Ponting and White’s “Sacred Daibitsu” (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

By 1902, the 72-view “Strohmeyer Set” issued by Underwood & Underwood dominated the market of Japanese themed stereoview cards. Hawley C. White (b. 1847?), motivated to transform the stereograph from novelty item to educational tool, worked for three years developing his “White Travel Tours” and issued the first challenge to the Underwood monopoly. White’s “Perfec” Stereograph company would publish its first set of 72-views of Japan in 1902, replacing them with a brand-new series of 100-views in 1905. To procure images for this new 100-view series, White called upon the now-experienced stereo-photographer Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935), who was commissioned by the studios run by H.C. Graves and the Underwoods in the preceding years to produce their catalogues of Japanese stereoviews.[1] This would mark the third trip to Japan for Ponting, who would arrive around the fall of 1904 and photograph through to the summer of 1905. Ponting would return to Japan two more times working for White and would eventually collect his reminiscences of his travels in his 1910 work, In Lotus-Land Japan, profusely illustrated by his own photography.

IMG_E5842.jpg

  • Title: The Sacred Daibutsu, Colossal Bronze Image of Buddha, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1905
  • Photography:  Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: The “Perfec” Stereograph; Hawley C. White (B. 1847?) (#23 out of 100)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on olive-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

This commissioned image on olive-colored mount shows the maturation of Ponting’s work over the years. He positions his camera in almost the exact same spot as for his Underwood & Underwood image a year prior, off-center to the left, almost at three-quarters view. The late day sun hangs low in the sky, illuminating the near side of the Daibutsu’s faces. These compositional conventions are also present in the work of Enami Nobukuni 江南信國 (1859-1929), a famed Yokohama photographer and stereographer with whose work Ponting was familiar.[2] Moreover, Ponting seems to have been influenced by Enami’s positioning of people, thinning out the crowd of people present in his Underwood funded excursion to Kamakura. Now, three Japanese men are placed at different depths, each appearing to be in mid-stride as they walk towards the Daibutsu. This creates an effect of motion as the viewer’s eyes are drawn into the mighty bronze statue. By placing these onlookers at different depths, the stereographic effect would also have greater impact, creating a better sense of three-dimensionality and dynamism. While the gaze of the visitors is towards the Daibutsu, the object of reverence, their attitude is more casual. This is in contrast to Ponting’s earliest attempts at creating the mise-en-scène where onlookers were directed to kneel, a transparent attempt to signal piety to the viewer. Even though the men here are not Western tourists, one cannot help think that they may be partaking in an afternoon stroll to see the local attractions. The caption presents a similar ambiguity. Although it qualifies the Daibutus as “sacred,” it does not refer to the nature of the visitors; are they worshippers or local sight-seers? Furthermore, by describing the Daibitsu as a “colossal bronze image,” it underscores its aesthetic dimensions and fine craftsmanship admired by Western sightseers.

IMG_E5847.jpg

The reverse of the card in imprinted with the caption in six different languages (omitting the word “sacred” in all of them, however) and a brief description of the locale. It is written in the style of a guidebook or travelogue, providing distances, historical dates, and some descriptive vocabulary. There is only the briefest passing mention on Buddhist belief, really just noting the “brooding calm” of the Buddha “musing upon Nirvana,” before continuing to describe the dimensions and material composition of the statue. It closes by advising the reader to consult with two books for more information about Japan, namely Edith Singleton’s Japan as Seen and Described by Famous Writers, published in 1905, and Anne C. Hartshorne’s Japan and Her People, published in 1902. Both are dominated by travel writing, and as such only add to the sense that viewing stereocards was presented as a form of virtual travel.

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 White, see Bennett 2006.

[2] Ponting’s stereoviews were supplemented by Enami’s own work in both the sets commissioned by C.H. Graves and Underwood & Underwood.

References

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

Graves’ “Stereoscopic Gem” (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

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.

