Joseph Rock rises again

Reading the Green Guide at Orange yesterday, the last name I expected to see getting airtime on SBS this week was Joseph Rock. I wrote about him at the start of the year when I stumbled across one of the most strange and poignant endeavours I’ve read that got committed to a blog.

Sydney multi-blogger and photographer In the footsteps of Joseph Rock has been slowly building up a photo-documentary of his own journey through Sichuan province which began as an attempt to follow Joseph Rock’s travels through the mountainous Tibetan borderlands in 1929. From the first retracings of Rock’s steps came other journeys in the 1990s and accompanying photographs. It’s the photographs that make this blog uniquely strange and bring Rock’s expeditions and his obsessions to life.

Over the past months In the footsteps of Joseph Rock has amassed a huge collection of his own photographs from his travels, some that as close as possible are the contemporary equivalents of Joseph Rock’s. In some cases the modern photos have been taken from exactly the same vantage point and besides the difference in quality and colour are identical. Other times, the photos serve to show the change, decay or destruction. Even more poignant are portraits where time seems to have stopped, the monks, villagers, farmers almost unchanged in eighty years.

Read In the footsteps of Joseph Rock and watch The Adventurous Travels of Joseph Rock, Saturday on SBS.


A fascinating portrait of Austrian explorer Joseph Rock and his adventures in the south-west of China from 1922 to 1949, with extraordinary footage. Joseph Francis Rock (1884-1962) arrived in China in 1922 and spent the best part of 30 years collecting plants, hunting birds, taking photographs, shooting films and exploring the mountainous regions of the south-west of China for various prestigious American institutions including the Department of Agriculture, the National Geographic society and Harvard University. When Rock first arrived in China, he made his headquarters in a small Naxi village near Lijiang in south-west China. There Rock discovered the Naxi priests, the Dongbas, and their religious pictographic script. Rock was fascinated and over the years he compiled a dictionary of the pictographic script. When the Second World War broke out, Rock refused to leave China, spending most of the war in Lijiang writing. Eventually Rock left Lijiang in 1944. On 5 December 1962, a month before the dictionary was published, Rock died of a heart attack in Honolulu surrounded by his beloved Naxi pictograms. (In English, Mandarin, Naxi and German, English subtitles)