A Good Type

 Samurai print

Hand-colored print, Japan, circa 1870. Sturgis Bigalow Collection. Gift of Mary Lothrop. PM 2003.1.2223.396.

Tourism & Science in Early Japanese
Photographs

October 25, 2007–April 30, 2008

A Good Type is an exhibition of sixty-eight compelling images of Japanese hand-colored prints produced for the tourist trade in the late nineteenth-century. Delicately hand-tinted scenes of cherry blossoms, elegant kimono-clad geisha, and fierce samurai warriors found in early Japanese photographs captivated nineteenth-century travelers to Japan. Diplomats and businessmen, and later, pleasure travelers, started to arrive in steadily increasing numbers after the opening of the first treaty ports in 1854 eased travel restrictions. Photographs were an instant hit among these resident foreigners and tourists, and were heavily collected as mementos. Photographs were also exported to Western countries, where they both encouraged travel to Japan and entertained armchair travelers.

The title of the exhibition is taken in part from the caption of one such photograph. Written by Harvard-educated doctor and important nineteenth-century collector of Japanese art, William S. Bigelow, the captioning of the photograph began a process that transformed a typical tourist photograph, sold in a commercial studio in Japan from a souvenir to a “type” photograph housed in a museum of anthropology.

The exhibition explores this process of transformation using material from the Peabody's rich archive of early Japanese photographs from the Meiji era (1868 – 1912). Most of the photographs have never before been publicly exhibited.

Curated by David Odo and Illisa Barbash.