Figure 1pckd006u(o)pckd006u(r)

  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu, Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1907 [postally unused]
  • Publisher: Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Carte Postale [Type 2], Made in Japan, 郵便はかき

The unknown photographer of this image set the camera slightly off-center, positioning it just to the left of the shoulder of the three-step stairway leading to the first landing. From this position the Daibutsu does not peer directly at the viewer, but slightly off to the side, creating a more restful, nonconfrontational composition. The Japanese visitors add to this genial environment, casually positioning their bodies in front of the Buddhist statue [Figure 2]. It appears as if one woman is fixing her hair as she casually looks back towards the camera. Another, older woman, appears to look dotingly upon a child who is plafully placing a foot on the fence around the coin box. Unlike other staged photographs where Japanese supplicants are made to kneel in prostration in front of the Daibutsu, this presents a mundane scene. All of  these elements combine to create a spontaneous and unfussy mise en scène, a seeming “snap shot” of the daily affairs on temple grounds.

Figure 2

PCKD006u(o) visitors.jpg

The hand coloring is fairly typical of postcards of the period, with the Japanese garments painted in vibrant colors. We do not see pink cherry blossoms painted behind the Daibutsu, thus directing our attention to the brightly clothed visitors in the foreground. The reverse of the card does not indicate the publisher, but the design corresponds to the Type 2 back of Ueda publishing, dating this card between 1907-1918. The reverse is slightly unusual since the “Made in Japan” mark is on the lower edge of the card and not in the dividing line splitting the correspondence and address sections. Another small detail suggesting Ueda as the publishers is the coloring of the child clothing (pink with a red dot) as we find on other Ueda cards. In bold, cerulean letterpress (not the slight embossing on the back of the card from the lettering), the caption simply states the object and location, in English and Japanese – Daibutsu, Kamakura.

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

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