Renjō’s Daibutsu: A Pioneer of the Path

Often called the “founding father of Japanese photography,” Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914) was a true artistic pioneer. One of the first Japanese to practice commercial photography, Renjō (a self-styled nickname) was also likely the first oil painter and lithographer in Japan.[1] His personal reminiscence, recorded in 1891, claims his fascination with photography began when he saw his first daguerreotype in 1844 in Edo (now Tokyō). He then spent the next ten years trying to find a photographer who could teach him the craft. According to his own account, which is held in suspicion by modern scholars, in 1856 Renjō had a secret meeting with Henry Huesken (1832-1861), the translator to the American general consul at Shimoda, to learn the basic principles of photography. Regardless of the veracity of this story, Renjō opened the first Japanese commercial photography studio in the port city of Yokohama in 1862.[2] His business soon prospered and he apprenticed several of the next generation of famed Japanese photographers, including Usui Shūzaburō 臼井秀三郎, Suzuki Shin’ichi (I) 鈴木真一, and Suzuki Shinichi (II) 鈴木真一. A considerable majority of Renjō’s surviving photographic oeuvre consists of small format cartes de visite, several of which depict the bronze Daibutsu located in Kamakura, not far from his studio in Yokohama.

According to several Western travelers and tour guides from the 1860’s, the original pathway leading to the Daibutsu was a long, stone-paved walkway, tightly flanked by tall evergreen trees and ornately pruned shrubs. For some, the most picturesque view of the Daibutsu was looking down through this long pathway of greenery towards the statue at the end. By the early 1870’s, however, the temple landscaping had undergone significant renovations and the pleasant framing effect of the towering trees was lost. Algernon Bertram Mitford (1837-1916), secretary to the British Legation, described his two contrasting visits to the Kamakura Daibutsu:

“The first time I saw [the Daibutsu], in the autumn of 1866, the approach to it lay along an avenue of grand old evergreen trees, and the effect of the colossus, when seen from the beginning of the avenue, was most striking. Now, unhappily, the trees have been cut down by the avarice of the priests, who grudged the little bit of soil which might bear a few more vegetables, and who took advantage of the revolution to pretend that the trees had been destroyed by the soldiery. The beautiful coup d’oeil is lost, but the figure must always rank among the most wonderful monuments of the world.”[3]

Regardless of the reason behind the removal of the trees, the change in environment certainly altered the viewing experience of the Daibutsu, which was now left in an open grove.

Figure 1

 

  • Title/Caption: NA (Diabutz [sic] on reverse)
  • Year: 1869-1871 (dated Oct. 7, 1871 on reverse)
  • Photographer: Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, mounted on card
  • Dimensions: 3in X 2in (cartes de visite)

Interestingly, while the early written accounts of visiting the Daibutsu often included a vivid description of the “avenue of grand old evergreen trees,” the surviving photographic record rarely included this aesthetic aspect. Renjō was one of only a few commercial photographers who placed his camera rig far enough away from the bronze statue to incorporate the tree branches that converged on the walkway.[4] [Fig. 1] It remains uncertain if the rarity of this composition is due to a technical consideration of early photography (such as problematic lighting) or the resulting visual product which creates a cramped and partly obstructed view of the Daibutsu. If the latter case, the long row of trees and shrubs which undoubtedly added a sense of depth and scale to the in-person viewing experience is lost in the two dimensional space of the photograph. In the image above, a lone Japanese individual faces directly towards the camera, taking a wide, aggressive stance. This ultimately creates a sense of tension between the image and the viewer.[5]

Figure 2

APKD Renjō Reverse mark.jpgThe back of the cartes de visite is stamped by Renjō’s studio mark in indigo blue [Fig. 2]. The hand stamp depicts two serpentine figures twisting around a pair of trees and peering into two pots. The peak of Mt. Fuji and the top of a thatched roof also appear the background. This specific imagery appeared to Renjō in a dream when his business first started to turn profitable, thus he decided to honor his vision by incorporating it into his studio mark. The Japanese characters, written in a variant script (itaiji 異體字), simply say, “Yokomaha, Renjō Studio” (横浜 / 蓮杖斎).[6] The handwritten inscription at the top of the card notes the date as October 7, 1871, thus providing a firm terminus ante quem for the photograph. This possibly represents the date an unknown tourist visited the site. The popular name for the Daibutsu in the foreign port city of Yokohama in the 1870’s, “Daibutz,” is also imprinted at the top of the card, with an accidental inversion of the a and i (not all too uncommon a mistake).