Ponting & Graves’ “Largest Idol in the East” (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

Carlton Harlow Graves (d. 1943?) started operating his Universal Photo Art Company in the early 1880’s and eventually started offering pirated views of Japan on buff/tan-colored flat mounts possibly in the late 1890s. Looking to enter into the market dominated by Underwood & Underwood’s “Strohmeyer Set,” Graves hired an unexperienced stereo-photographer, Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935), to expand and establish his company’s Japan portfolio.[1] Having only turned a professional photographer a year before, Ponting arrived in Japan around the fall of 1901 and photographed the scenery of Japan into early 1902. This was the first of at least five extended stays over the next five years for Ponting who would go on to work for three different seteroview publishers in his short career. Graves decided to use Ponting’s images as the base for a massive 200-view series on Japan, unprecedented in size given that only 72-view sets of Japan were issued at the time. It would be several years before other publishers would offer anything of a similar scope. This was the first and only time Ponting worked for Graves, but the portfolio of Japanese images Ponting would build over the next few years would increase his reputation significantly, ultimately allowing him to be invited as the official photographer for the ill-fated British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13. On the eve of leaving for the expedition in 1910, Ponting published his reminiscences of his stays in Japan as In Lotus-Land Japan, profusely illustrated by his own photography.

IMG_E5827.jpg

  • Title/Caption: Worshipping at the Shrine of the Great Daibutsu, the Largest Idol in the East. Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1902
  • Photography:  Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: Universal Photo Art Company, Carlton Harlow Graves (d. 1943?)(#70 out of 200)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

Ponting’s image of the Daibutsu is uncommon in several regards. It gives significant visual weight to the row of four Japanese men kneeling, eyes downcast, in apparent reverence to the Buddhist image. This kneeling posture is almost unique among the hundreds of stereo-photographs of this temple scene. Indeed, the only other image with kneeling supplicants I have encountered I suspect to also be under Ponting’s artistic direction. The orchestration of such a scene should not be too surprising. The visual cue of kneeling would immediately signal to a Western audience a pious act of religiosity. The caption on the card also makes it apparent that the act of worshipping is to be highlighted, as are the non-aesthetic religious dimensions of the statue, which is clearly labeled an “idol.”

The lowered heads of the men mirror that of the Daibutsu, who in turn softly gazes down at them, creating an atmosphere of solemnity, possibly even penitence. The garments worn by the men create a strong contrast and the bold design keeps bringing the viewer’s eye back to their reverent posturing. The foreign-looking crests on their backs remind the viewer that they are not Western tourists. The clothing is traditional festival wear (happi 法被), and it remains unclear if Ponting was entirely fortunate to be photographing on the day of a festival, or if he hired the men to don the festive, bold attire; though I suspect the latter. In other regards, the images is fairly standard, taken from almost the same frontal position as Strohmeyer’s version, but cropped more tightly around the Daibutsu, who in turn becomes more centered. By having the men kneeling, an illusion is created whereby the perfectly centered Daibutsu appears larger, almost as if determining the fate of the men.

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.

References

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

Underwood & Underwood’s Tourist Excursion (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

After Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, “commercial Orientalism” continued to thrive as the American public still clung to the lingering traces of “Japan Fever,” even in the wake of a growing racialized threat in the form of a modernized Japanese state.[1] The first decade of the twentieth century saw the heyday of Japanese themed stereoviews, as the three major publishing houses of C.H. Graves, H.C. White, and the Underwoods were offering no less than eight different 100-view sets.[2] The growing popularity of amateur photography and the widespread reproduction of images more generally in books, magazines, and newspapers afforded less cultural prestige to the ownership of large collections of stereoviews. Eventually, “nickelodeons” and larger theaters would become the preferred form of “virtual travel” for most Americans by the 1910’s. By 1908, Underwood & Underwood issued its last major catalogue of stereoviews before downsizing its stock of negatives in a slow sell-off to its rival Keystone and transforming its business into one of the first stock photography companies. In addition to publishing the “Ponting set” of 1904, Underwood & Underwood continued to issue a second 100-view Japan set and a Russo-Japanese War set, both initially offered in 1905. Moreover, in looking to cater to sophisticated clientele, Underwood & Underwood began assigning a stereo-photographer to accompany wealthy tourists on world cruises aboard the S.S. Cleveland and marketed new sets directly to these cultured elite. Between 1908 and 1915, many of the new views were taken by anonymous company photographers, and possibly even accomplished amateurs, who joined the tourist excursion parties to various stops around Japan.

