A carte album attributed to Shimooka Renjo, album dated 1865-1868
Limited-edition booklet for the first 100 books
This publication consists of 144 previously unpublished works by Japanese photography pioneer Shimooka Renjo (1823–1924), bringing back the Japan of the late Edo and early Meiji period in astounding clarity and color.
As a bonus, the first 100 pre-orders of the book will include a limited-edition booklet with commentary by photography historian Sebastian Dobson.
In the first years of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), an enterprising visitor to the Japanese quarter of Yokohama entered the ramshackle studio of Shimooka Renjô (1823-1914) and made the sizeable purchase of twelve dozen hand-coloured carte-de-visite photographs. This impressive total of 144 photographs makes this one of the largest intact groups we know of from Shimooka’s portfolio, but what makes it especially important is the format in which it has come down to us. Housed in a simple binding fashioned from 14 leaves of writing paper and held together with three brass paper fasteners to create a simple album, this portfolio has a coherence and context seldom found with other surviving examples of the work of this pioneer of Japanese photography. Protected front and back by paper covers and held in place by handmade paper supports, the jewel-like photographs were presented six to a page and, with only a few exceptions, were accompanied by contemporary descriptive captions handwritten in Japanese. The information they contain, occasionally embellished by the original owner of the album with accompanying captions in English, provides valuable insight into how Shimooka Renjô created his characteristic portfolio.
― Sebastian Dobson (Independent Historian of Photography)
SHIMOOKA Renjo (1823–1914) was one of the founders of photography in Japan. He is valued not only for his photographs but also for his important role in disseminating photography by teaching students, many of whom went on to found professional studios themselves. Having moved to Tokyo to study painting at only 13 years of age, Shimooka likely made his first encounter with photography as early as during the 1840s, when he first came across daguerrotypes from the Netherlands. Fascinated by the technique, he devoted himself to studying photography whenever he could – a difficult endeavor as information about this new technology was almost impossible to acquire. In 1859/1869, Shimooka moved to Yokohama and began his career as a professional photographer. He bought a camera in 1861, and opened his first photography studio in 1862, with more to follow in the coming years. During these years, Shimooka taught photography to many students and apprentices. Notable students of his include Matsusaburo Yokoyama, Shusaburo Usui, and Reiji Esaki.
Through his activities as a photographer, entrepreneur and teacher, Shimooka was a pioneer of Japanese photography who helped introduce, establish and spread this new medium in Japan.
Sebastian Dobson is an independent scholar of the early history of photography in East Asia, and in particular Japan. He has lectured widely in Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan and his publications to date include catalogue essays for exhibitions hosted in London, Boston, Singapore and Tokyo, as well as encyclopedia entries, book reviews, and other contributions to books and journals.