When is a photograph a souvenir? A work of art? Anthropological data? How can tourist photographs, produced to appeal to foreign visitors of “exotic” lands, become scientific data? Based on his studies of the Peabody Museum’s collection of early photographs of Japan, David Odo, author of The Journey of “A Good Type”: From Artistry to Ethnography in Early Japanese Photographs (Peabody Museum Press, 2015), discussed this complicated terrain. The collection—comprised of highly aesthetic photos colored by hand in the nineteenth century—is a fascinating example of how “art” and “science” can intersect in a museum.
Author, The Journey of “A Good Type”: From Artistry to Ethnography in Early Japanese Photographs
Director of Student Programs and Research Curator of University Collections Initiatives, Harvard Art Museums
Presented in collaboration with the Harvard University Asia Center and the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University
The related exhibition, From Artistry to Ethnography in Early Japanese Photographs was on view Monday-Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm through Sunday, September 27, 2015 at CGIS South, Japan Friends of Harvard Concourse, 1730 Cambridge Street in Cambridge.
Souvenir, Art, or Anthropology?
[00:00:05.40] And I'd like to introduce David Odo, who received his Doctor of Philosophy in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford, and his AB from Columbia University in East Asian Studies. He's held numerous research fellowships, including at Harvard, the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian Institution, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the University of Tokyo.
[00:00:30.46] He-- indeed, I got to know David very well when I arrived here in 2005. At that time, he was a Reischauer post-doc, and then in 2007 or thereabouts he was a visiting curator and lecturer at the Peabody Museum here. And it was then that we had an exhibit on this topic, which has been reborn as an exhibit now in the Center for Government and International Studies, which is-- is it down now?
[00:01:00.18] Sunday. Saturday, really. Saturday will be the last day, actually.
[00:01:04.42] So you have one day that you can see it, which is tomorrow. So, the CGIS Center is on--
[00:01:11.47] Cambridge street.
[00:01:12.09] Cambridge street. It's a big orange building. It's the one on the south side of the building in the basement.
[00:01:16.70] 1737. Thank you very much. And it's an exhibit well worth seeing.
[00:01:24.23] At the Harvard Art Museums, David currently works closely with colleagues from all divisions of the museums, and faculty from across the university, to provide students with opportunities to study the collections and conduct in depth, collections-based research. He brings students out of the classroom and into the museums, enables them to realize the value of studying original works of art within the context of the respective disciplines.
[00:01:48.22] David's lectured widely and published widely on early Japanese photography, and is now working on a monograph about Japan's Ogasawara islands, which examines photographs and other visual images related to Japanese colonization of the islands and the cosmopolitan population from the 1830s until today. David's list of accomplishments goes on, but for now, I'd like to welcome him.
[00:02:15.35] And I should say one last thing, if I may boast a little bit. Thanks to our marvelous Peabody Museum Press, we produced, I think, a very fine book of this topic, on the exhibit, and we have copies available. David has generously agreed to sign them for you, so I urge you to pick up as many copies as you like. The holidays are just around the corner, and you'll want a copy for each room of your home, I'm sure. Please think about it, and join me in welcoming David. Thank you.
[00:02:53.82] Well thank you, Jeff, very much for your generous introduction. And I want to thank you and your staff here at the Peabody Museum, and also to Jane Pickering and her staff at the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture for this very kind invitation to share my work with you this evening. I also want to thank the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, and the Harvard University Asia Center for their support.
[00:03:20.61] And, as Jeff mentioned, little promo for the book here. Everything I'll be discussing tonight really comes out of research that I conducted for this book, which is The Journey of "A Good Type", published by the Peabody Museum Press. And just wanted to quickly acknowledge Kate O'Donnell, the director of publications, who shepherded this project through quite a few years.
[00:03:46.68] As I'll talk about a little bit, I've been working on this project for some time now. And without the many colleagues here at the Peabody Museum, this work really would not have been possible. It started really in the archives here at the museum with then archivists India Spartz and Patricia Kervick, who is the current senior archivist here.
[00:04:10.78] And it was only because I was able to spend so much time physically with the photographs themselves, that I was ultimately able to come to understand the photographs as I have. So I cannot overstate how valuable it was to flip through the collection, sometimes very quickly, sometimes very slowly and deliberately, and to have the freedom to go back and forth between my own thoughts and go home, and then come back into the archives and spend time really present there looking closely at the objects.