IMG_5840.jpg

  • Title/Caption: The Kakamura Wonder [handwritten on reverse]
  • Year: c. 1905-1914?
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

I believe this stereocard to be from one of these later anonymous photographers. There are some clues in the scene which suggest it comes from the decade between 1905 and 1915. The wooden coin box in front of the offering table has lost its picketed fencing and small gabled roof, easily identifiable features found in photographs taken up through 1905.[3] In addition, the presence of tourists atop the Daibutsu along with a small ladder at the lower right of the statue to facilitate the climb suggest this photograph was taken before these activities were forbidden, around 1914, if not earlier.[4] Moreover, the composition of the image is quite unlike the images professionally published before. The mise-en-scène is uncharacteristically frenetic and claustrophobic. The foreground is cluttered with half-cropped onlookers dressed in western attire – likely members of a tourist excursion party? Their gaze is directed in several off-camera directions as they amble about the space with no seeming purpose. Significant visual attention is afforded to the two tourists standing in the lap and hands of the Daibutsu, confronting the viewer’s gaze directly. Their frontal posturing perched in front of the main tourist attraction reminds us of the endless number of albumen prints circulating the Yokohama photography studios decades before. For the tourists, this composition signals a desire to be seen, and as a consequence, to be certified in their quest for authentic exotica. Unlike the images of Strohmeyer and Ponting, which underscore the religious elements of the temple setting, this anonymous photograph substitutes the devoted worshipper with the discerning tourist. As a result, the Daibutsu is cast as a harmless object to be collected and admired for its aesthetic properties. It becomes a prop to secure the cultural capital of those posed in front of it.

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] John Kuo Wei Tchen describes a market driven commodity Orientalism used to gratify the American desire for exotica that operated at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Although he is mainly concerned with explaining the desire for Chinese-styled goods, the same theory can be applied to the passionate American taste for Japan. See Tchen 1999.

[2] For more on the popularity of stereoviews during this period see Bennett 2006.

[3] Specifically, the photos for H.C. White’s 1905 100-veiw set by Herbert Ponting were taken in the fall of 1904 and summer of 1905, and given the lushness of the foliage and warm-weather clothing of the onlookers strolling around the Daibutsu, it seems the image was taken in the summer of 1905.

[4] This is noted in the guidebook entitled Terry’s Japanese Empire, published in 1914 (pg. 29). By 1910, Ponting was alreadying noting the difficulty in taking photographs in part to the rude behavior of tourists looking to climb atop the Daibutsu, see In Lotus-Land Japan, p. 357. Given that Ponting last visited Japan in 1906, it appears this was a long-standing issue.

References

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Old Japanese Photographs Collector’s Data Guide. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
  • Tchen, John Kuo Wei. 1999. New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

Ponting and Underwoods’ “Majestic Calm” of the Kamakura Daibutsu (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

After completing his series of photographs commissioned by C.H. Graves and the Universal Photo Art Company, Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935) was hired by the premier publishers of stereoviews, Underwood & Underwood, in 1903 to take new stereo-photographs of the scenery of Japan.[1] These new images would replace the older series by Henry Strohmeyer, which was already almost a decade into its profitable run. For this set, Underwood & Underwood would expand the total number of views from 72 to 100, bringing them up to pace with their competitors who were enlarging their Japanese portfolios. Ponting was in Japan (or it neighboring regions) from spring to late fall 1903, and his images were published on the now-standard slate-colored mounts in 1904. By the end of his stereo-photography career, Ponting would have produced more images of Japan than any other Western stereo-photographer, having shot eight separate volumes of 100-view sets for an array of publishers in the first decade of the twentieth century. His reminiscences of his stays in Japan were published in 1910 as In Lotus-Land Japan, not surprisingly illustrated by copious amounts of his own photography.