During his professional photographic career, Renjō moved his studio to several locations, but never seems to have accumulated great wealth. In the mid-1870’s Renjō ended his commercial photography exploits and moved to the new capital of Tokyō (behind Sensō-ji 浅草寺) where he returned to his previous profession as a Western-style oil painter.

Notes:

*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] Bennett 2006, esp. p. 71. A more detailed examination of Renjō’s life can be found in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014. Some also credit Renjō with inventing the rickshaw (jinrikisha 人力車), but while this man-powered, two-wheel vehicle first appeared in Japan in the 1860’s, its attribution to Renjō is almost certainly misplaced. For many years, Renjō was considered the first Japanese professional photographer, but recent research suggests this mantle belongs to Ukai Gyokusen 鵜飼玉川 (1807–1887), who opened the first commercial photography studio in Edo in 1860 or 1861.

[2] For analysis of Renjō’s personal account, see Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014: esp. pp. 130-5.

[3] Mitford 1872: 208.

[4] A photograph held in the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, attributed to Felice Beato, contain perhaps the most foliage of any image I have seen [here]. Another image is here.

[5] Another similar image attributed to Renjō and dated to 1873 can be found at the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (here). The position of the camera and framing is almost exact, but the figures by the altar are different. Older images by Renjō (still depicting the railing and balusters on the left) can be found at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (here & here) and among the Tom Burnett Collection (here). All three are also depicted in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography: 2014. The Austrian photographer Wilhelm Burger (1844-1920) travelled in Japan for a year spanning 1869 and 1870, and only some of his photographs of the Daibutsu include the railing to the left of the stairs leading to the second landing. Because of this, Renjō’s photograph here must post-date late 1869.

[6] The mark and its origins is described in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014: 16-7.

References:

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Photography in Japan: 1853-1912. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing.
  • Mitford, A[lgernon] B[ertram]. 1872. “Wanderings in Japan,” The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. 25, No. 146 (February), pp. 196-213.
  • Ozawa Takesi. 1981. “The History of Early Photography in Japan,” History of Photography, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 285-303.
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. 2014. Shimooka Renjō: Nihon shashin no kaitakusha 下岡蓮杖: 日本写真の開拓者 [Shimooka Renjō: A Pioneer Of Japanese Photography]. Tōkyō: Kokusho Kankōkai.

 

Panoramic Postcard of the Kamakura Kaihin Hotel

ShimamotoHirata EmiIn the summer of 1887, Nagayo Sensai 長与専斎 (1838-1902), a physician and Director of the recently incorporated Bureau of Health 衛生局, founded Japan’s first sanatorium, the Kaihin-in 海濱院, on the beaches of Kamakura. Many Japanese physicians during the early Meiji (1868-1912) were trained under German doctors hired to live and work in Japan, and a popular contemporary belief in Western medicine was that regular exposure to sea water would help people stricken with tuberculosis. German doctor Erwin Bälz (1849-1913) first recommended the mild climate of Kamakura as an optimal location for sea bathing therapy, a belief also championed by Nagayo. This motivated Nagayo, working with wealthy Yokohama silk merchants, to construct a vast Western-style resort on Yuigahama Beach 由比ヶ浜海岸 in Kamakura, replete with several acres of pine groves and spacious lawns. Called Kaihin-in (“Seaside Facility”), patients would participate in regular sea bathing sessions and enjoy the open-aired, scenic vistas. Within a year, however, mismanagement would cause the facility to be repurposed into a hotel and resort that catered to foreign visitors.[1]

 The hotel was renamed the Kamakura Kaihin Hotel 鎌倉海濱ホテル and quickly became a tourist destination in its own right. In 1891, an American sailor, M. B. Cook, described his pleasurable visit as such: “From the streets of Kamakura we drove to the Kaihinin, a large hotel or marine sanitarium facing the sea, and surrounded by beautiful walks and drives. In the summer season it is full of guests, and being in one of the most healthy places in Japan, and the visitors are given so much attention, that it is becoming a center of attraction to all American tourists.”[2] The hotel was also featured in Murray’s A Handbook for Travellers in Japan, the premier English language guidebook for foreign tourists in Japan. It remained a wildly popular destination into the twentieth century, located a mile from the main Kamakura train station (the Yokosuka Line 横須賀線 opened in 1889) and famed for its European-style cuisine, affordable rates, and English language guest services. It was also located less than a mile directly south from the most important foreign tourist attraction in the region, the Kamakura Daibutsu.