[00:04:44.99] Otherwise, I think these-- and I hope you'll agree as you look at some of the images I have tonight. These objects, these photographs, are very beautiful and they might kind of easily be locked away, kind of guarded as precious objects. But in fact, they're far more than that. They're very generative, and can continue to have a fascinating and important life in the present and into the future, as I hope you'll agree by the end of my talk.
[00:05:13.23] So I wanted to start this evening by offering you a very succinct answer to the question my title poses. The answer is yes. So the photographs I'm going to discuss are indeed souvenir art in anthropology. So I do have a little bit more to say, so please don't leave after that. But I want to start out with the stipulation that photographs, perhaps more than any other museum object, and they are objects after all, very easily morph and slide from one category to another. They're slippery creatures that don't necessarily want to exist on one plane.
[00:05:48.78] So tonight, I don't want to spend the time I have with you arguing for an anthropological versus art categorization of the Japanese photographs I've studied. But rather, I want to think about how it was possible for photographs which started out on such a clearly defined trajectory as souvenirs, to end up on such an unexpected journey as pieces of anthropological data. So what I'm going to do then is retrace some of the steps of my own journey of discovery about these images, as a way to share with you the larger journey of the Peabody Museum's collection of early Japanese photographs.
[00:06:24.58] So I begin with this intriguing image of a woman. This photograph instantly grabbed me during a preliminary research visit to the Peabody Archives that I made in 2005. During this visit, the archivists retrieved a box of 19th century Japanese photographs for me. Once I opened the box, I quickly realized why these objects were referred to informally as art prints at the Peabody, a museum not of art, but of anthropology.
[00:06:52.74] I was astonished by the gorgeously preserved subtle colors, in some cases so beautifully applied as to make them appear more like paintings than painted photographs. The soft watercolor seemed to have been absorbed by the albumin papers, something that really doesn't translate I think onto the screen here. It's a very physical, almost tactile thing.
[00:07:16.51] The color appeared to create a physical form beneath and beyond the surface of each image. The contrast among the various colors used in the images and between the colored and uncolored sections created a convincing illusion of depth. An effect that must have charmed early collectors, even more than we can imagine in today's visually over-saturated world.
[00:07:40.52] But as I said, this image in particular caught my attention that first day, and it wasn't merely the pretty colors. It appears to be a portrait of a kimono clad geisha, that ubiquitous symbol of Japan in the 19th century. And unfortunately, sometimes still today. It's a cliched image, but a captivating one nevertheless. The woman's expression seemed at first to reveal nothing, but I clearly remember wondering if I was seeing a thinly disguised boredom, or even perhaps a disdain for the viewer. Or was I trying in my own way to imbue her with an agency that simply didn't exist? Or was her studied composure merely the result of a lengthy exposure time? I just didn't know.
[00:08:23.90] Whatever the case was, the photograph teemed with tropes of Japanese-ness. The woman's elaborate hairstyle, glossy with Camellia oil and punctuated with four fanciful hairpins of exotic design. The kimono falling in graceful folds, lightly clutched in her strategically posed right hand. And the shamisen, the lute-like instrument that was part of the geisha's stock-in-trade, held upright in her left hand. The photograph seemed to perfectly embody certain 19th century Western ideas about Japan and Japanese women in particular, as hyper-feminine, subservient, and somehow inscrutable.
[00:09:06.30] But what I want to talk about next is what I actually encountered that day in the archives. It wasn't just an image, as what I'm showing you here. It was a print covered with a translucent sheet of protective paper, and framed by an ivory colored mat. So what I'm projecting on the screen now is a little bit closer to what I saw. This is what I saw when I lifted the mat.
[00:09:27.41] This physical uncovering revealed further layers of interest for me. The mount to which the delicate albumin print had been affixed was worn at the edges and discolored, indicating handling and age. The curatorial classification of Japan, which you can see up here in the top left. And directly beneath the photograph itself-- sorry. Directly beneath the photograph itself was an embossed studio imprint, it's a little bit difficult to see here, bearing the name of one of early Japanese photography's most important figures, the Austrian baron, Reimann von Stillfried. Stillfried's portraits of Japanese women in particular sold well, and were collected both as lose prints, as well as in albums.
