Studio of Felice Beato

Felice Beato was the most revered of 19th century photographers in Japan. A naturalized English subject born in Venice, he led an exciting and interesting life considering his extensive travels in the 19th century. Beginning in 1850, he worked with his brother-in-law, James Robertson, in the eastern Mediterranean. One of the first war photographers, Beato documented the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, China’s Opium Wars, and during the Mahdist War in Sudan.

Beato’s studios in Japan opened in the late 1850s and he ran a studio in Yokohama from 1863 to 1877. Although he was not the very first to photograph in Japan, Beato was the first to work extensively in the country. Beato’s residence in Japan coincided with a period of rapid modernization during the Meiji period from 1868–1912. After leaving the country in 1884, he opened a furniture and curio business in Burma.

Employing a documentary style, Beato’s work encompassed studio portraits, landscapes, and scenes from daily life. Most of his portraits are hand-colored, a practice that he introduced to Japan. Inspired perhaps by woodblock prints, Beato produced a series of photos of the Tokaido Road, running between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). The photos of men and women from different walks of life catered to foreign curiosity about the “exotic” Japanese.

Attribution of 19th century Japanese photographs is particularly difficult because of the multiple sales of studios, the continual printing from earlier negatives, and the frequent lack of labeling. Other possibilities could include practitioners involved with his studio most notably: Raimond von Stillfried, Uchida Kuichi, Ogawa Kazumasa, and Kusakabe Kimbei.

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