Rare Chinese Photobooks Enrich Collections

A trove of 249 Chinese photobooks —books, with or without text, where the primary message is carried in photos—is adding thousands of images dating from the 1900s to the 21st century to existing UCLA Library East Asian collections. The collection, purchased for and donated to UCLA by renowned photobooks collector and author Manfred Heiting, addresses a significant area of Chinese studies, providing scholars with access to cultural and historical resources to further advance teaching and research at UCLA.

According to Heiting, this collection is one of the most complete in the world, with the exception of one held by Tate Modern in London.

Among the titles in the collection are 64 from 1900–1949, 33 from the 1950s, 20 from the 1960s, 25 from the 1970s, 21 from the 1980s, 12 from the 1990s, 36 from the 2000s, 25 from the 2010s, and 1 from the 2020s; two titles are undated.

“We are fortunate to have such valuable materials to share with our students, faculty and other researchers,” said Ginny Steel, the Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian. “These books add enormously to our understanding of Chinese history and the history of photobook publishing in China.”

Photos from the early 1900s to mid- 1960s China are generally considered an extraordinary find. With early photographic equipment being heavy and expensive, it was inaccessible to many and the years from 1930 to 1949 spanned periods of war, when many photos were lost or destroyed. These factors make photobooks from those eras scarce.

“These photobooks fill a big gap in our collection,” said Su Chen, head of the Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library.

Heiting is a founding member of the J. Paul Getty Museum Council and has been a UCLA Distinguished Lecturer in the Humanities. He is the editor of numerous photobook reference catalogs, including ones held in the UCLA Library. With Heiting’s recent gift, the Library continues to expand its collections and advance scholarly pursuits for researchers worldwide.

UPDATED: New titles were added to the collection after publication of the print edition on April 27, 2022.