Figure 1

Kaihin obverse.jpg

Kaihin reverse.jpg

  • Title/Caption: Kamakura Kaihin Hotel Kamakura, Japan. // Telephone No. 4 & 331 The Best Bathing Beach in Japan // Telegram “Kaihin” Home of Daibutsu
  • Year: 1903-1907 [postally unused]
  • Publisher: unknown
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Post Card, 郵便はかき

The image on the postcard obverse [Fig. 1] shows the lawns and landscaping of the hotel grounds that led out towards the ocean (seen on the far left). The sprawling multi-storied complex is topped by a flag emblazoned with “KKH,” for the Kamakura Kaihin Hotel. The sweeping, panoramic photograph provides a potent combination of modern (Western) luxury and natural beauty, sure to lure even the most cagey tourist. The text under the photograph proclaims that the site offers “the best bathing beach in Japan,” a callback to its origins as a bathing sanatorium. Importantly, the photograph is overlaid with an oval image of the Kamakura Daibutsu, with the caption proclaiming that the hotel is the “home of Daibutsu.”[3] These elements show that the postcard was also used as an  advertisement, tying together the exotic Buddhist icon of the “Orient” with the scenic luxury of the resort grounds. Roaming, half-day long horseback rides to and from the port of Yokohama were no longer necessary to enjoy the Kamakura colossus. Daytime visitors could enjoy a short trek to the temple, expose or purchase a few photographs, and return to picnic by the beach.

Figure 2

Kaihin Daibutsu.png

This photograph of the Daibutsu [Fig. 2] likely dates from after 1903 (due to the outward facing metal lotus flowers atop the offering table). The reverse of the card shows that it is an “undivided back,” definitively dating it previous to 1907 (a “dividing line” was introduced the following year). This also proves the design on the front of the card was purposeful, with the bottom blank half of the card reserved for correspondence; only the address and name of the recipient was allowed on the back. The photographer(s) and publisher remain unknown.

Figure 3

TMKD Kaihin Obverse.jpg

  • Title/Caption: Kamakura Kaihin Hotel Kamakura // Telephone No. 4 & 331, Kamakura // Japan
  • Year: 1930s
  • Printer: unknown
  • Medium: halftone print and ink on paper
  • Dimensions: 5 in X 3.5

The same photograph of the hotel compound was later used on paper luggage tags [Fig. 3] for the Kamakura resort. Affixed to suitcases and steamer trunks, luggage tags were very popular in the interwar period. In addition to help sorting luggage in transit, these tages signalled the cosmopolitan sophistication of the tourist and thus were often designed with bold images and bright colors. The oval inset of the Daibutsu closely mirrors the postcard design, yet this photograph of the Kamakura colossus is of a much later vintage, quite possible dating from the 1930’s [Fig. 4].

Figure 4

TMKD Kaihin CU.png

The Kamakura Kaihin Hotel received significant damage during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, but was rebuilt to its previous grandeur. The hotel would remain in operation up through World War II, until a series of fires resulted in its closing in the mid-1940s.

Notes:

*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] An overview the cultural encounters between Germany and Japan in the field of medicine are discussed in Kim 2014. For more information on Nagayo, see Rogaski 2004, esp. pp. 136ff. The best available information on Nagayo’s role in the founding of the Kaihin-in appears to have been discussed in the Exhibition Reminiscing the Kamakura Kaihin Hotel 鎌倉海浜ホテル追憶展, organized by Hirata Emi 平田恵美 of the Kamakura Central Library, Modern Historical Materials Division 鎌倉市中央図書館近代史資料室 in 2011. I am indebted to the review of this event by Noriyuki Takagi 高木規矩郎 found here, here, and here. Other scattered information can be found here. Certainly, far more archival research needs to be done for a full account of this story. I have not been able to consult this work: Kamakura kaihin hoteru: Nipponhatsu no kaihin rizōtohoteru 鎌倉海濱ホテル 日本初の海浜リゾートホテル [The Kamakura Kaihin Hotel: Japan’s First Seaside Resort Hotel], by Shimamoto Chiya 島本千也 and Hirata Emi 平田恵美.

[2] Cook 1891: 29. A handful of other late nineteenth and ealry twentieth century tourist remarks can be found here.

