The Journey of “A Good Type”: From Artistry to Ethnography in Early Japanese Photographs

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Photo Credit: Gift of Miss Mary B. Lothrop, 2003. Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, 2003.1.2223.396

When Japan opened its doors to the West in the 1860s, delicately hand-tinted photographic prints of Japanese people and landscapes were among its earliest and most popular exports. Understood as both images and objects, the prints embody complex issues of history, culture, representation, and exchange. Hundreds of these photographs, collected by travelers from the Boston area, were eventually donated to Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Join visual anthropologist Dr. David Odo, director of academic and public programs, division head, and research curator at the Harvard Art Museums, as he reveals how the images' shifting and contingent uses―from tourist souvenir to fine art print to anthropological “type” record―were framed by the desires and cultural preconceptions of makers and consumers alike.