When Professor Sandra Matthews was a photography student, she noticed a glaring absence of information about photography from Asia or from any part of the world other than the U.S. or Europe. Through the years she remained deeply interested in non-western photography, learning through her own travels and research.
Photography was taken to Asia by Europeans and Americans soon after its invention in 1839. Records exist of photographs being made in India as early as 1840 and in China by 1842. Yet, until recently, there was little recognition of the photographers who have run businesses, pursued artistic goals, and recorded the unfolding of history in Asia since the mid-19th century.
“Specific histories are beginning to be written, but photography from Asia is still not adequately represented,” said Matthews, who is a film and photography professor at Hampshire College.
With the advent of online journals, Professor Matthews seized the opportunity to build a community of scholars around the world who share her interest in Asian photography, and to write in some of that missing history as well as exploring the exciting contemporary work coming from the region.
She launched the Trans-Asia Photography Review, which brings together the perspectives of curators, historians, photographers, anthropologists, art historians, and others in an effort to investigate historical and contemporary photography from Asia as fully as possible.
In a process that took two years, she built a network, assembled an international editorial board, and created an arrangement so that Hampshire College publishes the journal in collaboration with the University of Michigan Library Scholarly Publishing Office, a pioneer in the field of open-access online journals.
“It was exciting to be in touch with these people all over the world,” said Matthews. Travel in East Asia was involved, but she was able to complete much of the work via email. While international, the editorial board also includes professors from nearby Five College institutions Mount Holyoke College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Professor Matthews edits the international refereed journal. The first issue of TAP Review includes a special feature—“Why Asian photography?”—with writers from nine countries addressing questions of nation, culture, politics, and photography.
The site also includes book reviews, curatorial projects, and a compilation of resources in the field. A second issue will go live this spring, with two issues per year planned.
Although now published only in English, plans also include expanding the available languages. At this point, English reaches the broadest spectrum of individuals of any one language.
In spring semester 2012, Matthews will teach a course entitled Photography from Asia, which will enable Hampshire students to engage with the history of photography in global terms and with the Trans-Asia Photography Review.