[00:10:17.67] Above the imprint and to the right was the number 663. Here it's very faint. Possibly the studio index number that had been originally scratched into the negative. Written on the mounts bottom left side in another hand were the names of the collector, William Sturgis Bigelow, and the donor, his niece, Mary Lothrop, along with the year of the gift, 1927.
[00:10:45.53] Most interesting, however, was the caption beneath the print, written in a script, different again from the other notations. It says, "shows very well how a Japanese woman's dress looks when properly put on. A good type." Initially, I assumed it had been a curator or an archivist who had decided to classify this image as an example of a so-called type photograph, an image of a human subject made as an example-- I'm sorry. An image of a human subject, made in an attempt to link physical characteristics with moral, cultural, and intellectual attributes.
[00:11:22.11] As Elizabeth Edwards has established, the concept of the type was one of the most important elements in 19th century anthropological analysis. Simply put, anthropologists use type to refer to a set of standard characteristics and qualities that distinguished a given group, as well as to denote a person or thing exhibiting these characteristics and qualities. Individuals could be identified as exemplifying particular physical traits such as hair texture, height, or skin color, and could be classified further as possessing certain moral or cultural qualities including fierceness, wanton sexuality, varying degrees of savagery, civilization, and the like. The physical, moral and cultural could then be tied together, and an individual with particular characteristics could be used as a kind of standard bearer for a racial, occupational, or other type.
[00:12:16.28] So to categorize a photograph coming into the museum in the 1920s as a type image, would have been consistent with the Peabody's long history of collecting visual material extending back into the 19th century. The practice also conformed to wider collecting conventions, which held that material culture could be studied and exhibited as embodiments of a given group. Museums of anthropology actively collected type photographs well into the 20th century. Obviously today, it's a very different story.
[00:12:48.83] But in this case what intrigued me was, again, this handwritten caption. It seemed to sort of be somehow unusual. And a handwriting analysis revealed that this caption was written not by curator, but by William Sturgis Bigelow himself, suggesting that the collector already considered the image to be anthropological data prior to its accession into the Peabody Museum.
[00:13:17.48] But again, I go back to this image here to stress that it was really first produced as a souvenir object. Another print, for example, of this image can be found in a deluxe edition album of 100 of Stillfried's albumin prints. The album dates to 1876, and is owned by the State Library of Victoria, Australia. The photographs title there is given not as, A Good Type, as we have here, but rather as, Singing Girl. And this is just an example of the index found in that Stillfried album.
[00:13:52.40] The term, singing girl, was an early euphemism for a Japanese prostitute. And the term was often, however, used to refer to geisha, who in fact were highly trained female entertainers, but commonly misunderstood by Westerners to be prostitutes. So Singing Girl apparently retained enough titillation to remain a meaningful and marketable moniker for images of purported geisha, but it also provided sufficient cover to allow inclusion of these images in what were respectable souvenir albums rather than in collections of pornography, for example. So you can see here, I've just shown that the image in question was titled Singing Girl in number 20, but also in number 15-- was called Singing Girl, it was just a different photograph.
[00:14:48.16] So my thinking about this collection has been informed by Stillfried's photograph of the Singing Girl, and Bigelow's transformative captioning of it as A Good Type. Thinking about the image and seeing it re-purposed as it was, helped me realize that it could be read, and in fact must be read, simultaneously as a Singing Girl and as A Good Type. In other words, as both a 19th century souvenir photograph housed in a National Library in Victoria, Australia and other art museum collections throughout the world, and as a piece of data archived in an anthropological museum here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It had become a museum object whose meanings continued to be made and remade over time. My study is only the latest iteration in its journey from artistic souvenir to ethnographic museum object.
[00:15:40.48] And before I go on, I just want to give you a little bit of a kind of perspective on the collection at large. So the Peabody Museum has an enormous archive of about half a million photographs in print form, slides, and negatives. This is the entire collection, not just Japan. But of these, there are about 1,300 early albumin prints and glass slides of Japanese subjects. There are additional ones from later in the 20th century, but I'm focusing on this early material. And the core collection, which I featured in the exhibition and in this book, come mainly from the 400 some odd prints donated or given by William Sturgis Bigelow, or rather, by his niece.
