Grace Lau. Portraits In a Chinese Studio

5 October - 17 December 2023



• Choose a timeslot

• Tickets cost £15.00 (for between 1 and 15 people)

• Scroll down to 'add-ons' to purchase a 10 x 10" or 20 x 20" photograph printed by Genesis Imaging, one of the UK’s leading photographic printers.

• Checkout

• Each booking will last 15 minutes, please arrive just before your chosen time slot.

• On arrival to the Centre for British Photography, show your ticket to a member of staff at the front desk.

• Pose for the camera! Participants will be asked to pose in a similar formal manner to the Victorian studio portraits. However, in contrast to their historical setting, those having their portraits taken will be encouraged to keep their contemporary accessories, such as mobile phones, shopping bags, and clothing.

• If you have chosen not to buy a print, you will receive the digital file via email.

• If you have purchased a 10x10" or a 20x20" print, you will also receive your digital file via email and the printed photograph via DHL Tracked to an address provided.




The first photographic portrait studios in China were set up in the mid-19th century by Western travellers, and focused on ‘exotic’ subjects such as beggars, opium smokers, coolies and courtesans. Many of these images were reproduced as postcards to send back to amuse a European audience. In 2005, Lau created her own version of an old Chinese portrait studio in which she would document the residents and tourists to Hastings as ‘exotic’ subjects. Open to anyone passing by, the project made an oblique comment on Imperialist visions of the Chinese; and by reversing roles, Lau became the Imperialist photographer making portraits of the diverse people of a British seaside town.


The props including mock Chinese furniture and a faux panda rug, and the vibrant ‘Oriental’ backdrop was painted by muralist, Robina Barson. The discrepancy between the historic studio context and the contemporary appearance of the subjects is highlighted by the overly formal presentation.


In 2023, Lau’s Portrait Studio reopened in a Southampton shopping mall during the Chinese New Year as part of John Hansard Gallery’s Co-Creating Public Space programme and resulted in over 600 portraits representing a Southern English port. The resulting portraits would inform several layers of cultural interpretation, conflating 150 years of history in a raucous theatre of photography, but leaving an unrepeatable archive of ‘21st Century Types’.


Grace Lau was born in London of Chinese parentage. She has written that her intent is to raise awareness of stereotyping and prejudices, to encourage questions and debate, and to respond as an artist to social issues. She is also driven by curiosity about the performative aspect of portraiture photography and how her subjects enact out roles and interact with the photographer. From her earlier work on the underground fetish scene of the 1980s to this series, all her portraits are based on photography providing the stage for performance.


Portraits In a Chinese Studio is presented in partnership with John Hansard Gallery, part of the University of Southampton, supported by Arts Council England and sponsored by MPB and Genesis Imaging.