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History of photography
 
 
 
Felice Beato
 

Felice Beato (born 1833 or 1834, died c.1907), sometimes known as Felix Beato, was a Corfiote photographer. He was one of the first photographers to take pictures in East Asia and one of the first war photographers. He is noted for his genre works, portraits, and views and panoramas of the architecture and landscapes of Asia and the Mediterranean region. Beato's travels to many lands gave him the opportunity to create powerful and lasting images of countries, people and events that were unfamiliar and remote to most people in Europe and North America. To this day his work provides the key images of such events as the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Second Opium War. His photographs represent the first substantial oeuvre of what came to be called photojournalism. He had a significant impact on other photographers, and Beato's influence in Japan, where he worked with and taught numerous other photographers and artists, was particularly deep and lasting.
The origins and identity of Felice Beato have been problematic issues, but the confusion over his birth date and birthplace seems now to have been substantially cleared up. Based on an application for a travel permit that he made in 1858, Beato was born in 1833 or 1834 on the island of Corfu. At the time of his birth, Corfu was part of the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands, and so Beato would have qualified as a British subject. Corfu had previously been a Venetian possession, and this fact goes some way to explaining the many references to Beato as "Italian" and "Venetian" member of the Corfiot Italians. The Beato family is recorded as having moved to Corfu in the 17th century and was one of the noble Venetian families that ruled the island during the Republic of Venice.
Because of the existence of a number of photographs signed "Felice Antonio Beato" and "Felice A. Beato", it was long assumed that there was one photographer who somehow managed to photograph at the same time in places as distant as Egypt and Japan. But in 1983 it was shown by Chantal Edel that "Felice Antonio Beato" represented two brothers, Felice Beato and Antonio Beato, who sometimes worked together, sharing a signature. The confusion arising from the signatures continues to cause problems in identifying which of the two photographers was the creator of a given image.

Little is certain about Felice Beato's early development as a photographer, though it is said that he bought his first and only lens in Paris in 1851. He probably met British photographer James Robertson in Malta in 1850 and accompanied him to Constantinople in 1851. Robertson had been an engraver at the Imperial Ottoman Mint since 1843 and had probably taken up photography in the 1840s. In 1853 the two began photographing together and they formed a partnership called "Robertson & Beato" either in that year or in 1854 when Robertson opened a photographic studio in Pera, Constantinople. Robertson and Beato were joined by Beato's brother Antonio on photographic expeditions to Malta in 1854 or 1856 and to Greece and Jerusalem in 1857. A number of the firm's photographs produced in the 1850s are signed "Robertson, Beato and Co." and it is believed that the "and Co." refers to Antonio.
In late 1854 or early 1855 James Robertson married the Beato brothers' sister, Leonilda Maria Matilda Beato. They had three daughters, Catherine Grace (b. 1856), Edith Marcon Vergence (b. 1859) and Helen Beatruc (b. 1861).
In 1855 Felice Beato and Robertson travelled to Balaklava, Crimea where they took over reportage of the Crimean War following Roger Fenton's departure. They photographed the fall of Sebastopol in September 1855, producing about 60 images.
In February 1858 Felice Beato arrived in Calcutta and began travelling throughout Northern India to document the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. During this time he produced possibly the first-ever photographic images of corpses. It is believed that for at least one of his photographs taken at the palace of Secundra Bagh in Lucknow he had the skeletal remains of Indian rebels disinterred or rearranged to heighten the photograph's dramatic impact (see events at Taku Forts). He was also in the cities of Delhi, Cawnpore, Meerut, Benares, Amritsar, Agra, Simla and Lahore. Beato was joined in July 1858 by his brother Antonio, who later left India, probably for health reasons, in December 1859. Antonio ended up in Egypt in 1860, setting up a photographic studio in Thebes in 1862.