[00:16:27.64] Most of the material in question was produced and collected in Japan's Meiji period, which is from 1868 to 1912, an era of hitherto unprecedented contact between Japanese and Westerners. In the course of several decades, Meiji era Japan underwent a radical transformation from a mostly isolated, feudal country into a powerful, modern nation, with an infrastructure very purposely engineered by government leaders to facilitate modernization. The ever increasing presence of foreigners in a country that had been largely separated from the world outside its borders for approximately 250 years, proved both shocking and enlightening to insiders and outsiders alike.
[00:17:09.41] And I've just listed here some of the developments that kind of helped facilitate foreign visitors to Japan. Photographs were an integral part of this encounter between Westerners and Japanese, guiding viewers on a visual journey through the island nation in both geographic and metaphorical terms. Images documented real people, places and objects, and the objective appearance of photographs must have been convincing to many viewers as evidence of Japanese culture.
[00:17:47.53] I'll just mention a few things about the photo industry. This is a tourist image, a souvenir photograph, but showing something that-- one of the reasons that these photographs were so incredibly collectible and popular with Westerners, that is the use of natural pigments and watercolors to hand tint each print. And so, a lot of photo albums included images of these colorists at work, and many of the colors came from the woodblock print industry.
[00:18:18.73] So there was a pool of highly trained artisans in the country, even when these foreign photographers established businesses in Japan. So here I'm showing you a woodblock print, both because it's sort of the source of the labor and the artisans, but also a source of ideas for images that photographs actually copied well into the early 20th century.
[00:18:52.85] Now I said that the photographs, in a sense, appeared to provide sort of objective information about the people and places of Japan. And potentially, many people did believe this. But at the same time, we can really think about this period of photography as creating and sustaining Western stereotypes about Japan, often in concert with written captions in albums. But many of these images were in fact, of course, posed models of, for example, samurai and geisha, staged, domestic scenes which passed for glimpses into authentic lives of Japanese subjects.
[00:19:41.51] One such image is this one. It's an expertly hand-colored, half length portrait by Stillfried, of a man in samurai armor. An icon of Japanese masculinity in 19th century Western thinking about Japan, the samurai was seen as an embodiment of a native Japanese spirit grounded in the nation's recent feudal past. Samurai were much admired or feared, depending on the context. However, photographs such as this were, for the most part, produced and circulated after the emperor had stripped the warrior class, or the emperor stripped government, had stripped the warrior class of certain privileges in 1871, when samurai were required to cut off their top knots and wear their hair in Western style.
[00:20:26.32] The creation of the Imperial Army in 1873 further disempowered the samurai, depriving them of the right to bear arms and ending their monopoly on military institutions. In short, it is highly doubtful that, for example, the subject of this photograph was in fact an actual samurai. And I want to return to this issue of authenticity a little bit later my talk.
[00:20:50.51] So when the shogunate, the country's hereditary military leaders, designated certain ports as treaty ports in 1854, Japan became accessible to the Western world for the first time since the 17th century. Foreigners were allowed to live and conduct business in a relatively unrestricted manner in these port cities. And within a few years, diplomats, businessmen and pleasure travelers began to arrive in steadily increasing numbers. Japan was, for example, a very popular honeymoon destination in the 19th century. Along with these earliest visitors came the art and technology of photography, and collecting photographs of Japanese subjects became almost a requirement among foreigners in Japan.
[00:21:39.02] And I just wanted to show you this quote in a sort of memoir that a British author published about Japan. And what is fascinating about this is thinking about the strong role that photographs might have played in many visitors journeys to Japan. And that, in a sense, photographs kind of pre-validated what was worth seeing in the country, and kind of helped carve out a map, as it were, of what should be seen on a visit.
[00:22:14.52] But the foreign clientele for photography was not exclusively tourists. A range of images and formats were produced for these other foreign consumers. Those who lived for multiple years in Japan, for example, could purchase ready-made photographs in albums just as tourists did, but often they commissioned work expressly for their own collections. Subjects included themselves and their families, their wider circle of foreign and Japanese colleagues, friends and servants, as well as their dwellings, property, and travels in Japan.
