Underwood & Underwood’s Cleveland Cruise Portrait

On October 16, 1909, the S.S. Cleveland left Hoboken, New Jersey on the first commercial around-the-world cruise. American tour operator, Frank C. Clark, chartered the Cleveland from the German operated Hamburg-American Line, leaving the east coast with a party of 650 passengers and traveling eastward through the Suez Canal before making landfall in San Francisco three months later on January 31, 1910. Because the Panama Canal was four years away from completion, the passengers completed the last leg of the around-the-world tour via train, returning to their origin point on the east coast. Thus, although Clark’s cruise was not a complete circumnavigation of the globe, the public and press treated it as such. Five days after landing in San Francisco, the Cleveland re-crossed the Pacific Ocean to start a second around-the-world tour, this time carrying more than 750 passengers. Clark’s pair of world tours generated significant amounts of publicity, with thousands appearing in San Francisco to send the ship off. The Cleveland made several subsequent trips between 1912 and 1914 until the advent of World War I interrupted access to the German-owned vessel.[1] The standard itinerary for trans-Pacific cruises of the period included a longer stopover in the port of Yokohama. Here, passengers could go ashore and enjoy the local sites, including a visit to the Kamakura Daibutsu.

One of the most popular publishers of stereocards, Underwood & Underwood, took advantage of these widely marketed luxury world tours and assigned a stereo-photographer to accompany the guests aboard the Cleveland to chronicle the trip. These new stereophotographs then became stock in Underwood & Underwood’s massive catalogue of Japan views and marketed to the general public.

Figure 1

  • Title/Caption: 298-Daibutsu, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1913-1914
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

According to the account of R. H. Casey, a passenger aboard the Cleveland during its fourth trip across the globe which arrived in Japan on February 24, 1913, the tourist excursion trips were a sight to behold. Two hundred and forty passengers boarded a train to Kamakura and rode rickshaws from the train station to the temple of the Daibutsu, traveling en masse through the narrow roads of the rustic city’s backcountry.[2] This feeling of mass tourism is captured perfectly by our unknown photographer’s view, showing a cluster of nearly fifty people crowded in front of the Daibutsu [Fig. 1]. Almost all of the visitors are mounted atop the stone foundation or posing in the lap of the colossal statue. This posturing of gazing towards the viewer reflects a long-standing photographic tradition of collecting exotic “trophies” by being pictured in front of one’s cultural conquests.

The card itself does not identify the party as originating from the Cleveland, but an adjacent card in the Underwood & Underwood catalogue (number 247, Fig. 2), does identify a large group of tourists perched along the tall stairway of Hachiman Shrine as traveling aboard the Cleveland. Moreover, a close inspection of these two photographs reveals the same individuals are depicted in both.[3] Thus, we can safely assume the visitors to the Daibutsu are among the globetrotters aboard the Cleveland.

Figure 2


It is difficult to determine which around-the-world cruise this group of people joined. Photographs from the initial pair of Clark’s trips, between 1909-1910, show the Daibutsu site displaying a picketed fence and gabled roof on the coin offering box (saisenbako 賽銭箱), elements that appear – to my eye – to be missing in this stereoview.[4] It is possible this image was taken on one of the second pair of cruises, landing in Yokohama in January and February 1913, having departed from Hoboken and San Francisco respectively.[5] A fifth, and likely final, cruise aboard the Cleveland was scheduled to depart the east coast in January 1914 on a 93-day voyage to San Francisco, with no scheduled “return” trip.[6] Thus, it appears this photograph of the Daibutsu could have been taken during one of these three trips during 1913 or 1914.

In contrast to the other Underwood & Underwood view of tourists atop the Daibutsu, this composition has the feeling of formal portraiture. The visitors are spread out symmetrically along the ground, statue, and stone base, with most looking sternly at the camera lens. As around-the-world cruises became more popular in the interwar period, these large group photos also became more common, sometimes being used in promotional material for the cruise company. The photographs of the 1860s and 1870s that depicted small groups of intrepid travelers (and mostly men), were now festooned with tourists who draw as much attention to themselves as the statue in the background.


