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Liverpool’s Chinatown through the lens: Masks

21 April 2010 by davidl

While holiday snaps are often intended to record a static memory of a place and mood – think of all those posed pictures of your family on the beach with fixed smiles – the more artistic photograph can often capture a whole narrative in a single image. I think in this week’s highlight from our Liverpool’s Chinatown through the lens Flickr competition, by Flickr user Graham Morgan (greybeats), something of both approaches is captured.

Chinese New Year photograph with colourful Chinese dragon on the right and men wreathed in smoke on the left

Chinese New Year © Graham Morgan

More familiar as a writhing, twisting creature, the Chinese dragon here is seen as a massive, still block of colours, occupying the whole right side of the image: the lack of body makes it hard to imagine its full size, and it certainly looks like it is towering menacingly over the people on the left. However what is especially interesting about the dragon and the people are their positions and their masks: all of the figures are to some extent covering their faces and none appear to directly acknowledge the others; instead all are facing different directions in a curious, almost posed manner.

The viewer knows that there are really people inside the dragon, hidden under the costume – similarly the man in the foreground half-covers his face, presumably against smoke and noise, the figure behind is half-masked (or half-unmasked?), and those further back still are almost gone completely behind the smoke; everyone is only half-revealed, as though hovering between two personalities, or emerging from a chrysalis. Though it is Chinese New Year, it seems apt that this reminds me of the Roman god Janus (from whom we get the name January), often depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions: back to the old year and forward to the new. This image captures that idea of uncertain but exciting transition, change and ambiguity. See the photo in a large size.


To celebrate our photography exhibition China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-72 at the Merseyside Maritime Museum we want you to submit your photos of Liverpool’s Chinatown to our Flickr pool – our favourite photo submitted by 24 May will win a banquet for two at Yuet Ben, with two runners-up winning exhibition catalogues. Find out more on the competition page.

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