When Japan opened its doors to the West in the 1860s, delicately hand-tinted photographic prints of Japanese people and landscapes were among its earliest and most popular exports. Renowned European photographers Raimund von Stillfried and Felice Beato established studios in Japan in the 1860s; the work was soon taken up by their Japanese protégés and successors Uchida Kuichi, Kusakabe Kimbei, and others. Hundreds of these photographs, collected by travelers from the Boston area, were eventually donated to Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, where they were archived for their ethnographic content and as scientific evidence of an “exotic” culture.
In this elegant volume, visual anthropologist David Odo examines the Peabody’s collection of Japanese photographs and the ways in which such objects were produced, acquired, and circulated in the nineteenth century. His innovative study reveals the images’ shifting and contingent uses—from tourist souvenir to fine art print to anthropological “type” record—were framed by the desires and cultural preconceptions of makers and consumers alike. Understood as both images and objects, the prints embody complex issues of history, culture, representation, and exchange.