Japan during the Bakumatsu - Meiji period 1868 – 1912
the Lab at beLmar
404 S. Upham St. Lakewood, CO 80226
303 934 1777 www.belmarlab.org
September 24, 2008 – January 4, 2009
Opening Wednesday September 24th 6-8 pm
A complete image catalog of the presented work is here:
Visual Pleasure and Cultural Contact
The Yokohama Album
An unexpected adventure into Japanese photography.
The Yokohama Album is a term used to describe late 19th century Japanese albums of albumen photographs hand tinted depicting studio and scenic views of Japan during the Bakumatsu - Meiji period 1868 – 1912. The The late 19th century Japanese term for photography, “ Shashin” “ to copy the truth” or “realism”.
While researching my great grand father James L. Breese, a society photographer in NYC in the late 19th century, I acquired from my aunt a treasure from one of his trips to Japan at the turn of the century. A beautifully decorated inlayed and lacquered album of 19th century images of Japan and its people. I had little information on the images so through the years it was always set aside. I had many unanswered questions. Time to time when I presented the images to photo historians they also had very little information to provide me other then they were a common photographs for traveling tourists of the day.
Recently my interest in the album has been renewed for I have been making images myself using the one of the earliest methods of photography, wet plate collodion, “ Ambrotypes”. A process developed in 1851 by Frederic Scott Archer. Collodion is poured on a glass plate and carefully rocked back and fourth till is spread evenly on the glass plate, which then is sensitized in a silver nitrate solution and has to be exposed and developed while it is still wet. This rare and historic process produces a stunning high quality negative and positive. It was employed by well-known photographers as William Henry Jackson and Civil war photographer Mathew Brady. It was at this point when I came to learn that the wet plate process I was exploring had been used in many of the images from the Yokhama Album. Thus my interest in this album was renewed.
Now twenty years since acquiring the album the resources for research on the Internet have dramatically grown and with it exciting new information has surfaced answering many questions about this rare album. It has been an enlightening crash course on 19th century Japan and its beginnings in photography. Through the Nakasaki University on line archives, (http://oldphoto.lb.nagasaki-u.ac.jp) Terry Bennet and Rob Oechsle, I was able to identify a large portion of the collection. I found the locations the studios and many of the photographers behind the camera. This journey of rediscovery has led me into learning the personalities and styles of many of the photographers to the point where I now can identify with confidence many of the remaining “ unknown photographers”. But at this point they still have to be left as unknown till I can verify it with an image match from a university, museum collection or specialist in the field. Also it should be noted only half of the album can be displayed for each page of the album has a mounted photograph both on the front and the back thus I had to choose one side or the other. This was a difficult editing process. You can see the total set and full descriptions at www.gallerysink.com “ Breese Japan.
In the last couple years several books have been published on the subject.
Terry Bennett who was very friendly and helpful in my research:
I highly recommend his book if your interested in the subject.
Photography in Japan 1853-1912
By Terry Bennett
Published by Tuttle Publishing, 2006
ISBN 0804836337, 9780804836333
Old Japanese Photographs Collectors' Data Guide
By Terry Bennett
Published by Old Japan (November 15, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0955400007, 13: 978-0955400001
And thank you Adam Lerner the director of the fine museum “ The Lab” in Denver Colorado for setting me a sail into this exciting project of rediscovery.Mark Breese Sink