[3] There are versions of this postcard without the small overlay of the Daibutsu. The caption instead reads “The only resort in the Far East.” The best online collection of Kamakura Kaihin Hotel memorabeila remains here.

References:

  • Cook, M. B. 1891. A Sailor’s Visit to the Island Empire. New York: John R. Alden.
  • Kim, Hoi-eun. 2014. Doctors of Empire: Medical and Cultural Encounters between Imperial Germany and Meiji Japan. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
  • Rogaski, Ruth. 2004. Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tonboya’s Failed Voyeurism of the Daibutsu (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

After the Meiji Restoration, the popularity of photography began to overshadow traditional Japanese woodblock printing. Increasingly, woodblock artisans came to find employment with photography studios, adapting their technical painting skills to add vivid color to monochromatic photographs. In the beginning of the twentieth century, due to the craze surrounding Japanese picture postcards (ehagaki 絵はがき), artisans continued to ply their trade by adding translucent water-soluble pigments to these small format calotypes. One of the most famous postcard distributers was Tonboya トンボヤ, or the “Dragonfly Studio,” first opened by Yoshimura Kiyoshi 吉村清 around 1905.[1] The Tonboya storefronts in Yokohama, first located in the Isezakichō 伊勢佐木町 district before moving to the more heavily trafficked Motomachi 元町 district, were easily identifiable because of large signboards made to look like red cylindrical postal boxes (yūbin posuto 郵便ポスト) widely adopted in Japan. One side of the signboard had the word “POSTALCARDS” painted on it, while the other said ehakaki エハカキ [sic](“picture postcards”), suggesting Yoshimura catered to both foreign and domestic travelers.[2] One image that would represent the photographic interests of both groups would be the Kamakura Daibutsu, located close to the port of Yokohama [Figure 1].

Figure 1PCKD009t(o)

PCKD009t(r).JPG

  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu at Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: 1907-1918
  • Publisher: Tonboya トンボヤ
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Union Postale Universelle.[+], 郵便はかき

By setting the camera on the second landing of the paved walkway, this unknown photographer filled the frame with the image of the Daibutsu; positioning the statue frontally and symmetrically, this framing is similar to many of the images produced by Yokohama photography studios. The image depicts three figures, two women and a young child, facing the Buddhist icon in the center of the photograph. This setting might elicit other images of religious piety at this site, but the mise-en-scène is complicated by the presence of two more children, standing at each of the sides, who stare directly at the viewer. Their presence might have been obscured had it not been for the colorist who painted them in light hues of blue and pink. Notably, their casual posturing is stark contrast to staged “photo ops” of foreign travelers who try to visually suggest their domination of the Orient. Because of these elements, on the whole, we are made to feel as if the scene is staged and that we have been caught in an act of  voyeurism. The women and child, positioned center-stage, engage in a orchestrated religious performance while the children at the edges observe us watching them. A rather apt visual metaphor for the Orientaist gaze, where the artist attempts to create a certain controlled vision of the East, but with “unruly” actors foiling the illusion.[3]

This postcard is not imprinted with a trademark to identify the publisher. The black ink and serif font used for the reverse, however, in addition to the guide lines provided for writing the address, all suggest this card was made by Tonboya.[4] In addition, the position of the diving line for correspondence indicates this card was printed between 1907 and 1918. If the image on the overse was not self-evident enough, bilingual cerulean letterpress (note the impression the reverse) identifies the scene clearly: “Daibutsu at Kamakura.”

Notes:

*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] Several online English sources claim Tokutaro Maeda was the founder of Tonboya, but I have found no Japanese sources that confirm this. I prefer here to follow the print Japanese sources (e.g. Saitō 1985: 1), but leave the question unsettled.

[2] Several early-century postcards depicting the streets of Yokohama show this red cylindrical signboard, as seen here: Red postal sign.pngThe full postcard can be found here (not part of the Archive).

[3] By shooting one woman mid-stride ascending the small flight of steps, this photographer is (accidentally?) paying homage to Enami Nobukuni 江南信國 (1859—1929), but without the overal effects of sterling visual narrative.

[4] The best site for identifying Tonboya cards remains here: http://tamayochankankousya.seesaa.net/article/421306802.html. Another common reverse printing of Tonboya during this period is discussed here.