IMG_E5835.jpg

  • Title/Caption: Majestic Calm of the Great Bronze Buddha, Revered for Six Centuries, (Facing S.W.) Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1904
  • Photographer: Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood; part of  “Tour of Japan” (#11 out of 100)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in x 3.5 in

Ponting’s approach to photographing the Daibutsu stands in contrast to that of Strohmeyer. Avoiding the all-too-common frontal symmetry employed by decades of professional and amateur photographers, Ponting takes his image from a few paces off-center, almost at three-quarters view (and abandons having his subjects kneel in reverence). It is possible he was imitating the composition made famous by his contemporary Enami Nobukuni 江南信國 (1859-1929), who fastidiously avoided the frontal view of the Daibutsu, albeit with far more panache than Ponting. In Ponting’s image, the scene is crowded by Japanese onlookers, comprised of men, women, and children, all paying homage to the Buddhist image, with those closest lowering their heads in reverence. With the worshipper’s feet firmly planted and their gaze seemingly synchronized, the scene appears a touch too orchestrated. There is one exception, however. In the lower left, a young woman and baby gaze off to the side and back, with the eyes of the child seemingly looking directly at the viewer. Due to this eye contact, the viewer is made uncomfortable; attention is brought to the ethnographic voyeurism at play in such images. Acting as a real tourist, the viewer is “sight-seeing” as well as being seen by the actors in this imaginary drama. [2]

The casualness of the worshippers, dressed in a variety of loose-fitting garments, and the presence of the resting dog reassert some of the mundaneness of the scene. Looking more closely, we can spot a young man reclining on the base of the left lantern, adding to the sense that the viewer is actually peering into the daily temple environs. The caption brings attention to the “majestic calm” of the Daibutsu, asking the viewer to recognize the serenity of the setting, despite the small crowd of worshippers looking frozen in their spots. The photograph and its accompanying caption strike a balance between highlighting the wonder of the statue and the religious activities of Japanese commoners.

In addition to the multi-lingual captioning on the reverse side of the card saved from its 72-view predecessor, this set also included a lengthy description and history of the scene depicted on the obverse (some variant editions lack this description, however). By opening with a second-person form of address (“You are about an hour’s ride by rail…”), the readers are immediately transported into the role of a globetrotting tourist making their way through the foreign terrain of Japan. The three-dimensional effect of stereoviews combined the stylized point-of-view of the description all act to make the beholder of the card a truly virtual tourist. The descriptive account employs ample amounts of pathos, drawing upon nostalgia for the “old times of mediæval splendor” and nuanced detail of the craftsmanship of the statue, highlighting the value of the “solid gold” eyes and “pure silver” ūrṇā. In form, this does not differ greatly from the genre of guidebooks and travel account narratives, of which many readers would likely be familiar. The description ends with comments on Japanese religious practice, and directs readers to Lafcadio Hearn’s (1850-1904) Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, first published in 1894 and which had become a popular seller.[3]

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 the publishers Underwood & Underwood, see Bennett 2006.

[2] It was not uncommon for stereoview publishers to sell the rights of their images for used in other printed venues. Half of Ponting’s stereoview, for example, was used in Clive Holland’s Things Seen in Japan, published in 1907, (pg. 215).

[3] As described by Thomas Tweed, Hearn was a romanticist, focusing on the exotic, aesthetic, and literary dimensions of Buddhism, see Tweed 2000. This would be a natural fit for the middle-to-upper class consumers of stereoviews, who would have shared many similar sentiments.

