Album of photographs of Japan

Collection History

Photographic albums, photographically illustrated books, and archival photographs have been in the Library's collections and predecessor collections since the mid- to late-19th century. They therefore came to their present location in the Photography Collection of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs through various means, including purchase, gift, and transfer from other divisions. Important early albums of photographs of East Asia are still entering the Library's collections, and their contents will eventually be added to this digital presentation.


The technology of photography was introduced into Asian countries soon after its invention in various forms in Europe. The first daguerreotype camera was imported into Japan in 1848 (the patent dates to 1839). Wet and dry plate photographic processes were introduced into Japan by Dutch photographers stationed on the island of Dejima, in Nagasaki Bay, beginning in the 1850s. Felice Beato accompanied the British expeditionary army into China in 1860, and photographed the first military campaign. Beato set up his photographic studio with Charles Wirgman in Yokohama in 1863. The peripatetic Beato opened a photography studio and curio shop in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1885. English photographers such as John MacCosh and Captain Linnaeus Tripe were photographing in Burma from the 1850s. These two photographers were also active in British India, and the introduction of photography into India follows the same patterns as for the other Asian countries. As was the case in Japan, Indian photographers were active at a very early stage, and made major contributions to the genre.

A major Japanese photographer whose work is represented in these digital images is Kimbei (Kusakabe Kimbei), thought to have been a pupil of Beato. He assisted Beato in the hand-coloring of photographs until 1863. He set up his own large and flourishing studio in Yokohama in 1881.

The digital images in this presentation provide a rich resource for the understanding of the political, social, economic, and artistic history of Asia from the 1870s to the early 20th century. Japan was first opened to foreigners following the entry of Admiral Perry into Tokyo Bay in 1853 (a daguerreotype photographer accompanied Perry's expedition). We thus have an extensive photographic documentation of Japan, and of interaction between the Japanese and foreigners, from this period on. In the broadest sense, photography entered Asia from Europe and America as part of the process of colonialism, but soon took root in those regions with local photographers, who learned the craft from European and American photographers, along with travelers, military people, and merchants.

Related Resources

Advent of Photography in Japan = Shashin torai no koro (1997).

Harris, David. Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato's Photographs of China (1999).

Imperial China: Photographs 1850-1912, historical texts by Clark Worswick and Jonathan Spence, with a foreword by Harrison Salisbury (1978).

India: Pioneering Photographers:1850-1900 (2001).

India Through the Lens:Photography 1840-1911 (2000).

Japanische Photographie 1860-1929 (1993).

Nihon shashin zenshu = The Complete History of Japanese Photography. 12 volumes (1985-).

Singer, Noel F., Burmah: A Photographic Journey, 1855-1925 (1993).

Winkel, Margarita. Souvenirs from Japan: Japanese Photography at the Turn of the Century (1991).

Collection Data

Views of Japan: temples or shrines, some views possible at Nikko, including details of the buildings, view of bells and stone lanterns and details of screens and woodcarvings, including view of carved monkeys in "See no evil, hear not evil, speak no evil" pose, a carved cat; bronze Buddha, Kotokuin, in Kamakura; a pagoda; toriis; Yokohama: views of foreign residences and buildings, streets and bridges, monument; views of sericulture, silk winding and weaving; landscapes including waterfalls, Mt. Fuji, agricultural scenes including planting and harvesting rice, waterways including boats pulled up on shore, forest scenes; portraits of individuals including man and woman in winter clothes, women in various poses, including reading, writing, paper folding with umbrella, arranging hair, with musical instruments, washing clothes, in rickshaws and kagos, cooking, dancing; men (some tattoed), including plant sellers, sandal maker, basket sellers, umbrella maker, playing a game, having hair arranged, monks praying or meditating; man attending woman in bed [massage?]; children with women and practicing calligraphy; Ainu: group of women in front of thatched buildings, and studio portrait of man holding bow and arrow, with boy; theatrical scenes; portraits of sumo wrestlers, and a view of a match showing wrestlers and spectators in western style straw hats
Dates / Origin
Date Issued: 1870 - 1889 (Questionable)
Library locations
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection
Shelf locator: MFY+ 93-6332
Landscapes (Representations) -- Japan
Rituals -- Japan
Ownership: Children's Room transfer, 1982.
Content: Albumen prints are mounted both recto and verso. Small, mostly hand-colored views of scenes and people are mounted on recto, large b&w prints of a temple or temples on verso.
Content: Brown half-leather bound album with tabbed gilt-edge leaves. Leaves are numbered on verso, 1-35. Leaves 34 and 35 are in reverse order.
Physical Description
Extent: 1 album (67 pl. : 162 photographic prints) ; albumen, col. ; 23 x 28.5 cm or smaller in album approx. 34 x 42 cm.
Albumen prints
Type of Resource
Still image
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11818699
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 7c2ae220-c6ed-012f-b8b2-58d385a7bc34
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