Photography in Japan 1853-1912

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5.0 out of 5 stars The best and most complete book on the subject

Many of us have grown up on the myths of Japan, on the fairly tale land of samurai and geisha, of castles and 10 foot square huts. Like the knights of Europe, it can be hard to distinguish between the real living beings and the legends. However, fortunately for a brief moment the ancient and the modern intersected, and cameras were able to capture a feudal society on the brink of change. Cameras are like time machines. One little click of a button, and a small slice of the past is captured and preserved, opening a window from then to now, and allowing modern people to experience something so far lost as to almost be unreal. While they seem to be relatively modern inventions, cameras have been around for over a century, and the images captured from so long ago are a fantastic treasure.

“Photography in Japan 1853-1912” is much more than just a picture book, however. It is a complete education on the history of photography in Japan, from its barren beginnings to its flourishing boom as the country modernized and a craving for Western technology meant a constant demand for new equipment and skilled photographers. Absolutely everything is here, including the earliest known photograph of a Japanese person, a castaway rescued by sailors, as well as impressions from Eliphalet Brown Jr., the official daguerreotypist for the Perry Expedition. This could easily be a college text book, and its depth and breadth of knowledge is astounding.

But for those less than interested in a history course on photography in Japan, and just want to be blown away by the images, it also has exactly what you need. Gathering the best of 50 worldwide collections, over 350 images show the ancient Japan of our dreams, with full-page, hand-colored images of samurai in their finest armor, and beautiful geisha in their most expensive and extravagant costumes. Some of the photographs would be impossible to achieve know, like castles uncluttered by power lines and parking lots. Not that everything is just posed work. Several photographers of the time were interested in more photojournalistic “slice-of-life” shots, showing people going about their daily business blissfully unaware that these stolen moments would be studied and appreciated in a book over a hundred years into the future.

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