ed. by Luke Gartlan and Roberta Wue. Routledge, June 2017. 252 p. ill. ISBN 9781472484383 (h/c), $150.00.
Reviewed January 2018
Portraiture and Early Studio Photography in China and Japan puts a spotlight on one of the least-studied areas of the history of photography. The value in this new title truly lies in its ability to fill a longstanding gap in scholarship with excellent quality and approachably-delivered original research. From the introduction through the last chapter, the through line of Gartlan’s and Wue’s work lies in revealing previously unknown and understudied material. As of this year there is no comparable title on the market devoted to this exact specialty of study.
The contents of this book are well-researched, expertly surveying the nascent studio industry in China and Japan across three distinct sections devoted to studios and photographers, sitters and domestic markets, and citizens and subjects, respectively. The chapters presented here – such as “Chinese Ideas of Likeness: Painting, Photography, and Intermediality” and “From Private to Public: Shifting Conceptions of Women’s Portrait Photography in Late Meiji Japan” – are cleanly written and offer new content to be devoured by researchers interested in Asian history or the historical photographic medium. Although the authors within this volume do not focus on new methodologies or theoretical approaches to the material they examine, this book can be praised for bringing new contributions to the field forward, addressing a critical scholarly need.
The book’s physical style and formatting are somewhat uninspired, following the standard textbook layout. There are numerous images included throughout the text, but many reproductions are quite small, and a disappointingly few of them are printed in color. Despite this, the book is otherwise finely produced, in hardback with sturdy construction and good quality paper. The fantastic scholarship inside is supplemented by comprehensive notes following each chapter as well as an impeccable bibliography. Also, the end of the book includes the excellent addition of an appendix translating Matsuzaki Shinji’s “Dos and Don’ts for the Photographic Customer” before concluding with a helpful glossary of Chinese and Japanese characters. Portraiture and Early Studio Photography in China and Japan is intended for scholarly audiences working in art history, visual culture, or Asian studies; ultimately, this publication is entirely appropriate and highly recommended for any academic or museum library collection