Juan Mencarini and Amateur Photography in Fin-de-siècle China
Juan Mencarini Pierotti (1860 – 1939) was a Spanish employee of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service of China from 1881 to 1912 and later a businessman in the import-export sector with base in Shanghai. Parallel to his professional career, Mencarini pioneered in the history of postage stamps in East Asia, contributed to learned societies with articles and lectures, and was reputed among the foreign community of the treaty ports as an accomplished amateur pictorialist photographer. Based on previously unexamined repositories, contemporary press records, and the cataloguing and analysis of over two hundred photographs, this paper analyzes Mencarini’s preserved corpus of photographs as well as his participation in the creation of the first associations of amateur photographers in Shanghai and Fuzhou. Mencarini’s photographs captured human types, examples of craftsmanship and agriculture, and architectural landmarks of the area of Fuzhou, and reveal a generic Western imperialist gaze that articulates visual and textual discourses to support knowledge production and commercial opportunities, leaving room for the exploration of the aesthetics of pictorialism.