Camera Nipponica: Photographs from Japan, 1880–1930
Unknown photographer. Untitled portrait.
The 1853 arrival of Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships” in Edo Bay marked the end of Japan’s rigid policy of seclusion, which had sheltered the country from foreign influence for over two centuries. Japan’s emergence from this period of isolation coincided with the rapid development of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, and the country’s introduction to the outside world was mediated in part by this new technology. Western and Japanese photographers alike, including Kimbei Kusakabe, Adolfo Farsari, and Nobukuni Enami, established commercial studios in the newly opened treaty port of Yokohama. Their inventories of meticulously hand-colored images of Japanese scenery and genre subjects successfully responded to the Western tourist’s taste for the exotic. Known as Yokohama shashin, these handsome photographs were sold separately or, more often, mounted on thick stock and bound between boards of lavishly decorated lacquer or silk brocade and sold as luxury albums.
Camera Nipponica: Photographs from Japan, 1880–1930 includes examples of souvenir albumen prints and delicate glass lantern slides from the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taishō (1912–1926) eras. The exhibition also highlights a larger selection of vernacular portrait photography taken mostly by unknown Japanese photographers during the same time period. Providing an intriguing contrast to the photographs created specifically for foreign trade, these black and white images were made by and for the domestic Japanese market. Formal studio portraits and large group photographs in diverse settings give us an intimate and compelling look at Japan’s photographic—and cultural—history.