[00:22:47.18] This kind of photography was understandably less common than the enormous output of tourist photography. However, the studios making these photographs operated in a highly competitive market, and sometimes these images produced for private consumption would, due to lose copyright laws, make their way into the public sphere as well. The Japanese photographs at the Peabody Museum, like those in other Western museums, were primarily produced, however, for the tourist market.
[00:23:21.34] Just showing here an example of a lacquer photograph album cover.
[00:23:30.35] So I mentioned earlier that the William Sturgis Bigelow photographs formed a kind of core to the overall collection of Japanese photographs. The Bigelow material includes explicitly patented albumin prints in excellent condition, and covering a range of Japanese subjects. But here I want to emphasize that these photographs reflect much more than a simple fascination with the exotic, or an uncomplicated desire to collect pretty pictures. In fact, it's very complicated what went on. But before moving on, I think it's instructive to think just a little bit about the collector himself.
[00:24:13.46] Bigelow was one of an unknown number of collectors, some named and some anonymous, who donated, sold, or otherwise had their photographs deposited in this museum's archives. But his collection comprises the largest single group of Japanese prints in the Peabody, and it's also the best known of the images of Japan in the Peabody. He was the only son of prominent Bostonians, Henry Jacob Bigelow, a well known surgeon, and Susan Sturgis Bigelow, who died when he was three, the daughter of a wealthy China trade merchant.
[00:24:46.10] Bigelow eventually became known primarily as an art collector, but he was also a scientist with degrees from Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1971, and Harvard Medical School, which he graduated in 1874. He also had advanced European medical training. He practiced and lectured on surgery at MGH and at Harvard, and developed a passion for Japanese art during his five years studying medicine under Louis Pasteur in Paris in the 1870s.
[00:25:15.08] This was a period when Japonism, or the craze for Japanese art and design was at its height. And in Paris, he met the famous dealer in Japanese art, Siegfried Bing. And when he returned to the US in 1881, he exhibited at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts hundreds of Japanese objects he had collected in Europe.
[00:25:38.48] In 1882, he journeyed to Japan with a natural scientist, Edward Sylvester Morse, also a major collector of Japanese objects, some of which he sold or gave to the Peabody Museum in fact. Bigelow stayed in Japan for seven years, traveling frequently throughout the country with Morse and the eminent art historian of Japan, Ernest Fenollosa. He amassed an enormous collection of Japanese and Chinese art, as well as large collections of seeds, which he sent two Harvard's Arnold Arboretum. Eventually, Bigelow became a Buddhist priest, and had his ashes divided and interred at his temple in Japan, and some here at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
[00:26:18.81] So it's interesting to consider Bigelow's background, when reading this excerpt from the Peabody's 1926, 1927 annual report. It reveals that the Bigelow prints were considered to be works of scientific value, that they were accessioned into the museums archival collections as anthropological prints. If these had come to the art museum, I can tell you the report would have looked quite different even though they would've been the same exact photographs.
[00:26:47.89] Bigelow framed-- what I'm showing you now is an excerpt from a letter that Bigelow sent to Morse in 1913. And I won't read this out for you, but it's quite interesting to see. Bigelow framed his friendly rebuke to Morse in the language of zoology and biology here. And it's perhaps tempting to see this communication between the two men as a reflection of their shared background in science, but Bigelow's mention of the type in this letter references far more than academic training and a scientific orientation. It reflects the wider saturation of popular late 19th and early 20th century Western discourses on categorizing humans with scientized notions about the relationship between physical bodies, and intellectual and moral qualities, particularly of non-Western subjects.
[00:27:42.57] So Bigelow's letter illustrates three components of this scientized popular discourse. The first is the idea that human beings could be divided into distinct types that exhibited varying degrees of civilization, intelligence, morality, and the like. The second is that some of these types were in danger of disappearing, vanishing, in the onslaught of colonial contact with the, quote unquote, "superior cultures" from the Western world.
[00:28:11.70] And the third component is the notion that, prior to total extinction, certain types could and should be saved or salvaged. This salvaging was to be done by means of textual or visual documentation as well as by collecting objects of material culture, even if the native peoples who created the objects in the first place were themselves thought to be doomed to extinction.
[00:28:35.05] So by examining how these ideas were or were not applied in the Japanese case, and how types came to be understood as being in danger of vanishing, we can place Bigelow's collection of photographs of and ideas about Japan in a historical context, and provide a framework for understanding how his and other souvenir photographs eventually made their way into the archives of the Anthropology Museum.
