This article analyzes photographs of the city of Nanjing collected in the last years of the nineteenth century by Robert Löbbecke (1852–1910), a German military captain and engineer working in service of Chinese military reforms by leaders of the Self-Strengthening Movement. Spanning almost three decades and including the earliest known dated photos of Nanjing, more than half of the large albumen prints in this collection can be attributed to Chinese photographers, including the local branch of Ouyang Shizhi's (1857–1932) Powkee studio. They offer rare insights into both the early work by this famous studio and early Chinese photography of place, focusing on a city that stood at the center of struggles over China's political and economic survival. As such, this collection offers exceptional terrain to explore relations of photography to place, identity, and power in nineteenth-century China. To unpack these relations, I analyze Löbbecke's collection as part of photography's multivalent encounters with the city in nineteenth-century China. I start with the photographic encounters with the Chinese city in the work and writings of Jules Itier (1802–1877) and John Thomson (1837–1921), and then explore what the Löbbecke collection reveals about the visions its photos made possible for their expatriate collector and for their Chinese makers and audiences, with a special focus on Ouyang Shizhi's Nanjing studio enterprise. I conclude with a reflection on a more recent moment when the photos collected by Löbbecke returned home a century after their making to participate in the telling of new kinds of urban histories.

You do not currently have access to this content.