About the Exhibition
Photography was part and parcel of Japan’s rapid modernization in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Felice Beato, the first European photographer to settle in Japan, arrived in 1863, less than ten years after America’s Commodore Matthew Perry forced the country to open its doors to foreigners. Five years later, the Meiji Restoration up-ended Japan’s centuries-old political, social, and economic structures.
By the time the photographs in this exhibit were taken, in the 1880s and 1890s, Western photographic technology had blended with Japanese culture to create a unique artistic movement. Beato and other early European photographers had trained, and were replaced by, native Japanese practitioners. The aesthetics of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints – their subject matter, use of props, and above all, extensive use of colorful hand-tinting – were grafted onto the Western photographic tradition. And Japanese photographs, first produced for export to satisfy Western curiosity about this previously hidden culture, began to find a domestic audience as well.
This exhibition offers spectacular images of Meiji-era Japan: the landscape, from Mount Fuji to tranquil gardens and wooded paths; the traditional Japanese caste system, from daimyos (feudal lords) to Shinto priests; the pleasure-seeking Floating World, featuring the arts and allurement of geishas; portraits of workers, from jinrikisha (‘rickshaw’) drivers to child acrobats; the all-vital cycle of rice cultivation; daily life, from bustling cities to the rituals of weddings and funerals; and historic monuments, from giant Buddhas to ancient pagodas.
All works are from the collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. This exhibition was organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions.