WINKEL Margarita

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Book review of Margarita Winkel's book on vintage Japanese photography.

Souvenirs from Japan

Reviewed on: Nov. 10, 1997 Last modified: 2005-04-03

Excellent introduction to early tourist photographs in Japan taken at the turn of the 20th century.

Published: 1991 Publisher: Bamboo Publishing Ltd. (London) ISBN: 1-870076-58-3 Price in Japan: ¥7,000 Qualities: Soft cover, color photos Size: A4, 160 pp. Language: English

A German forest engineer named Schilling lived in Japan apparently from 1899 to 1903. He was an advisor to the Ministry of Imperial Affairs for forest management. During this time, he collected 510 photographs printed on albumen paper. In 1989, a Dutch bookstore called Ukiyo-e Books in Leiden acquired the Schilling collection at an auction. This book features 179 photos from the collection.

The first part of the book (about one-fourth of the book) has text explaining about Schilling and the collection, the historical background of the period, the introduction of early photographic techniques to Japan, pioneering Japanese photographers, tourist photography in Japan, and how early Japanese photography was influenced by traditional woodblock prints and vice versa. This section is easy to read and interesting. Anyone familiar with Japanese tourist photographs and woodblock prints will quickly notice how the latter influenced the former. Many tourist photos were obviously modeled after woodblock prints. Famous views of famous gardens such as the Horikiri Iris Garden and Kameido Tenjin Wisteria depicted in woodblock prints are also captured on film with a similar composition. A woman gripping an umbrella and walking through a rainstorm with a wind-blown kimono was also widely copied in the early photo studios. The book adds that woodblock prints were also modeled after photographs, such as the one of Emperor Meiji. A few of these woodblock prints are illustrated in the book.

The rest of the book is devoted to the photographs, with informative captions. Many of the photos are in color to show the hand-coloring work. The photographs are in excellent condition. A wide variety of photos is presented: Women, children, sumo wrestlers, geisha, oiran, festivals, gardens, farming scenes, bathing women, priests, Ainu, shopkeepers and their wares, Mt. Fuji, street scenes, temples and shrines, etc. The typical things Japanese. Attribution is always a problem and most of the photographs presented are not attributed to a particular photographer. And I spotted one spelling error: "Horokiri" which should be Horikiri (name of the iris garden). (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)

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