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Felice Beato

“Working together, we hope to raise awareness of both sites among new audiences across the world. In turn, that should help their potential to contribute to local communities through sustainable tourism development.” — Felice Beato

His reputation was established by pictures from Crimea, "photographic views and panoramas" of the Indian Mutiny, and of architecture in cities such as Lucknow, Cawnpore, Delhi, Agra, Benares and the province of Punjab. Not to forget the bone-strewn site of the British massacre at Lucknow (1857). In the last year of the Opium War, Beato was named official photographic reporter. With his shots of Taku in eastern China after it was taken by the English and French on 21 August, 1860, he provided—just a year before Brady's pictures of the American Civil War— a shocking scenario of colonial war: numerous dead bodies on the ramps and positions inside the North Fort. After the capture of Peking a few weeks later, Beato documented the stormed walls and gates, and produced multipartite panoramas of the bastions and the city.

Seemingly even more significant in retrospect is his documentation of a great range of buildings, including royal palaces, temples, pagodas, gates and sepulchers, Lamaistic temples, and mosques. A major art historical record is Beato's image of the Imperial Summer Palace, torched by the British on 18 October in retribution for the killing of 20 British soldiers in Chinese custody.

Hardly had the Japanese harbor city of Yokohama been opened to Europeans when Beato and his partner established a photographic studio there. He produced the period's finest views of Japan, including panoramas of the cities and harbors of Nagasaki andl Yokohama. Beato began photographing Edo half a century before it became the new Japanese capital. He portrayed the Dutch and American legations, members of the European colony over tea, on Queen Victoria's birthday, at the races, rowing, and hunting. In 1866, with the Dutch consul general, he climbed Fujiyama, but was unable to take pictures of the summit.

Incomparable are Beato's photographs of Japanese "native types," representatives of occupations and ordinary people of the kind you would meet on the street—from coolies and tattooed stable boys to itinerant priests, from fishmongers to saké purveyors. Especially picturesque are the Kando fencers and the Samurai warriors, whose heyday had passed with the onset of the Meiji period. One of the four Japanese painters who tinted Beato's prints is also portrayed, wearing eyeglasses and with brush at the ready.

Then there are the everyday scenes, a doctor with his patient, views of an antique shop, officers drinking tea. In genre pictures, Beato captured women applying makeup, and geishas smoking opium or playing music. It was especially Europeans who lived in Japan or were traveling through who bought such pictures from Beato. In 1868 he collected them in a two-volume work, Photographic Views of Japan.

Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan

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