Joseph F. Rock | China, Vintage Photographs from the National Geographic Image Collection

16 June - 21 July 2012

Exhibition: June 16 – July 21, 2012

Reception: Thursday, June 21, 5-8pm


This is the gallery’s second exhibition featuring the National Geographic Image Collection. Our previous exhibition included photographs from around the world made by a variety of photographers, whereas this exhibition concentrates on a single maker, Dr. Joseph F. Rock (1884 – 1962).


There were few more colourful expeditions than those undertaken by Rock in the 1920s to the far hinterlands of China. The eccentric Viennese-born botanist spent 27 years in the remote Tibetan borderlands collecting exotic plants and communing with spiritual lamas while dodging warlords and bandits. Through his photographs, Rock documented the hidden world of the Naxi and other peoples of this region.


This exhibition features vintage B&W photographs, as well as modern enlargements, from some of his many Autochrome originals. The Autochrome is an early colour photography process patented by the Lumière brothers in France and first marketed in 1907.  It remained the principal colour photography process before the advent of subtractive color film in the mid-1930s. The medium consists of a glass plate coated on one side with a random mosaic of microscopic grains of potato starch dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet (an unusual but functional variant of the standard red, green and blue additive colours) which act as colour filters.


Divided into sections, the photographs display the vast and mountainous terrain traversed by Rock and a glimpse into the manner with which he travelled; surrounded by his extensive library of books and phonograph recordings, dining in appropriate fashion, and relaxing in his own tub, all of which carried from place to place by a retinue of locals.


National Geographic magazine, the Society’s official journal, published in English and 33 local-language editions, is read by more than 35 million people each month. Is it the articles that have made National Geographic one of the world’s most popular journals? Yes, but above all it is their splendid photographic illustrations that are craved.  The Society’s mission is “to inspire people to care about the planet.” National Geographic photographs are renowned for embodying the excitement of seeing crucial pieces of our diverse planet for the first time. For over a century, National Geographic photographers have visited new places with new perspectives and new equipment to capture astounding images.