[00:29:05.19] So I'm going to take a step back now to consider one of the earliest examples of human type photography produced within a scientific context. It's found right here in the Peabody Museum's Archives, in a collection of daguerreotypes created in the 1850s for the Swiss-born naturalist and Harvard professor, Louis Agassiz.
[00:29:25.53] The collection of 36 photographs, known primarily for its 15 images of enslaved individuals from South Carolina plantations, also includes images of Chinese, North American-- I'm sorry, Native American and Hindu subjects. These photographs were produced as visual evidence in support of Agassiz's polygenist theories, which posited human beings as divisible into separate races, each comprising a separate species emanating from a distinct and separate creation. You can imagine this was highly controversial. Opposed not only by Darwinists, but also by many Christians interestingly, who objected to the notion of multiple creations, which they saw as a contradiction to biblical truth.
[00:30:10.44] At the time the daguerreotypes were produced, anthropology was not yet a formalized academic discipline and photography was a revolutionary new technology that required special knowledge and skills. The process was, in fact, publicly introduced to the world only in 1839. And it is significant then that, in this early project, we see the beginnings of a visual language of science in which the supposedly objective and realist technology of photography recorded the visible markers of type.
[00:30:49.31] Agassiz's physical examinations of enslaved individuals in South Carolina convinced him that there was indeed typological diversity among the different tribes and groups from Africa represented in his small sample, and he commissioned the photographs to record his data. Agassiz directed the project, and in 1850 hired Columbia Society photographer, Joseph Zilli, who produced these photographs.
[00:31:18.58] What's kind of jarring and fascinating, I think, to a 21st century viewer, is to think about the bourgeois conventions of the era's commercial portrait photography, and how they remained intact. And picturing this, what is to us, of course, a very disturbing subject, but you'll see this kind of leatherette case, velvet lined, kind of gilded bronzed framed in there. This is exactly the same kind of presentation that portraits that were commissioned for him or herself. So it's a very kind of jarring and disturbing combination of things.
[00:31:56.61] And I want to show you now some examples of how this kind of thinking related to ideas, and related ideas, manifested in a specific kind of photography. Scientific and anthropological photography emerged after Agassiz work, but that kind of very specifically scientific material really remained within scientific contexts. So in other words, anthropologists who commissioned photographs or made photographs for their study of race, quote unquote, would have kept those sort of within those scientific circles.
[00:32:35.72] I discuss these developments a bit in my book, but for reasons of time what I'm going to show you now is instead how the scientifically inflected photography that emerged in the commercial world is what, in fact, influenced the Japanese material in the Peabody collection.
[00:32:57.82] So as Luke Gartlan has observed, scholars and collectors alike have typically referred to 19th century commercial photographs of Japanese individuals as native types. Sometimes it's also called portrait types. And this genre of photography, which encompassed colonial subjects throughout the world including Native Americans, extended the appeal of human subjects of type photographs beyond their original scientific purposes by aestheticizing them. So, as you can see here with this example of an Australian aboriginal woman and man with a kangaroo carcass, it fit very neatly into kind of colonial ideas about sort of a continuum of cultures and civilization.
[00:33:45.53] Often in these configurations of sort of savagery in civilization, Australian Aborigines were put on the very bottom. And so there were-- both within scientific photography and within popular commercial photography, images such as this circulated widely, and really were kind of produced to support these ideas and reinforce these ideas. So, this is clearly a studio photograph with an unfortunate kangaroo there, but we know this is not a kind of ethnographic or anthropological fieldwork photograph that we would have accepted later in the 20th century.
[00:34:33.43] Another example is this one of a Fijian male. And again, this is hand captioned as Fijian type, but it would've been a kind of also commercial portrait that tourists could have bought, or would have been sold in European and American metropoles. I've noted down here that this is a transfer from the Museum of Comparative Zoology. So often, images of non-Western human subjects were, in fact, collected by natural history rather than ethnographic anthropological collections, so that's another interesting difference.
[00:35:10.60] In the Peabody's collection, however, there are very-- I should say, unsurprisingly, images of Innu subjects, Innu people. For those of you who aren't familiar with them, the indigenous people in northern Japan, and were very early on the subject of anthropological interest, both among Japanese scholars and foreign scholars. So it's unsurprising that the museum has these as well.
