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Book Review: Photography In Japan 1853 – 1912

A delight to the eye and a treasure trove of information!

Girl in Heavy StormPhotography in Japan 1853-1912 , originally published in 2006, provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of early photography in Japan often little known outside academic circles or those with a specific interest in the period when Japan was undergoing rapid modernisation.

Though most people are generally unaware of the larger scope of the world of early photography in Japan and the early photographs of both non-Japanese and Japanese photographers, some with little more than a passing interest may be aware of the photographs of Felice Beato, which have recently had a fair amount of publicity, some of which are included in this book. The book follows the beginnings of photography in Japan from its introduction by foreigners through its development into an indigenous Japanese photographic artistic industry and the establishing of the studios of Japanese photographers. Accompanying this are short biographical notes on the lives of the photographers themselves which gives perspectives to the reader of both sides of the lense.

Kusakabe Kimbei, “533. Canal. Yokohama,” ca. 1880,  large-format hand-coloured albumen print. Author’s collection.

Kusakabe Kimbei, “533. Canal. Yokohama,” ca. 1880,
large-format hand-coloured albumen print. Author’s collection.

The photographs range over a number of subjects and styles and though many are framed in such a way as to paint a somewhat rosy picture of Japan at the time some, such as the post mortem photographs of Charles Lennox Richardson and Lt. Camus who both died under Japanese swords, are a timely reminder that at the time Japan was a country in turmoil. In fact the photograph of Charles Lennox Richardson after his death at Namamugi just outside Yokohama is of great historical importance in that his death sparked the Anglo-Satsuma War which was a pivotal turning point in the history of modern Japan which led to the overthrow of the Shōgun and the Meiji Restoration. The zeitgeist of the time is underpinned by many photographs that show the interaction between foreign delegations and Japanese missions, not only in Japan but also overseas.

Nadar, (Gaspar Félix Tournachon, 1820-1910), “Members of the 1864 Ikeda Mission to France”,  Paris, 1864, large-format albumen print. Old Japan Picture Library.

Nadar, (Gaspar Félix Tournachon, 1820-1910), “Members of the 1864 Ikeda Mission to France”,
Paris, 1864, large-format albumen print. Old Japan Picture Library.

The book is beautifully laid out over 320 pages with 350 rare and not so rare photographs both black and white and in colour and covering a large range of topics as well as the introduction of hand tinted slides.

Elias Burton Homes, “Mount Fuji,” ca. 1890s,  hand-coloured glass lantern slide. The Burton Homes Collection.

Elias Burton Homes, “Mount Fuji,” ca. 1890s,
hand-coloured glass lantern slide. The Burton Homes Collection.

The book is both a delight to the eye and a treasure trove of information. For the more academically minded there is a reasonably substantial appendix of notes, terminology, etc. and there is an additional publication with far more in depth appendices to the book for those requiring even more detailed academic information.

Kajima Seibei, “H46. Country Peasant,” ca. 1890s,  large-format hand-coloured albumen print. Author’s Collection.

Kajima Seibei, “H46. Country Peasant,” ca. 1890s,
large-format hand-coloured albumen print. Author’s Collection.

The only criticism is that the font size for the photo captions is very small and not the best colour to make for easy reading. However this stunningly beautiful and fascinating book is still able to set the benchmark in its subject area.

Photographs courtesy of Tuttle Publishing.

Available at Amazon.co.uk 

Details:

Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
ISBN: 9784805313114
Format: Paperback
Date Published: 8/5/2014
Illustrations: 350 old and rare photos
Number of Pages: 320
Length: 12 Width: 9 Weight: 48 oz

Author Bio:

Author Terry Bennett, a British writer based in London, has been collecting and researching nineteenth-century Japanese, Chinese, and Korean photography for many years. His books includeEarly Japanese Images, Korea: Caught in Time and, with Hugh Cortazzi, Japan: Caught in Time.

Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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