Japan Photographic Association, Yokohama ( Baron Raimund Von Stillfried and Hermann Andersen)

A Nobleman and His Retinue

Tinted albumen print, 1875-1878

At first glance, this photograph appears to show a dance or performance of some sort. Although its composition and lighting are dramatic, the scene shows a slice of daily life in Meiji-era Japan: the gentleman in blue is stepping into the kago (a palanquin or sedan chair.) The three men kneeling at the left and right of the photograph will carry the sedan chair (with the passenger inside) by placing the long horizontal bar on their shoulders. The two samurai with swords may be a bodyguard and a chancellor.

Western photographers residing in Japan played an important role in documenting Japanese culture as well as the scenery and landmarks of the long-isolated nation. The most influential of the early studios established by Westerners was opened by the Italian-born Englishman Felice Beato in Yokohama around 1863. Beato's work was usually sold with applied coloring; he employed native Japanese artists experienced in coloring wood-block prints to tint his photographs. In 1877, Beato sold his studio to a competitor, the Austrian Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Ratenicz (1839-1911). Baron von Stillfried acquired Beato's negatives and continued to sell prints from them alongside his own. This began a complicated chain of custody that makes it difficult to determine the exact author of many early photographs of Japan. Baron von Stillfried opened his first studio in Yokohama around 1871 and operated in partnership with Hermann Andersen under the name "Japan Photographic Association" from 1874 to 1878.

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