In 1860 Felice Beato left the partnership of "Robertson & Beato", though Robertson retained use of the name until 1867. Beato was sent from India to photograph the Anglo-French military expedition to China in the Second Opium War. He arrived in Hong Kong in March and immediately began photographing the city and its surroundings as far as Canton. Beato's photographs are some of the earliest taken in China.
While in Hong Kong, Beato met Charles Wirgman, an artist and correspondent for the Illustrated London News. The two accompanied the Anglo-French forces travelling north to Talien Bay, then to Pehtang and the Taku Forts at the mouth of the Peiho, and on to Peking and the suburban Summer Palace, Qingyi Yuan. Wirgman's (and others') illustrations for the Illustrated London News are often derived from Beato's photographs of the places on this route.
Beato's photographs of the Second Opium War are the first to document a military campaign as it unfolded, doing so through a sequence of dated and related images. His photographs of the Taku Forts represent this approach on a reduced scale, forming a narrative recreation of a battle. The sequence of images shows the approach to the forts, the effects of bombardments on the exterior walls and fortifications and finally the devastation within the forts, including the bodies of dead Chinese soldiers. Interestingly, the photographs were not taken in this order as the photographs of dead Chinese had to be taken first before the bodies were removed; only then was Beato free to take the other views of the exterior and interior of the forts. In albums of the time these photographs are placed in such a way as to recreate the sequence of the battle.

Beato's images of the Chinese dead — he never photographed British or French dead — and his manner of producing them particularly reveal the ideological aspects of his photojournalism. Dr. David F. Rennie, a member of the expedition, noted in his campaign memoir, “I walked round the ramparts on the West side. They were thickly strewn with dead — in the North-West angle thirteen were lying in one group around a gun. Signor Beato was there in great excitement, characterising the group as ‘beautiful’ and begging that it might not be interfered with until perpetuated by his photographic apparatus, which was done a few minutes afterwards…”. The resultant photographs are a powerful representation of military triumph and British imperialist power, not least for the purchasers of his images: British soldiers, colonial administrators, merchants and tourists. Back in Britain Beato's images were used to justify the Opium (and other colonial) Wars and they shaped public awareness of the cultures that existed in the East.

Just outside Peking, Beato took photographs at the Summer Palace, Qingyi Yuan (Garden of Clear Ripples), a private estate of the Chinese emperor comprising palace pavilions, temples, a large artificial lake and gardens. Some of these photographs, taken between 6 and 18 October 1860, are haunting, unique images of buildings that were plundered and looted by the Anglo-French forces beginning on the 6 October, and then, on the 18 and 19 October, set to the torch by the British First Division on the orders of Lord Elgin as a reprisal against the emperor for the torture and deaths of twenty members of an Allied diplomatic party. Among the last photographs that Beato took in China at this time were portraits of Lord Elgin, arrived in Peking to sign the Convention of Peking, and Prince Kung, who signed on behalf of the Xianfeng Emperor.
Beato had returned to England by November 1861, and during that winter he sold four hundred of his photographs of India and China to Henry Hering, a London commercial portrait photographer. Hering had them duplicated and then resold them. When they first went on sale single views were offered at 7 shillings, while the complete India series was priced at £54 8s and the complete China series at £37 8s. Knowing that by 1867 the average per capita income in England and Wales had climbed to £32 per year puts the price of Beato's photographs into perspective.

By 1863 Beato had moved to Yokohama, Japan, joining Charles Wirgman who had been there since 1861. The two formed and maintained a partnership called “Beato & Wirgman, Artists and Photographers” during the years 1864–1867. Wirgman again produced illustrations derived from Beato's photographs while Beato photographed some of Wirgman's sketches and other works. Beato's Japanese photographs include portraits, genre works, landscapes, cityscapes and a series of photographs documenting the scenery and sites along the Tōkaidō, the latter series recalling the ukiyo-e of Hiroshige and Hokusai. This was a significant time to be photographing in Japan since foreign access to (and within) the country was greatly restricted by the Shogunate. Beato's images are remarkable not only for their quality, but for their rarity as photographic views of Edo period Japan.

