日本語版はこちらPhotography in Japan
The origins of photography in Japan are closely connected with the events of 1853, when U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794–1858) landed his fleet at Uraga Harbor near Yokohama City and forced the Japanese government to open its ports for international trade. For negotiations with Perry and his retinue, the Tokugawa shogunate enlisted the aid of Nakahama Manjirō (1827–1898), who had developed an understanding of English and Western customs after being rescued at sea by American whalers and spending the following ten years in their company.
Manjirō further assisted the shogunate by participating in the Japanese Embassy to the United States in 1860. There, he acquired a daguerreotype camera. Returning to Japan the same year, Manjirō opened a studio in Edo, making him, alongside Ukai Gyokusen (1807–1887), Shimo’oka Renjō (1823–1914), and Ueno Hikoma (1838–1904), one of the first professional photographers in Japan.
The allure of photography, a quintessential symbol of Western modernity, quickly surpassed that of any other artistic medium:
“The Japanese prints and paintings known as ukiyo-e…richly exploited the potential of color, shape and line. But deep dimensional space and the gradation of light and shadow, in short, the ‘truth’ captured in a photograph, produced a compelling kind of image.”
-Robert Stearns, Photography and beyond in Japan: Space, Time and Memory (1995).
Early efforts by Japanese photographers in pursuit of visual truth focused upon technical innovations. In the 1870s and 1880s, Esaki Reiji (1845–1910) and Usui Shūzaburō (act. c. 1860s–1880s) introduced gelatin dry-plate technology. Yokohama-based photographers Felice Beato (1832–1909) and Charles Wirgman (1832–1891) popularized hand-colored albumen prints during this time as well.
While the concept of “truth” has remained fundamental to the aesthetics of photography in Japan, the sense of truth sought by contemporary photographers often transcends formalist concerns. For example, the works by Araki Nobuyoshi (b. 1940) and Yonehara Yasumasa (b. 1959) included in this exhibition draw attention to aspects of sexuality and its role in the human experience that challenge generally accepted standards of decorum and public discourse.
Left: Attributed to Kusakabe Kimbei (1841–1934)
Yoshiwara Girls, detail
From an untitled series
Photograph; albumen silver print with hand coloring
Gift of James H. Soong, 2012