#artbookfriday | Zartrosa und Lichtblau

What happens, when the Art Library, the Museum for Asian Art, the Ethnologic Musuem, the card section of the state library and the secret public record office collaborate? A wonderful catalogue result! The topic is Japanese Photography of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912).

The catalog comprises 300 pages, among them six essays and a plethora of pictures. Right in the preface the most important artists of the period are named: Ueno Hkoma, Uchida Kuichi, Felice Beato, Raimund von Stillfried-Rathenitz, Adolfo Farsari, Kusakabe Kimbei, and Ogawa Kazumasa. According to Moritz Wullen, director of the Art Library – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, “a comprehensive overview of the most important topic and stylistic devices of the Meiji period.”

Among the topics are genre photographies, stylized portraits, studies of nature, documentation of architecture or travel photographies. They served as remembrances, souvenirs, documents for educational institutions and fired the imagination. The pictures stem from the most important commercial centres of photography in Japan.

Having read the first essay, I felt somewhat beat. What remained in my mind? No one displays him- or herself unearned in Japan. Portraits were a visual reward. Therefore, mainly men were portrayed. – I found myself smirking. Times have changed significantly, thinking of all the selfie-hype and the #selfierade at Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. So it is a very interesting topic.

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I decided to go for another essay: “Clothes make the man”

Numerous images of the Japanese Meiji period show dressed people. But what does this tell us? Do they show the reality? Or a distorted truth. During the 44 years of the period (1868 – 1912) modernization quickly wears on, also in Japan. The evolution of fashion is part of the reforms. Western fashion is now being worn. Traditional clothing is abolished. Trends don’t stop at hairstyles and other things. Liza Dalby divides the period into three sections: after 1868, after 1883, and after 1890. While full attention was given to western clothing during the second section, the woman’s kimono got a revival in the last section.

A Japanese proverb says: “Unorderly clothing is an unorderly soul”. Or, as the title says: “Clothes make the man”. I was inevitably reminded of a citation of Rachel Zoe: “Style is a way to show who you are without having to speak”.


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I will continue now to think about all these quotes and delve deeper into the book. I’m already looking forward to the chapter “Auftakt Meiji-Zeit”, since the 250 artworks of the exhibition are also displayed in the fine catalog of the Kerber Verlag. The catalog is of extraordinary quality. When I first had the catalog in my hands, I immediately noticed the beautiful cover and the splendid haptics. This catalogue is definitely a standard work.

I find myself having a wavering attitude towards such catalogs. They weigh at least 2kg and occupy a terrible amount of place in your bookcase. Aside from the weight, it is a wonderful art book, with great pictures of brilliant color quality and the one or other highly informative essay. Seriously a must-have for any fan of the Japanese culture.

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#artbook | Zartrosa und Lichtblau. Japanische Fotografie der Meiji-Zeit 1868 – 1912

#author | Christine Kühn

#publishing house | Kerber Verlag

#language | German

#ISBN | 978-3-7356-0048-6

#pages | 320

#published | 2015

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