When Japan opened its doors to the West in the 1860s, delicately hand-tinted photographic prints of Japanese people and landscapes were among its earliest and most popular exports. Renowned European photographers Raimund von Stillfried and Felice Beato established studios in Japan in the 1860s; the work was soon taken up by their Japanese protégés and successors Uchida Kuichi, Kusakabe Kimbei, and others. Hundreds of these photographs, collected by travelers from the Boston area, were eventually donated to Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, where they were archived for their ethnographic content and as scientific evidence of an “exotic” culture.
In this elegant volume, visual anthropologist David Odo examines the Peabody’s collection of Japanese photographs and the ways in which such objects were produced, acquired, and circulated in the nineteenth century. His innovative study reveals the images’ shifting and contingent uses—from tourist souvenir to fine art print to anthropological “type” record—were framed by the desires and cultural preconceptions of makers and consumers alike. Understood as both images and objects, the prints embody complex issues of history, culture, representation, and exchange.
This essay discusses photographs produced during Japan's little-known colonial expedition to the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands in 1875–76. Investigating the photography of Ogasawara, which pictured the cosmopolitan native population, the Japanese colonial presence, and the natural landscape of the islands, exposes the processes that have configured modern ‘Japaneseness’. Matsuzaki Shinji's images circulated in both government and commercial realms. With these diverse routes came multiple meanings that attached to the evolving place the islands occupied within the national consciousness. The islands could ostensibly be shown to have historical roots in the Japanese past, despite being populated by undeniably foreign inhabitants. Matsuzaki's photographs read as an attempt to display the ‘natural’ landscapes as remote and untouched, whilst simultaneously trying to prove a historical and legitimate Japanese connection. This reveals the contradictory Japanese view of the native population as ‘Western’ but ‘primitive’. The tension between Japan as inferior in its power relationship to the West, yet superior in its ability to rule over the mostly Western subjects of Ogasawara, permeates the construction of the islanders as Japanese internal ‘others’.
David Odo has researched a collection of 104 photographs that are very different from Japanese photography as it was in the early 19th century. Photography bought by westerners focused on cliché's like geisha's, sumo wrestlers and Mount Fuji. Tghese photographs were often hand coloured. This collection however, of work by anonymous photographers put together by an unknown German in 1884-1885, contains many uncoloured photographs on rare subjects. These offer a glimpse of a modernising country.
Accounts of colonial photography in the Dutch East Indies focus on European photographers and exceptional figures like Kassian Cephas, the first (known) native Javanese photographer. Yet photography was not simply a ‘European’ technology transplanted from the European metropole to the Asian colony. Decentring European photographers from the history of photography in the Indies reveals the more circuitous - and Asian - routes by which photography travelled to and within the archipelago. -