Carlton Harlow Graves (d. 1943?) was a provocateur. His early published stereoviews contained several pirated images, including several taken of Japan. When he hired Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935) in 1901 to create his own private stock of Japanese negatives, he then issued a set of 200 Japan views, unprecedented in size and more than doubling the number published in a single set by his closest competitors.[1] Furthermore, Graves also sought to cater to the lower-priced markets (standard cards were sold at six for a dollar), and he began operating under several different company names, rebranding constantly before he left the stereoview business in 1907. One of these ventures issued images on cheap slate-colored mounts with the “Stereoscopic Gems of American and Foreign Scenery” imprint. Released between 1902 and 1905, Graves is believed to have re-used Ponting’s negatives first commissioned for the premier set of 200 views.

IMG_5830.jpg

  • Title/Caption: Colossal Statue of Buddha Kamakura Japan [on negative]
  • Year: c. 1902-5
  • Photographer: Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: Stereoscopic Gems of American and Foreign Scenery, Carlton Harlow Graves (d. 1943?)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

This stereoview is unlike many of its elite contemporaries, printed on smaller and untrimmed photographic paper and mounted on cheaper card stock. Moreover, the caption is not imprinted on the mount, but superimposed onto the negative in a style quite reminiscent of Yokohama photography studios. Although this image is different from the 200-view set, it is almost certainly the work of Ponting. The camera is set at almost the exact same location as the view issued under the Universal Photo Art Company imprint, panned out slightly to incorporate the young woman and child in the foreground. Both photographs were also taken at the same time of day, high-noon, when the overhead sun cast the darkest shadow on the Daibutsu’s face and neck, suggesting the same photographer who preferred such stylized shots. The kneeling men, however, are the clearest hallmark of Ponting’s directions, an element wholly unseen in other stereographic images of this bronze statue, and otherwise highly uncommon in previous studio photography.[2] The common gaze of the onlookers towards the Daibutsu, combined with the reverent posturing of the kneeling men, creates an atmosphere of religious piety. It is important to note, however, that the caption on the negative does bolster such a perspective of religious Otherness, but instead highlights the aesthetic qualities of the statue, noting its size as “colossal.” This conforms to the genre conventions used in Yokohama port photography generally, whereas titles imprinted on stereocards more typically brought attention to the worshippers or the religious activities in the scene. If this image was indeed taken by Ponting during his tour of Japan in 1901-2, it is clear to see why his other image was selected for the flagship series and this one was relegated to the cheaper run-offs. The irregular spacing of the kneeling men and the cropped body of the woman creates an unbalanced composition; a mediocre view for the mediocre stock it was mounted on.

Notes

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in American mass media. All items are part of my personal collection of American Buddhist ephemera.

[1] For more detailed information on Ponting and Graves, see Bennett 2006.

[2] The most notable exception being Adolpho Farsari’s large-format albumen print of the early 1880’s.

References

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Old Japanese Photographs Collector’s Data Guide. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd.

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