, dried. In China, special colorists were employed in the Beijing photographic firms to hand paint the glass projection positives. Using watercolor pigments and exquisite sable-haired brushes, these accomplished Chinese artists carefully laid down layers of color on the glass positives. The work of hand coloring could take days to accomplish depending upon the details of the image.
Vanished Kingdoms: A Woman Explorer in Tibet, China, and Mongolia 1921-1925, written by Mabel H. Cabot and published by the Aperture Foundation, interprets Janet Wulsin’s travels through her expedition images, as well as journal and diary entries.
Photography at the Peabody Essex Museum
The PEM owns more than 500,000 photographs. The scope and quality of the photography collection make it not only unique, but also a valuable resource for scholars and others interested in photography and photographic resources. The collection includes more than 13,000 nineteenth-century photographs of Japan, China, India, Korea, and other sites in Asia, which represent a core artistic and humanistic document of life in Asia before significant changes occurred during the twentieth century. Examples include Felix Beato’s images of China and Korea, Milton Miller’s photographs of Hong Kong and Canton, and Raja Deen Dayal’s images of the British Raj in India.