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Is it possible for living photographers to capture historical figures from a century ago? Contemporary Chinese photographer Zhou Yulong has made it happen.
Zhou’s work focuses on “portraits” of prestigious Chinese politicians, thinkers, writers, and educators in the early 20th Century. However, they are not real images of that time, but taken a century later.
In 2011, Zhou accidentally found some old photos of historical figures in an antique market. With the passage of time, the photos were faded and the facial expressions of the figures blurred. Zhou felt inspired to “reproduce” the photos. The method he adopted was bold and novel: depict historical figures with living models and modern photographic techniques.
Over the next two years, Zhou searched the country for models who resemble the historical figures, dressed them in vintage costumes and accessories rented from antique shops, and photographed them with a large digital camera. He then photoshopped the photos with a computer. Some have claimed that the reproduced portraits are nearly identical to the prototypes.
Zhou named the group of photos My 1912. The year 1912 was when the Republic of China (1912-1949) was founded. “I didn’t choose 1912 to refer to a specific year, but rather the revolutionary era it represented,” he explains. When historical figures of the early 20th Century were re-portrayed this way, their contributions seem more relevant today.
Liang Qichao (1873-1929) led the Reform Movement of 1898, launched by Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and his reform-minded supporters, with an aim on capitalist reform. After the failure of the reform movement, Liang fled to Japan, where he continued promoting the ideals of a constitutional monarchy. He began to focus on academic research in 1918 and made considerable achievements in the study of philosophy, history, and law.