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The Hall Collection of 19th century Photographs of Japan

February 15, 2013 - February 15, 2013

Pollard Gallery

Curated by Catherine Crowston and organized & circulated by the Art Gallery of Alberta.

The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to view one of the world’s largest collections of early Japanese photography. There are more than 230 works in this exhibition from the personal collection of Edmontonian Arlene Hall. Its debut was at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), which organized the exhibition in 2009. The photographs in the exhibition reflect the transitional period from 1860 to 1899, when feudal Japan was opening to the outside world and yielding to modern influences.

In the decades following the invention of photography in 1839, European photographers traveled the world, documenting cultures and landscapes with a realism previously unknown. Employing cumbersome large format cameras and delicate paper and glass plate negatives, these intrepid photographers were able to capture rare images of the last years of Edo period Japan and the very first images of the new Meiji era. This time in Japan, the years between 1852 and 1868 were ones of great political and cultural transformation, marking the end of shogunate rule and the country’s re-opening to the West.

KOSHASHIN (“period photographs”) reveals this remarkable period in history when both Western and Japanese photographers (including Felice Beato, Raimund von Stillfried, Uchida Kuichiand Kusakabe Kimbei to name just a few) developed a distinctive style of image.

While the earliest photographs were more documentary in nature, photography in Japan soon became a commercial enterprise. Photographs were produced for local sale, but also for the growing tourism and international trade market, and artists who once earned their living in the studios of Ukiyo-e painters and printmakers, now hand-coloured these new black and white photographs.

Some photographers followed the conventions and subject matter of the famed Ukiyo-e printmakers, depicting courtesans, actors and scenes of entertainment, while others tried to capture the changing face of the country. It was a time when photography gave a sense of realism to genre studies, and photographers created stylized depictions of a traditional lifestyle that was quickly changing.

Dated from the early 1860s to the late 1890s, the 230 works in this exhibition are on loan from The Hall Collection. A remarkable private collection in Edmonton, The Hall Collection is one of the largest collections of these images in the world. This unique collection offers an unparalleled reflection of Japan as it was 150 years ago.

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