References:

  • Handy, Ellen. 1998. “Japonisme and American Postcard Visions of Japan,” in Delivering Views: Distant Cultures in Early Postcards,  Christraud M. Geary and Virginia-Lee Webb, eds. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Saitō Takio 斎藤多喜夫. 1985. “Yomigaeru shinsaizen no Yokohama fūkei よみがえる震災前の横浜風景,” Kaikō no hiroba 開港のひろば, No. 12, pp. 1, 4.
  • Satō, Kenji. 2002. “Postcards in Japan: A Historical Sociology of a Forgotten Culture,” International Journal of Japanese Sociology, No. 11, pp. 35-55.
  • Yokohama Open Port Museum 横浜開港資料館, ed. 1999. Nen mae no Yokohama Kanagawa ehagaki de miru fūkei 年前の横浜・神奈川―絵葉書でみる風景. Tokyō: Yurindo 有隣堂.

Tonboya’s Onlooker of the Daibutsu (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

By the end of the nineteenth century the port city of Yokohama had developed into a thriving tourist destination. Consequently, numerous Japanese shops opened to cater to the needs of both domestic and foreign travelers. Perhaps surprising to a modern reader, among the prized goods offered for sale were picture postcards (ehagaki 絵はがき), the first truly commodified form of the photograph which unexpectedly became a collectors craze in the first decade of the twentieth century.[1] Around 1905, Yoshimura Kiyoshi 吉村清, the proprietor of the well-known Tokyō-based publisher Kamigataya 上方屋, started a new venture in Yokohama, called Tonboya トンボヤ, or the “Dragonfly Studio.”[2] The dragonfly was long seen as symbol of courage and strength in Japanese culture, and thus it was cherished by the samurai and bestowed the romantic name of the “Victorious Insect” (kachimushi 勝ち虫). This lore notwithstanding, Tonboya postcards – emblazoned with its distinctive dragonfly trademark – soon became some of the most famous and widely circulated postcards of the period.

Figure 1

PCKD008t(o).JPG

PCKD008t(r).JPG

  • Title/Caption: Daibutsu at Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
  • Year: c. 1909
  • Publisher: Tonboya トンボヤ
  • Medium: collotype print on cardstock, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 5 in X 3.5 in
  • Reverse Imprint: Carte Postale Post Card [+],  郵便ハガ[キ]

This image of the Kamakura Daibutsu [Figure 1] highlights the rustic setting of the colossal statue, framing the statue between sprawling tree branches and the silhouette of a sago palm. With the camera placed in the southwest corner, our unknown photographer creates a voyeuristic scene as a man in knee-high mud boots and western attire peers towards group of Japanese visitors from behind a tree. Seeing this observer from behind, we take his perspective and also gaze upon the group of Japanese visitors dwarfed by the overlooking bronze statue. The brightly colored garments of the women on the right stand in contrast to the uncolored gray shades of the men and boy on the left [Figure 2]. The boy wears a school uniform (gakuran 学ラン), a style adopted decades earlier based on French and Prussian military outfits.[3] Among this group, only a single man looks up towards the Buddhist statue. The others stand and stare at each other from several paces apart. The gives an unnatural effect to the scene, as the stationary bodies and odd spacing fails to build up a clear visual narrative. What is the relationship of these temple visitors to each other? What is their purpose for being there? As was typical of cards from this period, bilingual cerulean letterpress informs us as to the identity of the Buddhist figure, the “Daibutsu at Kamakura” (note the imression left on the reverse along the bottom edge).

Figure 2

PCKD008t(men).JPG   PCKD008t(women0.JPG

Often, Tonboya would impress its dragonfly logo at the lower right on the front of the card, but our variant lacks this identifying element.[4] Turning to the reverse of our card [Figure 1], we still fail to easily locate the characteristic mark of the dragonfly. So, just how can this card be distinguished? The designers at Tonboya devised a creative and playful way to identify their publishing studio; they replaced the ki (キ) in hagaki (ハガキ, “postcard”) with a highly stylized dragonfly illustration [Figure 3]. Only the most attentive observer would notice this subtle alteration, but once noticed it becomes an easily identifiable marker of this studio. This creative design can be dated back to around 1909 and remained throughout Tonboya’s existence into the late 1920’s.

Figure 3

PCKD008t(logo).JPG

Notes:

*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] Satō 2002: 41.

