Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Exploring Johnston's Archives (related to gardens of China) in Needham Institute part 2: Dongshan

 One page of the red album in Johnston's archives

One of the best surprises inside the Johnston archives were the trove of pictures representing traditional architecture in Dongshan 东山 and Wujiang 吴江 near Suzhou 苏州. Some of the photos offer a unique view in now disappeared gardens and residences.

The most coherent collection consists of 96 black and white photos arranged in a red album, of the type with sticky pages covered in translucent film. The difficult decision to remove them from the album was reached because one detached photo revealed Chinese writings at the back with a seemingly exact location.  

 A close up of one of the Dongshan pictures before removal from red album

The numbers and order of the photos as well as inscriptions in the album were recorded by a librarian of the University of Cambridge's Library. 

Among these inscriptions, the handwriting reveals that Johnston probably annotated the album, whereas a Chinese native was the one who marked the photos and some of the inscriptions. In one of his travel diaries, Johnston mentions going to Dongshan in 1984, so it is possible that he took the photographs himself.

Some of the scenes show close-up details of architecture and others provide insights into daily life in this village. Inscriptions include the following: 东山前山镇 严家祠堂内花园, 东台(山)周亮成住宅内园, 东山席氏启园入口.

 From the loose Dongshan photographs

However some photos of Dongshan are also scattered through other parts of the archives: 
1) in the form of one out of 29 pages of contact sheet photos glued on paper with inscriptions. 
2) a majority out of 87 loose items composed mostly of small black and white photographs. 
Both have also been inscribed by a (probably native) Chinese handwriting annotations.

 From the loose Dongshan photographs

This Dongshan lot is likely to interest researchers of this area's architecture and social life. Although difficult to date with absolute certainty, these were probably taken in the 1980s. A deeper analysis of all the materials is necessary to reach a more accurate dating of these photos, yet Johnston's trip in 1984 is one of the biggest clue.

I confess that I am not a specialist of this region, therefore any interest or comments would be welcome, and I am sure would benefit the Needham Institute too.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Exploring Johnston's Archives (related to gardens of China) in Needham Institute part 1

The entire Johnston archive on tables of Needham Institute

During the week of 23-28th of May, I had the great opportunity to go through the papers of R.S. Johnston in Needham Institute, Cambridge, UK.

Who was R.S.Johnston? 
Late R. Stewart Johnston was part of the department of Architecture at the University of Nottingham. In 1991 he published Scholar gardens of China: a study and analysis of the spatial design of the Chinese private garden. Thus he become the first Western author (that I know of) to mention the gardens of Lingnan1 in an English language publication.

Librarian of Needham Institute, John Moffett, received Johnston's papers on behalf of Needham Institute from Johnston's widow. The archive contained a wealth of information on gardens of China that Johnston had systematically preserved throughout his research. Some twenty years later John Moffett generously opened this archive to me. This opportunity was sparkled by a conversation about Johnston's book in May 2015 when I underlined the fact that finding photos of Lingnan gardens was difficult, and John Moffett said that Johnston's archives were likely to contain such documents. Spoiler: I was not disappointed!

Johnston’s archive, occupying approximately 1.5m x 2m of archival shelves, had been well labelled by Johnston himself but not yet catalogued. It was therefore the occasion for me to both dig information for my thesis and contribute to the cataloguing as I went through the boxes. The exploration was well worth the effort as I discovered many black and white photographs of gardens in China, most likely dated from the 1980s (I am still working on datation): a few were taken before some of the 'rough' renovations that erased some interesting characteristics of gardens later on.

There are many interesting aspects to this archive, as I already tweeted about on @GardensOfChina; but I will underline some of the most unique parts in a few blog posts, hoping others will come to study them in more detail. 

One of the most pleasant part was to go through all the originals of the maps and drawings included in his publications: some of these were actually typed & photos and captions glued to paper as this was the case before computers changed our way of submitting manuscripts.

1.  岭南 Region located 'to the south of the five ridges' usually understood as either Guangdong province or Guangxi + Guangdong.

Illustrations for Scholar gardens of China