*This post is in honor of my father, may your curiosity in the odd live on through me.

*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.

[1] The Hamburg-American Line advertised heavily for the Cleveland’s first trip through the Panama Canal, scheduled to disembark from Hoboken in January 1915 and bring passengers to San Francisco to celebrate the Panama-Pacific Exposition. I have found no evidence that this trip took place, and given that Germany was in the midst of war by the end of 1914, the excursion was most likely to have been abandoned by the Hamburg-American Line. Accounts of the previous completed trips, where the above information was extracted, can be found in Frizell & Greenfield 1910, Junkin 1910, Bush 1911, Forbes 1912, and Casey 1914.

[2] Casey 1914: 29. According to Casey, they also visited the Kaihin Hotel.

[3] The easiest individual to spot is the sole hat-less man with coiffed white hair and mustache. A second man in a brimmed newsboy hat and white beard is also easily identified in both.

The distinctive plumes in women’s hats also leads to several relatively easy identifications (not pictured). Moreover, Underwood & Underwood Japan-series cards issued with numbers in the 290’s all appear to be issued from the Cleveland cruises.

[4] The photograph by amateur photographer F. H. Wellcome and published in the travelogue of Frizell and Greenwod clearly shows the gabled coin box. (see Frizell & Greenwood 1910: 49).

[5] These dates are noted in Forbes 1912: 27 & 29. Forbes took two trips around the world, starting in Hoboken and travelling eastward until ultimately landing in San Francisco, where he then joined the “return” voyage, heading westwards until back in Hoboken

[6] The Cleveland would have needed to be back in Hoboken for its widely publicized trip leaving in January 1915 (see note above). It is possible the Cleveland left San Francisco and headed for the Panama Canal, testing the crossing without passengers before returning in January. This tour was operated by the Hamburg-American Line directly and Clark would not make his fifth trip around the world until after the war in 1924, when he chartered the S.S. California.


  • Bush, George Tome. 1911. 40,000 Miles Around the World. Howard, PA: N.P.
  • Casey, R. H. 1914. Notes Made During a Cruise Around the World in 1913. New York: N.P.
  • Forbes, Edgar Allen. 1912. Twice Around the World. New York: Fleming H Revell Company.
  • Frizell, William G. and Greenfield, George H. 1910. Around the World on the Cleveland. New York: N.P.
  • Junkin, Paul S. 1910. A Cruise Around the World. Creston, IA: N.P.

To See a Buddha: A Visual Literacy of Buddhism in America (Digital Exhibit)

[This is a online version of my Archive exhibit at the UCSB Religious Studies Department. Many thanks to Will Chavez for his enthusiastic support and assistance.]

UCSB Exhibit

What do you think the Buddha looked like?

My research has been guided by this deceptively complex question. As Americans were first introduced to Buddhism on a mass level in the latter half of the nineteenth century, I became interested in how they also developed a “visual literacy” of Buddhist images. Before the happy Laughing Buddha was popular, the Great Buddha of Kamakura was the most prominent visual icon. This Great Buddha, or in Japanese, “Daibutsu,” was constructed in 1252. Here’s a look of how this statue made its way into the American imagination.

The Albumen Print and Yokohama Shashin


The popularity of the Kamakura Daibutsu in America was accidental. When Japan re-opened its borders to foreigners in 1859, the port of Yokohama – a short day’s ride from Kamakura – was selected as one of the treaty ports were foreigners could legally reside. The close proximity of Kamakura Daibutsu to this bustling port city was a significant factor in its blossoming popularity.

In addition, two other factors played a role in the recognizability of the Kamakura Daibutsu: the development of the international tourism industry and the invention of the camera. Globetrotting tourists who hoped to preserve their picturesque travels in souvenir photographs unwittingly helped promote a visual identity of an exotic Japan back home in America, with geisha, rickshaws, and Buddhist “idols,” such as the Kamakura Daibutsu.

Because of the sheer number of wealthy tourists in Yokohama, professional photography studios started to open their doors for business. These studios, operated at first by foreign residents, sold souvenir albums to fit the needs of their eager clientele. These souvenir photos were called Yokohama shashin, or “Yokohama photographs,” due to the high concentration of studios in this port city.

Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898), an Italian adventurer, eventually settled in Yokohama in the 1870s. Farsari entered a fiercely competitive photography industry when he bought out an established photography studio to open his own firm, A. Farsari & Co. Like his competitors, he sold photographs and pre-made albums to wealthy “globetrotters” who sought to return home with photographs of famous sites.

The first commercially viable photographic process produced what are known as albumen prints. They used albumen found in egg whites to bind the photosensitive chemicals to the paper.

After the monochromatic print was processed, artists would hand apply watercolor washes to provide vibrant color. Often these artists were Japanese, some who may have been trained in traditional Japanese woodblock printing.

Picture Postcards and the Collotype Process



Although photography had been in existence for over half a century, some claim that the first truly commodified form of the photograph was the picture postcard. Small and inexpensive, the postcard was a convenient souvenir that could easily be sent around the world for the appreciation and amusement of someone else.

The Japanese postal delivery service began in 1870, but it was not until 1900 that new postal regulations allowed for private companies to print their own postcards. In Japan, the postcard soon rivaled the traditional woodblock print as the favored medium to present contemporary Japanese images.

Early postcard images were commonly recycled photographs from old souvenir photography studios. In 1905, spurred by the international interest in photographing the Russo-Japanese War, a picture postcard boom hit Japan, breathing life into a new industry and collecting hobby.  Still catering to a thriving tourism industry, the private postcard publishers reshot the same generic imagery that sold well as albumen prints, including the Kamakura Daibutsu.

One of the most prolific postcard publishers of the period was the Ueda Photographic Prints Corporation, founded by Ueda Yoshizō上田義三 in the port of Yokohama around 1905. Because printing photos was exceptionally expensive and time consuming, new mechanical photographic reproduction processes were soon invented.  The development of a new printing technique, called the collotype, allowed for photomechanical printing – and the creation of inexpensive postcards – on a massive scale.

Stereophotography and Stereoviews


Perhaps one of the most curious forms of early photography involved a technique for making stereoscopic images.  By placing  a pair of slightly different images – taken by two cameras separated by about the distance between a person’s eyes – and viewing them through a stereoscope, they would merge and create an illusion of depth, thus mimicking three dimensional viewing.  An early form of virtual reality, stereocards, or stereoviews, became wildly popular by the end of the nineteenth century.

Although some stereoviews were sold in Japan, most stereoviews were sold directly to Americans in department stores, through mail-order catalogues, and by savvy door-to-door salesmen. A surviving manual for salesman instructs them in the “hard sell,” scripting a sales pitch to say: “You see, nearly everyone is getting a ‘scope and views, and really, so should you. One like this will last you all your days.”

Mass produced Japan-themed stereocard sets first started to appear in 1896, but dozens of Japan sets were available just a decade later. These images were no longer tourist souvenirs, but imaginary escapes for people who did not possess the wealth of a world-touring globetrotter. Many of the same images found in Yokohama photography studios and postcards publishers were used to paint an image of the exotic Orient.

In 1903, the novice professional photographer, Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935), was hired by the premier publishers of stereoviews, Underwood & Underwood to take new stereo-photographs of the scenery of Japan. As with many other publishers, he captured the “majestic calm” of the Kamakura Daibutsu.

Originally novelty items that could be paired with parlor games, stereoviews soon started to be marketed as educational tools. Eventually the reverse was filled with descriptive text, often taken directly from tourist books published a decade or more earlier.

From Idol to Icon


By the first decade of the twentieth century, the image of the Kamakura Daibutsu not only circulated through photographic prints, postcards, and stereoviews –  as we have seen already – but also through numerous travel books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns. The image was so often reproduced that it no longer signified a bronze statue, but an amorphous idea, a veritable icon of the exotic Orient.

It is not surprising that such an icon found favor among early modern advertising firms. The growing tourism and cruise ship industry was one of the early adopters of the Kamakura Daibutsu image. The Pacific Mail Steamship company, the first to offer a regular trans-Pacific route from San Francisco to Yokohama in 1867, used it in its magazine ads. Even the Japanese cruise company, Nippon Yūsen Kaisha (NYK) used the Daibutus in their English-language brochures.

