OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN, a photo blog of Japan in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods

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Old Photos of Japan
shows photos of Japan between the 1860s and 1930s. In 1854, Japan opened its doors to the outside world for the first time in more than 200 years. It set in motion a truly astounding transformation. As fate would have it, photography had just been invented. As the old country vanished and a new one was born, daring photographers took photos. Discover what life was like with their rare and precious photographs of old Japan.
Good Book Tip
Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 • Donald Keene

When Emperor Meiji began his rule, in 1867, Japan was a splintered empire, dominated by the shogun and the daimyos, who ruled over the country’s more than 250 decentralized domains and who were, in the main, cut off from the outside world, staunchly antiforeign, and committed to the traditions of the past. Before long, the shogun surrendered to the emperor, a new constitution was adopted, and Japan emerged as a modern, industrialized state.

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Good Book Tip:

Photography in Japan 1853-1912

by Terry Bennett — Tuttle Publishing
Photography in Japan

This is my all-time favorite book about early Japanese photography. It is not only absolutely gorgeous, featuring 350 beautifully printed rare photographs, but also full of information about photographers and photography in Japan that you can’t find anywhere else. I can honestly say that I use this book often during my research on photos in my collection.

Terry Bennett has been researching 19th century Japanese photography for over 25 years and is considered to be one of the top experts in the field. In this masterpiece Bennett tells us the story of photography in Japan.

Photography in Japan is divided into 6 chapters, with each chapter focusing on a particular stage of the development of photography in Japan. After a short introduction to place the period into the context of Japanese history, each chapter introduces people and events that played an important role in the development of Japanese photography.

In Chapter 1, Bennett covers the 1850s. The first images of Japanese are introduced as well as the first cameras and the first students and people who played a major role at this stage. People like Eliphalet Brown Jr, Edward Kern, Edward Edgerton and Pierre Rossier. Especially about Rossier, until now mainly known as a stereographic photographer who was connected with the London firm of Negretti and Zambra, Bennett has been able to discover a lot of new information. His story on this French photographer covers no less than 11 pages.

In Chapter 2, Bennett covers the domination of Western studios during the 1860s. Some 18 photographers, among which giants like Felix Beato, Renjo Shimooka, Hikoma Ueno and Kuichi Uchida, are introduced in much detail. Many others have short bios.

Chapter 3 goes into the rise of Japanese photographers. Japanese photographers like Reiji Esaki and Shinichi Suzuki are introduced, as well as Baron Franz von Stillfried-Ratenicz, an aristocrat, soldier, painter, entrepreneur, world traveler, diplomat, and photographer.

Photography in Japan by Terry Bennett
Photos by Kimbei Kusakabe (left) and Seibei Kajima from Photography in Japan: 1853-1912 by Terry Bennett

By 1884 Beato and Stillfried, who played such an important role in Japan’s early photography, had left Japan and Western studios give way to an increasing number of Japanese studios. Many of these studios were run by Japanese photographers who spoke English and had often traveled abroad or worked with Western photographers in Japan. This period of transformation is captured in Chapter 4. It introduces the Japanese photographers that have left us the largest bulk of photographs. People like Kozaburo Tamamura, who in 1909 owned the largest tax-paying photographic business in Japan, Kimbei Kusakabe and Kazumasa Ogawa, who would forever transform photography in Japan by introducing revolutionary techniques like collotype printing.

The 1890s, when Japanese studios dominate, are covered in Chapter 5. Here we meet people like Seibei Kajima, Sashichi Ogawa and Tamotsu Enami, who was until recently an enigma. Thanks to research by Rob Oechsle, a lot more is now known about this brilliant photographer allowing experts to attribute more and more work to him.

By the 1900s, covered in Chapter 6, the Japanese are in full control, but Western photographers are not completely out of the picture. Bennett introduces people like Herbert Pointing, a genius photographer who just before his death was forced to sell his equipment to pay off debts, Karl Lewis, the last foreign commercial photographer in Japan, and the intrepid American author Jack London.

The incredible amount of information makes the book a required purchase for anybody interested in Japanese photography, the photography included makes a true delight. I have spent hour after hour just enjoying the wonderful photos in this book, the quality of many of them is amazing.

If you don’t have this book yet, go buy it now.

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Posted by • 2008-10-08

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