[2] Several online English sources claim Tokutaro Maeda was the founder of Tonboya, but I have found no Japanese sources that confirm this. I prefer here to follow the print Japanese sources (e.g. Saitō 1985: 1), but leave the question unsettled. Another unresolved question remains the relaitonship between Kamigataya and Tonboya. It appears that Tonboya may have been a distribution name of postcards printed by Kamigataya (which continued to also publish postcards under its own name). Some sources claim Tomboya opened as early as 1904, other as late as 1907.

[3] The development of Japanese school uniforms are detailed here: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/1041.

[4] Tonboya would also often include an identifying letter and stock number in the lower left, but this is also missing in our specimen. It is also possible to find cards with the letter and numbering system, but still lack the dragonfly icon, see here: https://www.maryevans.com [then search for the reference number 10989247]

References:

  • Handy, Ellen. 1998. “Japonisme and American Postcard Visions of Japan,” in Delivering Views: Distant Cultures in Early Postcards,  Christraud M. Geary and Virginia-Lee Webb, eds. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Saitō Takio 斎藤多喜夫. 1985. “Yomigaeru shinsaizen no Yokohama fūkei よみがえる震災前の横浜風景,” Kaikō no hiroba 開港のひろば, No. 12, pp. 1, 4.
  • Satō, Kenji. 2002. “Postcards in Japan: A Historical Sociology of a Forgotten Culture,” International Journal of Japanese Sociology, No. 11, pp. 35-55.
  • Yokohama Open Port Museum横浜開港資料館, ed. 1999. Nen mae no Yokohama Kanagawa ehagaki de miru fūkei 年前の横浜・神奈川―絵葉書でみる風景. Tokyō: Yurindo 有隣堂.

Farsari’s Dai Butsu (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

 

Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898), an Italian adventurer who ended up fighting for the North during the American Civil War, settled in the port city of Yokohama in the 1870’s and taught himself photography. By the early 1880’s, the Western dominance of the Yokohama tourist photography industry had waned, but Farsari would still become a commercial success. In 1885, he acquired the negative and stocks of the famed Stillfried and Anderson firm and opened up his own professional photography studio, named A. Farsari & Co., on the main street in the bustling port. Like his competitors, he sold photographs and pre-made albums to wealthy “globetrotters” who sought to return home with photographs of famous sites. Photography no longer needed the technical skill it once required, mostly because of the transition to the easier dry-plate process, and consequently the photograph started to transition from a fine piece of art to a commodified object.[1] Farsari’s early successes were almost robbed of him completely, as a devasting fire ravaged Yokohama just a year after he opened his business, subsequently destroying his studio and collection of negatives. Unfortunately, not only were all of Farsari’s negatives destroyed, but also those recently acquired of Stillfried and Anderson, as well those of the pioneering photographer Felice Beato, who was bought out by Stillfried and Anderson in 1877. A year after the fire, in 1887, Farsari reopened his studio with a stock of around 1,000 new images.

Figure 1

apkd004af

  • Title/Caption: Japan, A. Farsari & Co., Yokohama [photographic frontispiece]
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, sepia tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in

The photographic frontispiece that adorned Farsari’s new studio albums [Figure 1] was an amalgamation of Orientalist visual motifs. Sharply-eaved pagodas, irenic bridges, beautiful geisha, antiquated rickshaws, and the famed Mt. Fuji all cluster around the simple, if not entirely self-evident, title of the album – Japan. In the center of the frontispiece we find the iconic Kamakura Daibutsu [Figure 2], the main attraction for tourists in Yokohama who could take a trip and return from the Daibutsu within a day’s time. Unsurprisingly, this photograph, too, was available for individual purchase [Figure 3].

Figure 2: Close up of Figure 1

apkd004af(cu)

Figure 3

APKD002af.jpg

  • Title/Caption: NA
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in

The image of the Kamakura Daibutsu is bold and stunning. Balanced and symmetrically positioned within the frame, its stoic countenance greets the viewer with warmth. One of the characteristic, and marketable, traits of Farsari’s albums were their superior coloring. He boasted that his teams of Japanese painters tinted his photos in a realistic manner and guaranteed the colors would not fade, lasting “as long as ordinary oil paintings.” He attributed the effects to the rigorous trainign of his artists, who would apprentice between two and four months, before they were set to work, and to his  imported British paper. Reportedly, an individual artist under Farsari’s tutelage would only color two to three photographs per day, in contrast to the sixty put out by other studio artisrs. His work earned the praise of the famed novelist and poet, Rudyard Kipling, who complimented the faithful coloring of Farsari’s images once seeing the scenic vistas of Japan first hand on his trip through the countryside by steamship in 1889.[2] The gentle greenish-blue hue of the bronze statue here reflects the blue tinting of the sky above, as well as the garment of the kneeling supplicant, creating a cool, but not frigid, overall feeling in this image.

