Gallery Two: Japan

Photographs and Illustrated Books from Japan

I left Tokyo, Japan, at the age of 10 to be educated in UK and I have lived here ever since. I was very interested in viewing the Japanese collection at the British Library in order to discover the history of my own culture and, in a sense, find my roots.

Zetland Collection. Photo 364/7.
Zetland Collection. Photo 364/7.

I see a picture like this and wonder what the place looks like now. Obviously, Tokyo looks very different to this nowadays…

Zetland Collection. Photo 364/5.
Zetland Collection. Photo 364/5.

Then I came across this photo. It was taken in Kamakura, Japan, and as it happens my grandmother lives very close by so I am very familiar with this place. I was drawn to the familiarity of the site but I was also intrigued by the lone figure standing in front of the Buddha. I sense a story here…a narrative…

I knew then that I wanted to go back to the same location and take a photograph to see how the place looks now and perhaps stand in front of the Buddha, like the photograph here…..

Spalding Collection. Photo 335/7.
Spalding Collection. Photo 335/7.

You find that many early photographs from Japan around this time are hand-coloured. They are individually painted using dyes and watercolours. This was very popular in Japan and became a refined art form from the 1860’s.

Some of the photographs are a little bit over the top and nowhere near to the original colours but I like those ones as they look almost like paintings.

Photo 752/24(253). Japanese women around the end of 19th Century.
Photo 752/24(253). Japanese women around the end of 19th Century.

I was very interested in the construction of these images, as many of them were taken by Westerners. I was also drawn by my own curiosity to find out what the women of Japan looked like and how they dressed back then.

Portrait of Japanese Woman. Add49352.
Portrait of Japanese Woman. Add49352.
Nishikawa Sukenobu 16074.e.44
1723 Hyakunin joro shinasadame ‘One Hundred Women Classified According to Their Rank’ by Nishikawa Sukenobu 16074.e.44
Gaiban yobo zue 16113.d.47
Gaiban yobo zue. Pictures of the Appearance of Foreign Barbarians. 16113.d.47

This is one of the many books produced immediately after the visit of Commodore Perry to inform the Japanese about the people of the West (1854). This is how the English were portrayed by the Japanese in the book. As the title suggests, all the illustrations in the book are quite sarcastic and ironic.

Japanese Illustrated Books

I have also looked at many Japanese Illustrated Books, especially the work of HOKUSAI. I think I saw all of his books in the collections. I studied his sense of design, which features simple but dynamic compositions. In many ways I think his work looks photographic.

HOKUSAI 65.c.57
HOKUSAI 65.c.57
HOKUSAI 65.c.67
HOKUSAI 65.c.67
HOKUSAI 65.c.67
HOKUSAI 65.c.67
HOKUSAI 65.c.67
HOKUSAI 65.c.67