References

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Old Japanese Photographs Collector’s Data Guide. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
  • Tweed, Thomas A. 2000. The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent, Revised Edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Strohmeyer’s “Faithful at the Shrine of the Daibutsu” (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

In early 1896, photographer and publisher Henry A. Strohmeyer (1858-1943) set off for an around the world photographic tour to capture images from Japan, China, and India and various locations in the Middle East and Europe. Arriving in Japan in the Spring of 1896, Strohmeyer probably took around 300-400 negatives which were curated into a set of 72 images, thus establishing the first dedicated box set of Japan views sold in the world. This 72-view set was distributed exclusively by Underwood & Underwood, the largest producers of stereographic cards globally, making – and presumably selling – nearly 30,000 stereocards and 900 stereoviewers per day by 1900.[1] The Underwood & Underwood empire had perfected door-to-door canvassing, employing enterprising college students to directly market their stock to the public. The catalogue and publishing operation of Strohmeyer and business partner Nehemiah Dwight Wyman (1861-1934) was acquired by Underwood & Underwood in 1901, and the 72-view Japan set continued to be published under the Underwood & Underwood imprint until 1904 when it was replaced by the new “Ponting Set.” For eight years between 1896 and 1904, Strohmeyer’s photographs of Japan remained the premier set of Japanese imagery for the American mass public.[2]

IMG_E5822.jpg

  • Title/Caption: The Faithful at the Shrine of Dai Butsu, Japan’s Greatest Idol, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1896
  • Photographer: Henry A. Strohmeyer (1858-1943)
  • Publisher: Strohmeyer & Wyman, distributed by Underwood & Underwood (out of a set of 72 views)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved buff/tan-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

Strohmeyer’s image of the Daibutsu produces a rather stilted mise-en-scène. Two pairs of Japanese onlookers, with the formally dressed women placed several paces behind the men, stand stoically facing the grand Buddhist image. The viewer enters the scene through the two well-groomed women in the lower right foreground, a visual pathway enhanced through the three-dimensional effect produced by stereoscopic viewing. The visual weight given to these two Japanese women immediately calls to mind the motif of the hypersexualized Orient, often signaled through the appearance of alluring geisha. Cultural difference is highlighted not only through the clothing of the worshippers, but also throught the magnititude of the object of reverence. In contrast to William Henry Metcalf’s stereoview which elided a human presence, Strohmeyer’s incorporation of people allows for a better sense of scale of the towering bronze statue. In addition, by placing the women on the landing before the stairs, there is an apparent greater verticle destance between them and the head of the Daibutsu, which crowns the very top of the image. This creates an illusion of the statue being taller than it really is.[3] Yet the wooden posturing of the onlookers makes the size of the Daibutsu appear more menacing then contemplative. Due to the artificial parallel placement and awkward stances, more attention is drawn to the awe-struck worshippers, casting the entire scene under an unnatural and ominous shadow. The caption to the photograph also focuses the viewer’s attention on the pious “faithful,” making this image less about the artistic virtue of the Daibutsu, and more about the foreign and unfamiliar religiosity that inspires such creations

IMG_E5817.jpg

  • Title: The Faithful at the Shrine of Dai Butsu, Japan’s Greatest Idol, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1901
  • Photographer: Henry A. Strohmeyer (1858-1943)
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood (#54 of 72)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved buff/tan-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

In 1901, after the acquisition of Strohmeyer and Wyman’s catalogue, Underwood & Underwood re-issued the 72-card set, now listed as both publisher and distributer on the mount. The cards were numbered sequentially and the reverse reprinted the caption in English along with five foreign language translations (French, German, Spanish, Swedish, and Russian) suggesting the international popularity of the series. The series would be re-issued one more time around 1902/3 on slate-colored mounts.

  • Title: None (dated on reverse September 11, 1923)
  • Photographer: Henry A. Strohmeyer (1858-1943)
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood (#54 of 72)
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

Around the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, Underwood & Underwood expanded into news photography, slowing their production of stereoviews through World War I until fully selling off their stock and rights to Keystone Viewing Company in 1921. They apparently continued to hold the non-stereographic rights to numerous photographs, however, including Strohmeyer’s 1896 image of the Great Buddha of Kamakura. This above photograph, dated September 11, 1923 on the reverse, was originally owned by the Baltimore Sun and was likely procured in response to the Great Kantō earthquake of September 1, 1923. The Kamakura Daibutsu was easily recognized as one of the most famous monuments of Japan by international audiences and numerous papers reported on the damage of the statue. I have been unable to locate this image among the published papers of the Baltimore Sun, however. It is the left side of Strohmeyer’s original stereoscopic image, photographed more than two decades earlier.