This photo is commonly assumed to be taken after Farsari’s studio fire in 1886, and was one of the centerpieces of his new collection of images given its prominent position in his photographic frontispiece. Farsari also sold a version of the Kamakura Daibutsu in vertical format [Figure 4], possibly taken on the same photography excursion. The kneeling man remains, but four more people are added in a row and all made to gaze upon the idol, causing the scene to look oddly staged. Our vertical image bears the catalogue number of Farsari’s stock (the horizontal image is sometimes marked with “L19 Daibutsu (A)”) and exhibits coloring that has – in contrast to Farsari’s bold claims – faded.

Figure 4

APKD003af.jpg

  • Title/Caption: L20 DAI BUTSU (B)
  • Year: c. 1887
  • Photographer: Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, hand tinted
  • Dimensions: 10.25in X 8.25in

Always eccentric, Farsari returned home to Italy in 1890, after a twenty-tree year absence, and never returned to Japan.

Notes:

*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] Bennett 2006: 219. Many details of Farsari’s exciting life – of which I am merely summarizing here – are discussed in Bennett 2006: 219-223.

[2] Bennett 2006: 221, 223.

References:

  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Photography in Japan: 1853-1912. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing.

 

The “Buddha” Foxtrot by Pollack and Rose (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

Listen to the Victor Record’s 1920 recording of Pollack and Rose’s “Buddha” here: 

What is the sound of the Orient? As Edward Said had long ago shown, the “Orient” is more of an imaginary idea than a physical location. Because of this, several musical tropes have emerged in American consciousness that create an “Oriental atmosphere,” perhaps none more famous than the nine-note “Oriental riff” (da-da-da-da dah-dah, dah-dah daah) that became widely popular in the 1910’s and utilized, for example, in numerous racially stereotyped cartoons of the 1930’s to 1950’s[1]. It should be remembered, however, that before the widespread popularity of the phonograph, music still had to be played live to be heard. The publishing and selling of sheet music for home use was still widely practiced in the early twentieth century and because the American working class still clamored for the exotic Orient, musicians continued to compose “yellowvoice” Orientalist music.[2]

Early in his career, the composer and Vaudeville accompanist, Lew Pollack (1895-1946), started to experiment with Orientalist musical tropes, including a prototype of the Oriental riff. In 1918, he composed a piece entitled “Buddha” for an act performed by the singing and dancing “Mellette Sisters,” Helen and Rosalie (he would go on to marry Helen in 1921).[3] Lyrics were added to the musical composition by Ed Rose (1875-1935) and the work was published in 1919 by McCarthy & Fisher, Inc. [Figure 1].

Figure 1

01 cover.jpg

  • Title: Buddha [Operatic Edition]
  • Date: 1920 (date on reverse)[4]
  • Cover Artist: Unknown
  • Composer: Lew Pollack (1895-1946)
  • Lyricist: Ed Rose (1875-1935)
  • Publisher: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. (NY)

Given the title of the composition and the accompanying lyrics, it is not surprising to see that a Buddhist figure graced the cover of the sheet music. The cover depicts a scene of religious devotion, as a woman in traditional Japanese dress is positioned kneeling with her arms outstretched praying to the Buddhist image. A pair of incense burners beside the supplicant cast fragrant smoke trails into the air, while the background is festooned with decorative Asian motifs and ornamental lanterns. The overall golden hue of the scene is punctuated by the vibrant purple garment, focusing the viewer’s eye on the woman. The unknown artist employed these visual tropes to establish a setting of exoticism, femininity, and sensuousness – all established visual cues of the Orient.   

This illustration does not represent an authentic scene of Asian Buddhist worship, but the Western idea of Oriental religiosity. The Buddhist image only mimics traditional Asian art forms. The arms are folded atop one another, unlike the traditional joining of the hands in various meditative mudra positions, and the head appears to wear a crown or tiara, more like the vogue of early twentieth century American woman’s fashion than traditional Asian headwear. Even though the artist was not attempting to draw a particular Buddhist image, it is clear that the Kamakura Daibutsu was the iconic model. The overall style is definitively East Asian, but the open, draped robe exposing the chest and simple positioning of the arms in the lap closely mirror that of the Daibutsu. In addition, the frontward-facing, symmetrical composition would have echoed the numerous photographic images of the Kamakura colossus that had circulated for decades.  

