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Picturing China

Images from the Historical Photographs of China project

Since 2006 the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ project has been seeking out families who have historic links with China, borrowing their sometimes extensive family photograph collections, digitizing them, and placing them on an open access website http://hpc.vcea.net/ (opens in new window). With funding from the AHRC (through the British Inter-university China Centre), the British Academy, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and private sponsors, we have so far placed online over 8,300 images, dating from as early as the 1860s. They come from bankers, missionaries, customs staff, policemen and diplomats, amongst many others, and most recently we acquired two large albums containing almost one thousand prints, mostly taken between 1929-34 by John William Ephgrave (1914-79), a selection from which is displayed here.

Ephgrave, always known as Jack, was born in Shanghai in October 1914, two years after his father joined the staff of a department store there. He started work aged 15 as an apprentice in the printing department of British American Tobacco’s China operation, the British Cigarette Company (BCC), and later its subsidiary Capital Lithographers Ltd. From about the same time Jack started taking the photographs that fill the albums. They show the world in which he lived and worked, and played. The Ephgraves were not well off, and the father was unemployed for at least two years in the 1930s, but their quality of life was undoubtedly far better than it would have been back in Britain. Most intriguingly, the photographs show Jack as a self-conscious and sensitive photographer, experimenting with the form, and alive to the visual possibilities of the Chinese world he lived within.

  • Image of Biplane near Shanghai, 1927.
    Biplane near Shanghai, 1927. about Biplane near Shanghai, 1927.
  • Image of Aerial view of the Bund, 1927
    Aerial view of the Bund, 1927 about Aerial view of the Bund, 1927
  • Image of Hunjao Aerodrome after being bombed by the Japanese Air Force, 1932
    Hunjao Aerodrome after being bombed by the Japanese Air Force, 1932 about Hunjao Aerodrome after being bombed by the Japanese Air Force, 1932
  • Image of Self-portrait of Jack Ephgrave, 1931.
    Self-portrait of Jack Ephgrave, 1931. about Self-portrait of Jack Ephgrave, 1931.
  • Image of Mr Pulman in the Artists' Department, British Cigarette Company, 1931
    Mr Pulman in the Artists' Department, British Cigarette Company, 1931 about Mr Pulman in the Artists' Department, British Cigarette Company, 1931
  • Image of The BCC and Pudong, looking towards river from the Artists's Department, 1929.
    The BCC and Pudong, looking towards river from the Artists's Department, 1929. about The BCC and Pudong, looking towards river from the Artists's Department, 1929.
  • Image of Workers at the B.C.C. factory, Pudong, c.1932.
    Workers at the B.C.C. factory, Pudong, c.1932. about Workers at the B.C.C. factory, Pudong, c.1932.
  • Image of B.C.C. factory, union strike poster, 1933
    B.C.C. factory, union strike poster, 1933 about B.C.C. factory, union strike poster, 1933
  • Image of Shanghai Volunteer Corps Armoured Car Company, 1932
    Shanghai Volunteer Corps Armoured Car Company, 1932 about Shanghai Volunteer Corps Armoured Car Company, 1932
  • Image of An eight at 'Henli' (and a canoeist), c.1932
    An eight at 'Henli' (and a canoeist), c.1932 about An eight at 'Henli' (and a canoeist), c.1932
  • Image of At the annual basket fair in Shanghai, looking towards the Bubbling Well, 1930.
    At the annual basket fair in Shanghai, looking towards the Bubbling Well, 1930. about At the annual basket fair in Shanghai, looking towards the Bubbling Well, 1930.
  • Image of Shopping
    Shopping about Shopping
  • Image of Riverside scene, Shanghai, c.1933
    Riverside scene, Shanghai, c.1933 about Riverside scene, Shanghai, c.1933
  • Image of Portrait of a woman, near Shanghai, c.1933
    Portrait of a woman, near Shanghai, c.1933 about Portrait of a woman, near Shanghai, c.1933