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Asia and the Pacific Rim in Early Prints and Photographs

Over 1,000 prints and photographs (mostly albumen, hand-colored albumen and gelatin silver prints) of East, Southeast and South Asia from the 18th century to the early 20th century, drawn from portfolios, photographic albums, photographically illustrated books and archival collections. Subjects include architecture, scenes of daily life, portraits of major political, religious and artistic figures of the time, "exotica," staged photographs for the tourist trade and travel postcards.

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Felice Beato (b. ca. 1825). View on the Tokaido beyond Odowara, Hakoni Mountains in the distance. Digital ID: 118896 Felice Beato (b. ca. 1825). View on the Tokaido beyond Odowara, Hakoni Mountains in the distance. Digital ID: 118896

Collection History

Photographic albums, photographically illustrated books, and archival photographs have been in the Library's collections and predecessor collections since the mid- to late-19th century. They therefore came to their present location in the Photography Collection of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs through various means, including purchase, gift, and transfer from other divisions. Important early albums of photographs of East Asia are still entering the Library's collections, and their contents will eventually be added to this digital presentation.

Background

The technology of photography was introduced into Asian countries soon after its invention in various forms in Europe. The first daguerreotype camera was imported into Japan in 1848 (the patent dates to 1839). Wet and dry plate photographic processes were introduced into Japan by Dutch photographers stationed on the island of Dejima, in Nagasaki Bay, beginning in the 1850s. Felice Beato accompanied the British expeditionary army into China in 1860, and photographed the first military campaign. Beato set up his photographic studio with Charles Wirgman in Yokohama in 1863. The peripatetic Beato opened a photography studio and curio shop in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1885. English photographers such as John MacCosh and Captain Linnaeus Tripe were photographing in Burma from the 1850s. These two photographers were also active in British India, and the introduction of photography into India follows the same patterns as for the other Asian countries. As was the case in Japan, Indian photographers were active at a very early stage, and made major contributions to the genre.

A major Japanese photographer whose work is represented in these digital images is Kimbei (Kusakabe Kimbei), thought to have been a pupil of Beato. He assisted Beato in the hand-coloring of photographs until 1863. He set up his own large and flourishing studio in Yokohama in 1881.

The digital images in this presentation provide a rich resource for the understanding of the political, social, economic, and artistic history of Asia from the 1870s to the early 20th century. Japan was first opened to foreigners following the entry of Admiral Perry into Tokyo Bay in 1853 (a daguerreotype photographer accompanied Perry's expedition). We thus have an extensive photographic documentation of Japan, and of interaction between the Japanese and foreigners, from this period on. In the broadest sense, photography entered Asia from Europe and America as part of the process of colonialism, but soon took root in those regions with local photographers, who learned the craft from European and American photographers, along with travelers, military people, and merchants.

Related Resources

Advent of Photography in Japan = Shashin torai no koro (1997).

Harris, David. Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato's Photographs of China (1999).

Imperial China: Photographs 1850-1912, historical texts by Clark Worswick and Jonathan Spence, with a foreword by Harrison Salisbury (1978).

India: Pioneering Photographers:1850-1900 (2001).

India Through the Lens:Photography 1840-1911 (2000).

Japanische Photographie 1860-1929 (1993).

Nihon shashin zenshu = The Complete History of Japanese Photography. 12 volumes (1985-).

Singer, Noel F., Burmah: A Photographic Journey, 1855-1925 (1993).

Winkel, Margarita. Souvenirs from Japan: Japanese Photography at the Turn of the Century (1991).

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.