What is likely the original cover for this piece was illustrated by André De Takacs (1880-1919), an artist known for his strong graphic style [Figure 2]. It is possible that De Takacs copied this image of the Kamakura Daibutsu from figural domestic bottles sold in department stores in the United States. The scene on the cover is spartan, but the whisps of smoke from the small fires suggest religious practice and the burning of incense. By examining the details of the image, it seems as if the unknown artist of the variant cover modified the origianal illustration of De Takacs, who died suddently in 1919. 

Figure 207cover28detackas29

  • Title: Buddha Fox Trot
  • Date: 1919 (date on reverse)
  • Cover Artist: André De Takacs (1880-1919)
  • Composer: Lew Pollack (1895-1946)
  • Lyricist: Ed Rose (1875-1935)
  • Publisher: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. (NY)

The small yellow phonograph icon on the lower left is inscribed with the words, “This Number is to be had on all Phonographic Records and Music Rolls. Ask your Dealer.” “Buddha” was recorded and published by several record companies, including the Lyraphone Company of America (as played by the Jazzarimba Orchestra; catalogue number 4204), Aeolian Company (Aeolian Dance Orchestra, 12166), Pathé Frères Phonograph Company (The Tuxedo Syncopaters, 22209; Peerless Quartet, 22334), Columbia Graphophone Company (Columbia Saxophone Sextette, A2876), and Victor Records (Sterling Trio and Peerless Quartet, 18653)[Figure 3].

Figure 3

MBVR.png

  • Title: Buddha
  • Date: 1920
  • Vocals: Peerless Quartet (Frank Croxton , John H. Meyer, Albert Campbell , Henry Burr)
  • Composer: Lew Pollack (1895-1946)
  • Lyricist: Ed Rose (1875-1935)
  • Publisher: Victor Talking Machine Company
  • Catalogue Number: 18653-A

The full musical score and lyrics of “Buddha” can be found here. The song opens with these lyrics: “In an oriental clime, seated on a mystic shrine, Buddha dwells, and dispels hate.” The lyrics of Ed Rose do not identity Japan or Kamakura as the setting for this song, but a more mystical “Oriental” location. The rest of the song sadly describes a woman who prays to the Buddha, pleading for her lover to return to her. This is not a novel melodic narrative. It clearly refelcts a story made famous by Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Buttefly, first performed in America in 1906. Even though neither of these musical pieces directly refers to the Kamakura Daibutsu, by the early twentieth century, the Kamakura colossus was the icon of the imaginary Orient for American audiences, thus the choice of cover illustration remains fitting.

Notes:

*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] This rhythmic device is discussed in Lancefield 2004: 730-35. The most popular recent use of this riff (in what might be its most iconic form) is found in Carl Douglas’ 1974 hit, Kung Fu Fighting.

[2] As coined by Robert Lancefield, “yellowvoice” refers to the ways in which Orientality was evoked through sound and music, see especially Lancefield 2004: 599-768. A rather exhaustive list of popular American songs with Chinese subjects or themes is found in Appendix A of Moon 2005.

[3] See the Vaudeville program information noted in Lancefield 2004: 604n.13. Pollack would compose another Asian themed piece, “Oh Sing-a-Loo, Whad’Ya Do with Your Que?” (1922).

[4] The song on the back cover is “Daddy, You’ve Been a Mother to Me” by Fred Fisher, with copyright date of 1920. Other prints have “While Others are Building Castles in the Air,” also by Fred Fisher, but copyrighted in 1919.

References:

  • Lancefield, Robert Charles. 2004. “Hearing Orientality in (White) America, 1900-1930.” Ph.D. dissertation, Wesleyan Universoty.  
  • Franceschina, John. 2017. Incidental and Dance Music in the American Theatre from 1786 to 1923 [Volume 3]. Albany: BearManor Media.
  • Moon, Krystyn. 2005. Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850’s – 1920’s. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Selth, Andrew. 2016. Burma, Kipling and Western Music: The Riff from Mandalay. London: Routledge.

 

Ueda’s Unfussy Daibutsu Postcard (Visual Literacy of Buddhism)

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.