Impressions of Japan


In 1863 Felice Beato (1832–1909), a photographer and war correspondent, traveled to Japan and spent more than twenty years compiling a photographic record of the Japanese people, their landscapes, and scenes of their everyday life. He developed

    1. “... an original mode of photographic representation, applying a stylistic formula that was at length to become the identifying feature of most of the photography of Japanese subjects, laying the groundwork for photographic production entrusted to local artists, now known as the Yokohama School, generating a visual stereotype that was to survive unchanged until the end of the nineteenth century. The innovative and successful approach proposed by Felice Beato in his repertory of images ... takes the form of a series of refined photographic prints coloured by hand to make the ‘reality’ represented by the photographs more ‘realistic’ still. ... Places, customs, traditions so distant from occidental culture that monochrome photography seemed to be inadequate to convey their extraordinary complexity: the rich colours, the infinite nuances of decorations, garments, and nature, of flowers and plants, were essential for knowledge of oriental society and culture, and only the colouring of the prints could offer a suitable imitation. In pursuit of an ideal reproduction of reality in which the prevalent need was to perceive aesthetic and chromatic values, those ‘exotic’ identifying traits earmarked by occidental society were also a choice of style.” [1, p. 4]

  1. Dr. Charles Ashton Webster, of Yarmouth, while visiting Yokohama in 1897, purchased twelve photographs that are coloured in the style of the Yokohama School; today they are in the photograph collection of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives [2]. Below I include a selection of Webster’s Japanese photographs along with others from Japanese Dream [1].

References and Notes

    [1] Japanese Dream. Texts by Monica Maffioli, graphic design by Maurizio Bartomioli. Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, Germany, 2012. 132 pp. 56 colour illus. 33.6 x 48.6 cm, bound in silk.

    [2] Charles A. Webster’s coloured photographs of Japanese scenes are at the very end of Album 100 (2004:186.1) in the archives of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives. For more about Webster’s trip to Japan please see the album “Life on a Sailing Ship in 1896–97.”

    [3] I thank archivist Lisette Gaudet, of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, for providing access to photographs and archival material concerning Charles A. Webster. All photographs labeled Yarmouth County Museum and Archives (YCMA) are copyrighted. Please contact the Archives if you would like to acquire a photo.

William Day (1 October 2014)