This article addresses the impact of photographs produced during campaigns of exploration in Northwest China during the transition period between the last decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The author proposes to focus on an area that had experienced intense scrutiny, namely the oasis of Dunhuang. By scrutinizing the extensive photographic archive created during the French Mission Paul Pelliot (1906–08), this paper underlines the emergence of preservation and archaeological concerns, and the growing place of photography in academic disciplines like archaeology, while highlighting how these images interacted with local and international cultures. Addressing these questions is intended to help delineate the photographs’ visual grammar and to gauge their effect in (re)constituting China’s national heritage.
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