Luo Bonian was born the oldest son in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. His father was a mandarin in the imperial government of Hangzhou County. Luo was educated under classical Confucian traditions, and came under the influence of traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting, largely through his father who had extensive collections of both. As a young man, Luo also became a Guqin (an ancient Chinese seven-string zither) enthusiast, and made his early attempts at calligraphy and painting.
Married Wang Duojia, who while a student at Hangzhou Girls’ High School was renowned for her beauty.
His oldest son, Luo Hancui, was born.
Graduated from Hangzhou College of Commerce, majoring in accounting. He started working at Zhejiang Commercial Bank the same year.His oldest daughter, Luo Hanxiu, was born.He started to learn about photography during his free time, and purchased his first Rolleiflex camera. He started photographing around the West Lake in Hangzhou, together with fellow amateur photographers such as Wang Cheng, Lv Jun and Chen Yanqiao. He often published his work under the name“Wang Suxue”.
Due to his personal interests, he had maintained regular contact with Tang Yun, a famous painter, and Zhao Zong Ding, a famous calligrapher, both based in Hangzhou.
Luo secured a position at Bank of China, and was sent on a one-year internship at a branch of the bank in Lanxi, Zhejiang Province. He often photographed in Lan Jiang, Mount Lanke and Mount Yandang.His series entitled “Ji Wen”, or “Drawing Water from a Well”, dated May 1932, was published in Issue 9 of the Chinese Photography Magazine in 1934.
Took a permanent position with Bank of China, and was reassigned to the general management division in Shanghai.His second daughter Luo Hanyi was born.
Luo’s interactions with fellow amateur photographers intensified whilst working in Shanghai. He became exposed to international and modernist photography journals and photobooks, and the style of his work diversified.His works Heavy Loads and Distant Journeys and Floating Duckweeds and Drifting Sprigs were published in Special Feature: Art Photography in 1935.
Actively preparing pieces for the exhibition in Shanghai. He was introduced by Mr. Wang Ernan, a good friend of his father, to Mr. Wang’s daughter Wang Yingxia, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Yu Dafu, who at the time lived at the residence named Stormy Cottage in Chang Guan Lane, Hangzhou.His work Night Mooring on the Lan River was published in Fei Ying, 1936, Issue 10.Selections from his series The West Lake in Spring were published in Phenomenom in Shanghai, 1936, Issue 13.
He was reassigned to a position at the Jin Hua Branch of Bank of China.Second son Luo Hanbi was born.The most important exhibition of his life was held in Hangzhou. Yu Dafu contributed calligraphy for the title of the exhibition “Friendship Photography Exhibition”. The exhibition featured multiple calligraphic inscriptions provided by friends and influential figures in the arts and politics of the Republican era, such as Yu Dafu, Chen Lu, Cao Xiyu, and Zhao Zongding. Some of the works were inscribed by Luo himself.Three pieces of Luo’s work posted to Nanjing for an exhibition were lost after Nanjing fell to the Japanese. Only three others remain.
Luo was reassigned to a position with Bank of China in Hong Kong. He lived on Nathan Road in Kowloon. He had photographed various places in Hong Kong during that time, such as Repulse Bay, Kowloon Tong, the ports, and Castle Peak.
The Pacific War broke out. The British forces retreated from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island in July, and by December Hong Kong fell to the Japanese. Luo spent most of his time indoors photographing still life.
At the beginning of the year, Luo, along with employees of Bank of China in Hong Kong and their famililes, retreated by the Japanese refugee ship Shirogane Maru to Guangzhou Bay (or the Port of Zhanjiang today), and went further to Yu Lin and Liu Zhou. That summer, Luo took a detour via Gui Yang and Zun Yi and arrived at the war-time capital Chongqing by bus. Travelling with Luo were the son of famous Peking Opera singer and director of Bank of China Mei Lanfang and the younger brother of T. V. Soong of the prominent Soong family, among others. Upon arrival in Chongqing, Luo initially lived in the town of Shi Qiao Pu, and then moved to the south bank. He started working at Bank of China’s Chongqing Branch.
China won the war against Japan. Luo was assigned to Bank of China’s Chengdu branch.He reunited with one of his photographer friends of the Shanghai days, Lang Jingshan, at a gathering hosted by Lang Yuxiu and her husband Xiao Ji. They exchanged thoughts and ideas on photography that developed over the years.
Luo returned to Bank of China’s Shanghai branch, and lived on Wanhangdu Road. He often photographed in Shanghai and in nearby cities such as Wuxi and Suzhou.
His third daughter Luo Hanxin was born.
Luo worked at the general management division of Bank of China’s head office in Shanghai.
Luo refused to go to Taiwan with the Nationalists, and awaited the arrival of the Communists as he continued his work with Bank of China.
As the general management division of Bank of China was moved to Beijing, Luo relocated and started working there. He was seconded to the head office of the People’s Bank of China working on developing the financial system for the new regime. Luo lived in Shuang Yu Hutong near Qian Men. Due to international trade embargos, economic limitations, shortages of photographic materials and of international information, the amount of Luo’s work decreased during this period, although he took occasional photographs at the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.
Luo made an application to be transferred back to his home town Hang Zhou. He was relocated to the Hang Zhou branch of the People’s Bank of China, and lived at 26 Mu Chang Alley.He had by then stopped taking pictures. The only three photographs still on the wall of his home were three from the exhibition, with inscriptions from Yu Dafu.
Before the onset of the Anti-Rightist Movement, Luo left the People’s Bank of China and was re-assigned to the Ping Feng Shan Resort in Hangzhou, affiliated with the Main Workers’ Union of Shanghai. He worked in the accounting department.
The Cultural Revolution began. A sizeable collection of calligraphy and painting, accumulated by Luo’s family since the Qing Dynasty, was torched. Among the works lost were those by Tang Ying, Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi.As the photographs were his personal creations, and as he had stopped taking pictures since he returned to Hangzhou, these remained undiscovered.
Luo retired from his position at the Ping Feng Shan Resort.
End of the Cultural Revolution. During the ten years of unrest, he had treasured and carefully preserved the work he had photographed and exhibited over the years, large numbers of negatives, various international photographic literature, annuals, and photobooks, much the same as he did while migrating during the war.
Luo Bonian died in Hangzhou on 14 June.