Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

12. Mai: Innocence and Experience: Images of Childhood During the First Half-Century of Japanese Photography

Vortrag von Sebastian Dobson
  • Wann 12.05.2016 von 18:15 bis 20:00
  • Wo Luisenstr. 39
  • iCal

Mori Ôgai’s lifetime (1862-1922) neatly spans the evolution of photography in Japan from an exotic imported technology into an established part of daily life. In the year of his birth, the first commercial studios were established in Nagasaki and Yokohama; when he began his career as a writer in 1889, the first Japanese photographic society was founded; by the time of his death, almost every town in Japan boasted at least one photographic studio.

Although the history of photography in Japan has been the subject of much recent scholarly attention, one aspect of the diffusion of the medium during the Bakumatsu and Meiji eras which remains overlooked is the way in which it depicted children, and by extension childhood.

For most of the nineteenth century, photographing children was a difficult and often unwelcome task for most photographers, with the additional supervision required for younger sitters compounded by the limitations of early photographic technology, and in particular the lengthy exposure times involved. It was only in the 1890s, when the adoption of the dryplate process brought instantaneous photography within the reach of Japanese photographers, that children became a regular staple of commercial photography.

The difficulties which attended the photographing of children make the earliest photographic depictions of childhood in Japan all the more interesting. There is a natural tendency in the history of photography to search for ‘firsts’, and a good place to begin an investigation into the relationship between photography and childhood in nineteenth-century Japan would be by asking when the first likeness of a child was taken by a photographer in Japan. However, this apparently simple question raises more complex questions. Who were the first children to be photographed? Why were they photographed? How did photographers – both Japanese and non-Japanese - approach the subjects of children and childhood in Bakumatsu- and Meiji-era Japan and what does this tell about wider societal attitudes at this time? I hope to answer some of these questions in this talk.

Sebastian Dobson, Antwerpen, is an independent scholar of the history of photography in Japan and East Asia