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 estimates on card production at the turn of the century, see Darrah 1977: 47. Brey  also discusses production and the scripted sales pitch that made the Underwoods’ enterprise highly successful, see Brey 1990.

[2] For more information on Strohmeyer and the publishers Underwood & Underwood, see Bennett 2006.

[3] Most photographers would position their camera on this second landing, an optimal distance to fill a majority of the frame with the Daibutsu. Only a hand of photographers would position themsleves further back, on the first landing, which minimizes the visual significance of the Daibutsu, but also opens the possibility for more visually compelling compositions.

References

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Old Japanese Photographs Collector’s Data Guide. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
  • Brey, William. 1990. “Ten Million Stereo Views a Year,” Stereo World, Vol. 16, No. 6, pp. 6-12. [Conveniently digitized by the National Stereoscopic Association, www.stereoworld.org.]
  • Darrah, William C. 1977. The World of Stereographs. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: W.C. Darrah.

Metcalf & Bennet’s “A Summer In Japan” (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

Although professional photography studios already crowded the Japanese treaty port of Yokohama by the 1870s, William Henry Metcalf (1821-1892) was one of the first intrepid amateur photographers who brought his own camera on his trans-Pacific trip to Japan.[1] More than a decade before portable Kodak cameras ushered in a new era of amateur photography, Metcalf commissioned his friend and fellow photographer Henry Hamilton Bennet (1843-1908) to construct a portable travel camera, equipped with both photographic and stereoscopic lenses. Arriving in Yokohama in June 1877 with the pioneering “Japanologist” Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925), Metcalf set out on a four-month tour photographing the Japanese landscape. More than two dozen of his stereographic photographs were consigned for publication by Bennet under the title “A Summer in Japan” and promoted to a ready market in the US hungry for imagery of the exotic Orient.

IMG_E5813.jpg

  • Title/Caption: Bronze Image of Buddha at Kammakura [sic]
  • Year: 1877
  • Photographer: William Henry Metcalf (1821-1892)
  • Publisher: Henry Hamilton Bennett (1843–1908), “A Summer in Japan” (#346)
  • Medium: albumen print, mounted on yellow-orange card
  • Dimensions: 7 in x 3.5 in

Metcalf’s image of the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Kamakura was not the first published stereoview card of this popular tourist attraction, yet it remains an early attempt at capturing the ancient bronze behemoth with this new and increasingly popular photographic technique.[2] It also presages the immense popularity of this subject for the stereographic trade of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when it became a staple image among the sets of Japan views issued by the larger publishers, such as Underwood, Graves, and White. Metcalf’s image is uncommon among contemporary photographs of the Daibutsu in that it captures the scene devoid of people, casting visual focus on the serene countenance of the statue and its bucolic setting. More typically, people, oftentimes children, would be included in the shot to establish the sheer grandeur of the statue, but here the viewer is left to his or her own devices to estimate the size and dimensions. Moreover, by removing visitors from the scene, Metcalf was able to facilitate a more immediate encounter between the viewer and religious icon, creating a silent space to ponder the meaning of such a picturesque portrait.

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 on Metcalf’s travels and photography see Gartlin 2010.

[2] I am aware of at least two older stereoview cards bearing the image of the Kamakura Daibutsu, one photographed by Charles Weed and published in San Francisco by Thomas Houseworth & Co. in 1869, and one published internationally under several titles by Wilhelm Burger, also in 1869. (A image of Burger’s stereoview card can be found in the Database of Old Japanese Photographs in the Nagasaki University Library Collection.) For more informaiton on these sets, see Bennett 2006.

References

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Old Japanese Photographs Collector’s Data Guide. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
  • Gartlan, Luke. 2010. “Japan Day by Day? William Henry Metcalf, Edward Sylvester Morse and Early Tourist Photography in Japan,” Early Popular Visual Culture, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 125–146.