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Monday, July 2, 2018

Felice Beato - Photographer of Edo-era Japan

So… I was looking through my e-mail when Pinterest said – here’s some pins you might like, and up pooped a hand-colored image of a Japanese guy hefting a large bundle of stuff in a photograph taken in the 1860s by Italian-British photographer Felice Beato.

Beato was born in Venice, then part of what was known as the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in 1832. He died in Florence on January 29, 1909 in what was know was known as the Kingdom of Italy.

Beato moved to Yokohama Japan in 1863 - a time when travel to and from Japan was still restricted, but did so anyway, joining English cartoonist and artist Charles Wirgman there, a gentleman with whom he had previously traveled with from India to Hong Kong.

There in Yokohama, they formed the business known as Beato & Wirgman, Artists and Photographers, working there between 1864-1867.

The partnership created one of Japan's earliest commercial photographic studios, with Beato creating portraits, landscapes as well as a series of photographs that documented the scenery and sites along the Tokaido Road - something that both renowned Japanese artists Hiroshige and Hokusai did in ukiyo-e form.

Wirgman would produce drawings based on Beato's photographs, and Beato would photograph some of Wirgman's original art. As well, some of Beato's photos were used to create engravings for Aimé Humbert's Le Japon illustré and other works.

Because Beato would accompany foreign delegations in their tours of Japan, Beato was allowed access to parts of Japan commonly off-limits to the usual traveler, even photographing decapitated heads of those who had displeased the shogun or daimyo in some fashion.

Besides the high quality of his work, Beato's photography is highly prized for its peak at the Edo-era ruled by the shogun.

Andrew Joseph

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