[00:35:38.72] But what was interesting is that this image here, these photographs might appear to be kind of scientifically made photographs, but were in fact made by a kind of popular author to illustrate his travel book. So you see, both in the images that circulate in the world at large as well as within museum collections, a kind of blending of both actual scientific material and commercial material living side by side in the archive.
[00:36:11.36] This is just another example of a board, what we call historic boards, which allowed photographs to be kind of filed, physically filed in the archives. And here you see [INAUDIBLE] pasted onto a board. And these [INAUDIBLE] were, again, a kind of very commercial format that were used for domestic purposes, as well as for people to collect images of politicians and royalty and celebrities. In this case, being used to collect pictures of Innu subjects.
[00:36:51.80] So by now I hope you have a little bit of a sense of this kind of wider world of imagery that kind of was informed by scientific photographs, but in fact was commercial, entirely commercial in its purpose. And so this is where I'm want to bring us back to the Japanese photographs in the Peabody collection.
[00:37:17.57] So in this example, we can see the heavy influence of scientific photography. This pairing of two men with full body tattoos can be, again, firmly located in this native type genre. So although the artfully painted backdrop-- and this is a Stillfried photograph, and he was trained as a painter and most likely painted the backdrops himself. It's also beautifully hand tinted.
[00:37:47.73] These aspects of the photograph kind of suggest luxury. In some way, the semi-naked state and poses of the two subjects actually have much more in common with physical type photography than they do with portraiture. So I think it's a mistake to think about these images as actual portraits. In fact, they really are a kind of native type photography.
[00:38:14.48] And just to bolster this point, I wanted to show you some examples in comparison with other photographs from the collection. Here, I've juxtaposed the tattoo image with images of Bantu subjects. And again, these are not scientific photographs, as such. In terms of how they were produced, they were commercially available, sort of native type photographs, but you can notice the similarity in poses. And another one here. Kind of the ways that native type photography circulated, had a very strong impact on the way Japanese photographs were made, as well. The discourses might have been slightly different, but I think it's really important to note the similarities here.
[00:39:10.64] Other images in the archive, as I mentioned earlier too, particularly by Stillfried, featured images of women. The art historian, Eleanor Hight, has made a really interesting argument about this particular photograph. She thinks it possibly was actually privately commissioned, and that it could have been a kind of-- a woman, a prostitute hired by a foreigner, maybe for a long period of time. And the reason she thinks this is because of the gold jewelry this subject is wearing. It's a very, very unusual thing to see in photographs, and she thinks it could possibly be a token from a client. But as I mentioned before, the weak copyright laws meant that sometimes privately produced are commissioned photographs would make their way into the commercial world, and this is potentially one of those things.
[00:40:14.59] Another thing. I mentioned earlier that I wanted to come back to this idea of authenticity. And what I think you see in a lot of these Japanese photographs is really a sort of staged authenticity. So that although many people might have read these as kind of authentic glimpses into daily lives of Japanese subjects, for example. One of the advantages of being physically in the archives and sort of flipping through things is you notice, for example here, that it's the same model in both of these photographs.
[00:40:48.55] Another example, here is the very, very popular kind of genre of tattoo photograph. And if you look closely, you'll see that although it's this same image, the design is very different. So you can see down here and here, it's not the same. On his back, it's similar, but it's not exactly the same. And on the head scarf as well, and other areas. Although if you look at the right arm here, although the coloring is different, the design is very similar. And so perhaps he did have some basis of an actual tattoo, that the colorist then filled in and sort of had a bit of agency and creativity in creating.
[00:41:34.67] And essentially I think what's fascinating about this is, on a technical level, we kind of learned that the tattoo colorist, the photograph colorist, had some leeway in creating different designs. The same image was sold again and again. Different studios kind of stole from each other, and might have, in fact, wanted to make some sort of a difference in design in order to sell the photographs themselves. There are a lot of different possibilities for that, but the larger point is that this was not a sort of objective recording of a Japanese body.
[00:42:13.20] In fact what's kind of fascinating is that by this point in time, tattoos have been kind of outlawed by the Japanese government. So foreigners going to Japan were still allowed to get tattoos and in fact we're doing so, but Japanese subjects were not allowed to get them at this time. And yet, the tourist demand for images of tattoos was very high. And so what did they do? They simply painted them in.
