Louis Finot (1864-1935) was a French archaeologist and researcher, specialising in the cultures of Southeast Asia. He was one of the former directors of the Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient [EFEO, The French School of the Far East] and left over 2770 glass plates to this research centre, including several hundreds on China. The dates of his trip to China and the southern region of Yunnan are unclear, but sources indicate he must have travelled across China around 1910 and 1930. We cannot assert for sure that Finot took himself all the pictures, as a few recognizable ones circulated on the art market of that time. Yet her wife appearing in some of the photographs seem to corroborate that Finot was behind the camera at some point.
Alain Arrault – directeur d’études of Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, and professor attached to the Research Center on Modern and contemporary China (CECMC) – wrote about Louis Finot’s photographic in these terms: “This corpus has the merit of encompassing all type of gazes: exotic, the palanquins, the opium addicts, torture scenes and the decapitated heads; Eurocentric, the railway and its metallic bridges; nuances, street scenes, artisans, shops, restaurants; obviously expert and informative with monuments, architectural details, sculptures and low-relief. (…) But [Finot took] also photos that connect with reportage, such as those of destroyed dwellings – probably by a typhoon – that the population is trying to clear. (…) In addition to these gazes, we should consider Finot’s personal touch: purely aesthetic snapshots, that are not of interest to the scholar or the traveller in search of postcards, but instead that offer a sense of relaxation, a fantasy or a free pleasure.”