24 April until 3 November 2013
Typical Japan
19th-Century Travel Photography

Blossoming cherry trees, lotus blossoms, geishas in kimonos, serene temple sites: the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg is presenting about one hundred exhibits of Japanese travel photography from its collection that were produced between 1870 and 1900. The hand-colored photographs, glass slides, stereoscopic images, lacquered albums, and picture postcards stem from eleven different photographers and studios. They are being supplemented by handcrafted objects on sale at the worlds’ fairs in London, Paris, Vienna, and Chicago that spark a great deal of interest in Japan. The exhibition throws light on the role of photography in the evolving tourism sector. The touristic development of Japan triggers the production of an enormous amount of souvenirs. The most popular product was the photograph—25,000 prints were exported to Europe in 1897 alone. Globetrotters and visitors to Japan purchase the photographs primarily in Yokohama. With the help of the pictures, those who stayed home undertake imaginary journeys to the foreign land. The early photographs provide first pictures of a country that was isolated and unknown until 1868. However, the photographers soon distanced themselves from their documentary gaze. Stereotypical views and pictorial patterns are generated to an increasing extent. Besides pictures of architecture and landscapes, these comprise above all portraits of archetypes such as geishas, samurai, wrestlers, burden bearers, and street vendors. Locals are staged in photo studios wearing traditional clothing and performing typical tasks. These motifs cater primarily to European ideas of an exotic foreign land and inform our image of Japan to this day. The vigorous staging and delicate pastel coloration of the photographs, inspired by Japanese color woodcut prints, have lost nothing of their fascination.

Abb.: Kusakabe Kimbei, Tänzerinnen, um 1890, Albumin, koloriert, Foto: MKG