[00:42:56.37] So I want to end by returning to this image of A Good Type, the photograph that started me on this journey of study, and to leave you with just a few thoughts about how we might continue to engage with these souvenirs, these works of art, these works of anthropology, these fascinating museum objects.
[00:43:16.59] The Peabody Museum's early photographs of Japan are extremely compelling, I think, as visual objects, then and now. The desire to look is an important connection between the earliest viewers in the 19th century and their 21st century successors. That's us. Yet, this impulse need not be understood as exclusively voyeuristic. Rather, it can be harnessed as an aesthetic and intellectual desire to know and to engage in a continuing dynamic relationship between the photographs and their viewers. What are the implications of our desire to look as we continue to engage with these and other photographs of the past?
[00:43:56.58] The Peabody's collection belongs to a body of images that once attracted tourists and other foreigners interested in acquiring images of things Japanese, and unsurprisingly, many of them were stereotypically Japanese subjects, such as geisha, samurai, temples, and cherry blossoms. By presenting these photographs today, do we merely perpetuate these stereotypes, or are we able to use them to come to more nuanced understandings of both the past and the present?
[00:44:24.84] The fact remains that when contemporary viewers too are-- the fact remains that contemporary viewers are also fascinated by this kind of subject matter. Popular media and guidebooks produced both internationally and in Japan are illustrated lavishly with images of elegantly and exotically attired geisha, or more accurately, maiko, the young and photogenic apprentice geisha who visually conformed to Western expectations of what a geisha should look like, and of course other symbols of Japan's past. But in a contemporary twist, signs of modern and Western influence are no longer excised from the photographic frame.
[00:45:05.11] In fact, the new-- things like skyscrapers, advanced technology, and other signs of post modernity, the new is often purposely pictured, and edited in when necessary, as an ironic or astonishing contrast to the old, adding a layer of dissonance that updates but does not upend older stereotypes. Together, with the avalanche of other Japanese produced imagery in the form of manga and anime that has made its way into the global visual economy, let alone the ubiquitous images of cute exemplified by Hello Kitty products, contemporary images of things Japanese provide a new generation of foreign consumers with ample visual material.
[00:45:46.43] Today, although there is no dearth of physical objects bearing the stereotypical images, photographic prints, as such, are no longer collected by tourists to Japan. Nearly every visitor carries his or her own camera or smartphone, and the resulting digital images have all but replaced any demand for printed photographs. These images circulate as physical photographs once did, but they travel instantaneously via the internet, and without the physical constraints and imitations of a material object.
[00:46:20.74] Despite the rapid dissemination, might these images lose their staying power as compared to their predecessors as they can too easily be discarded, deleted, or replaced? Do they lose a sense of gravitas or preciousness because they can be produced, shared, created by anyone with a camera phone? Or, might they become even more valuable, more personal, than the printed photographs of the 19th century, which were purchased commodities as opposed to self created images?
[00:46:50.87] Our new personal media constructions have altered what constitutes an ideal or typical visual representation, complicating the definition or very existence of such an image. And so, if an updated version of photography of Japan exists mainly in digital form now and for the foreseeable future, how might one imagine a place for collections of early Japanese photographs such as the Peabody Museum's? Indeed, that collection is now largely accessible online, adding the museum's historical images, Japanese images, to the cache of more recent and contemporary images residing digitally in institutional databases and on commercial websites, privately produced blogs, and then social media.
[00:47:36.07] One answer is to conduct examinations like the one I have tried to accomplish in my book, that is to think about photographs in the context of their creation and initial consumption, their subsequent re-appropriation into the scientific record, and their continuing value as historical records, collective memories, and digital assets.
[00:47:55.87] Our desire to look can also be a desire to know. And combined with examination of other archival and historical documents and ethnographic studies, this desire can motivate us to think about how we use the past and the present, and how visual imagery captures and reflects both past and present cultural realities. The availability of historic images in public or private archives allows them to move outside of their original context, and be re-appropriated in different time periods for different purposes. This intellectual engagement keeps the photographs alive, and provides a growing body of re-imagined images that continue to delight, amaze, inspire, and teach us about ourselves and others.
[00:48:39.52] Thank you very much.