Part of the exhibition is dedicated to the studio and plein-air works by professional Japanese photographers: Kusakabe Kimbei, Ueno Hikoma, Ogawa Kazumasa. These were the famous names in the history of photography of the last third of the nineteenth century. The exhibition also includes the works of prominent European authors that worked in Japan: Felice Beato, Adolfo Farsari, and Raymund von Shtillfrid-Rateniz, as well as their Japanese apprentices and colleagues.

Up to 1859 foreigners could not work in the Land of the Rising Sun. The foreign access to the country was greatly restricted by the Shogunate. Only in 1868, during the reign of Emperor Mutsuhito, European photographers managed to open their studios in some Japanese cities.

Among the exhibited photographs, Felice Beato’s works are of particular interest. He had moved to Japan, Yokohama, in 1863, and two years later he opened a studio, where many talented Japanese photographers started to learn the art of photography under his supervision. In 1877 he sold the Yokohama studio to R. von Stillfried from Austria, and in 1844 Beato’s former assistant Kusakabe Kimbei took charge of the studio’s work.

The plate glasses by Felice Beato, which he had left in Japan and which Kusakabe Kimbei had bought from his colleagues, were considered the ‘golden assets’ of the Japanese photography of the Meiji era. Prints from these negatives were much sought after not only in Japan: they were and still remain extremely popular internationally.

The mysterious Empire of the Sun that was so different from Europe in its culture and ways of life heated the imagination of the westerners. When it finally became open to foreigners (initially for sailors, merchants, diplomatic officials and missionaries), souvenirs from Japan became hugely popular. The Europeans bought woodprints, fans, umbrellas, netsuke, and of course photographs in abundance.

Photographic portraits of beautiful women (‘bijin-ga’), city and suburb characters, genre scenes and even landscape pictures – all these works of Japanese photographic art have much in common with traditional woodprints. As were the traditional woodblock prints, the albumin prints were hand-colored. Since the first panoramic photographs of Japan were made primarily by Italian, French and English photographers for the western customers, the composition of such images was strikingly deep compared to the shots made at the studios, which were rather planar. However, unlike the woodprints, these panoramic photographs were not overloaded with details.

The ‘Japanese’ photographic albums from the end of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century usually included portraits of the locals, genre works documenting the lifestyle and traditional crafts of the Japanese people, landscapes and cityscapes. The Japanese ‘characters and sites’ bought from different photographers in various cities were often placed alongside the shots made on cruise ships or combined with the photographs from other countries.  There also were souvenir album editions that consisted entirely of panoramic photographs and genre scenes. Such souvenir albums often came in bindings made by Japanese artisans in traditional Japanese lacquerware technique, encrusted with ivory, decorated with gold foil and art painting. Brought from abroad, they had been decorating Russian houses for many years.