The statue also took on more artistic renderings, gracing the cover for the sheet music to “Buddha,” composed by Lew Pollack in 1918 for a Vaudeville act. Lyrics were added the following year by Ed Rose, and it became a popular “foxtrot” dance record for home enjoyment. In addition, the Daibutsu image was also used to add an exotic quality to mundane home goods, such as incense.

The exotic image was also used as a symbol of foreign danger, and can be found in the background of movie sets, such as the Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), reflecting racist and xenophobic undercurrents of American culture. After WWII, the Daibutsu manifested again as popular souvenir trinkets marketed to overseas soldiers, such as cigar ash trays.

The Kamakura Daibtusu continued to be used widely in American advertising  throughout the 1950’s, before the allure of the Laughing Buddha started to take a firm hold in the American imagination.

Did You Know?

Both the Laughing Buddha and the Great Buddha of Kamakura are not actually images of the historical Buddha!! They are representations of different buddhas, Maitreya Buddha and Amitābha Buddha respectively – consider taking a Religious Studies class to learn about these figures!

Where’s Waldo?: Did you spot the happy, lounging temple dog that was photographed in both a stereoview and postcard in this exhibition?


[Thank you for your virtual visit!]




Ponting and the 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.


  • 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]

Underwood & Underwood also produced a half-stereo “positive” image (the inverse of the original negative image) as a magic lantern slide. Lantern slides were marketed for use during public “lecture-sermons” – often called stereopticon shows –  where an individual could present on a topic to a crowd gathered at a theatre, church, fraternal lodge, or private home. Underwood & Underwood sold (and rented) pre-made lecture-sermons which contained a script of about twenty-five to forty minutes and forty to sixty slides. While our specimen below is black and white, the set would contain sepia colored slides as well as full color sldies to give “variety pleasing to the eye.”


  • Title/Caption: Great Bronz [sic] Buddha, Kamakura Japan.
  • Year: 1904
  • Photographer: Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood; (#3850)
  • Medium: glass and photographic emulsion, paper


*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. I have also published my working notes on identifying publishers of Meiji and early Taishō postcards and establishing a sequential chronology for Kamakura Daibutsu photographs.

[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). This stereocard can also be viewed here.

[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.


  • 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. His mission was to capture stereoscopic images from Japan, China, and India and various locations around the Middle East and Europe. After arriving in Japan in the Spring of 1896, Strohmeyer took around 200-300 photographic negatives that were curated into a final set of 72 images. This established the first mass-produced, dedicated box set of Japan stereoviews. 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]

Figure 1


  • 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 [Fig. 1]. 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 through the magnitude 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 vertical distance 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 than 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.

Figure 2


  • 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 distributor on the mount [Fig 2.]. 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.

Figure 3

Strohmeyer UU print

  • 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 [Fig. 3]. 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.


*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. I have also published my working notes on identifying publishers of Meiji and early Taishō postcards and establishing a sequential chronology for Kamakura Daibutsu photographs.

[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. Bennett notes that the first Japan views on Strohmeyer mounts appeared in 1890-91, when they reprinted Anthony’s “Views of Japan.”

[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 themselves further back, on the first landing, which minimizes the visual significance of the Daibutsu, but also opens the possibility for more visually compelling compositions. A different view from Strohmeyer & Wyman’s set is paced further back. Moreover, a third view of the Kamakura Daibutsu is without people. It is worth noting that a handful of other views contain Buddhist imagery.


  • 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.
  • [For a comparison between Strohmeyer and Herbert Ponting’s photography styles, see here]
  • [The Library of Congress has a good selection of Strohmeyer & Wyman’s 72-view Japan set, see here]

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.


  • 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 rustic 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.


*This post was incorporated into the article, “William H. Metcalf: Iconic pictures of 1870s Japan were taken by an amateur Milwaukee photographer,” published online in the Milwuakee Independent.

*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. I have also published my working notes on identifying publishers of Meiji and early Taishō postcards and establishing a sequential chronology for Kamakura Daibutsu photographs.

[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.


  • 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.