Beato was very active while in Japan. In September 1864 he was an official photographer on the military expedition to Shimonoseki. The following year he produced a number of dated views of Nagasaki and its surroundings. From 1866 he was often (gently) caricatured in Japan Punch, which was founded and edited by Wirgman. In an October 1866 fire that destroyed much of Yokohama, Beato lost his studio and negatives, and he spent the next two years working vigorously to produce replacement material. The result was two volumes of photographs, ‘Native Types’, containing 100 portraits and genre works, and ‘Views of Japan’, containing 98 landscapes and cityscapes. Many of the photographs were hand-coloured, a technique that in Beato's studio successfully applied the refined skills of Japanese watercolourists and woodblock printmakers to European photography. From 1869 to 1877 Beato, no longer partnered with Wirgman, ran his own studio in Yokohama called “F. Beato & Co., Photographers” with an assistant named H. Woolett and four Japanese photographers and four Japanese artists. Kusakabe Kimbei was probably one of Beato's artist-assistants before becoming a photographer in his own right. Beato photographed with Ueno Hikoma and others, and possibly taught photography to Raimund von Stillfried.

In 1871 Beato served as official photographer with the United States naval expedition of Admiral Rodgers to Korea. The views Beato took on this expedition are the earliest confirmed photographs of the country and its inhabitants.
While in Japan, Beato did not confine his activities to photography, but also engaged in a number of business ventures. He owned land and several studios, was a property consultant, had a financial interest in the Grand Hotel of Yokohama and was a dealer in imported carpets and women's bags, among other things. He also appeared in court on several occasions, variously as plaintiff, defendant and witness. On 6 August 1873 Beato was appointed Consul General for Greece in Japan, a fact that possibly supports the case for his origins being in Corfu.
In 1877, Beato sold most of his stock to the firm, Stillfried & Andersen, who then moved into his studio. In turn, Stillfried & Andersen sold the stock to Adolfo Farsari in 1885. Following the sale to Stillfried & Andersen, Beato apparently retired for some years from photography, concentrating on his parallel career as a financial speculator and trader. On 29 November 1884 Beato left Japan, ultimately landing in Port Said, Egypt. It was reported in a Japanese newspaper that he had lost all his money on the Yokohama silver exchange.

From 1884 to 1885 Beato was the official photographer of the expeditionary forces led by Baron (later Viscount) G.J. Wolseley to Khartoum, Sudan in relief of General Charles Gordon. None of the photographs Beato took in Sudan are known to have survived.
Briefly back in England, in 1886 Beato lectured the London and Provincial Photographic Society on photographic techniques. But by 1888 he was photographing in Asia again, this time in Burma, where from 1896 he operated a photographic studio (called ‘The Photographic Studio’) as well as a furniture and curio business in Mandalay, with a branch office in Rangoon. Examples of his mail order catalogue — affixed with Beato's own photographs of the merchandise on offer — are in the possession of at least two photographic collections. Knowledge of his last years is as sketchy as that of his early years; Beato may or may not have been working after 1899, but in January 1907 his company, F. Beato Ltd., went into liquidation and it is presumed that he died shortly thereafter.

Photographs of the 19th century often now shows the limitations of the technology used, yet Felice Beato managed to successfully work within and even transcend those limitations. He predominantly produced albumen silver prints from wet collodion glass-plate negatives. Beyond aesthetic considerations, the long exposure times needed by this process must have been a further stimulus to Beato to frame and position the subjects of his photographs carefully. Apart from his portrait-making, he often posed local people in such a way as to set off the architectural or topographical subjects of his images, but otherwise people (and other moving objects) are sometimes rendered a blur or disappear altogether during the long exposures. Such blurs are a common feature of 19th century photographs.
Like other 19th century commercial photographers, Beato often made copy prints of his original photographs. The original would have been pinned to a stationary surface and then photographed, producing a second negative from which to make more prints. The pins used to hold the original in place are sometimes visible in copy prints. In spite of the limitations of this method, including the loss of detail and degradation of other picture elements, it was an effective and economical way to duplicate images.

Beato pioneered and refined the techniques of hand-colouring photographs and making panoramas. He may have started hand-colouring photographs at the suggestion of Wirgman or he may have seen the hand-coloured photographs made by partners Charles Parker and William Parke Andrew. Whatever the inspiration, Beato's coloured landscapes are delicate and naturalistic and his coloured portraits, though more strongly coloured than the landscapes, are also excellent. As well as providing views in colour, Beato worked to represent very large subjects in a way that gave a sense of their vastness. Throughout his career, Beato's work is marked by spectacular panoramas, which he produced by carefully making several contiguous exposures of a scene and then joining the resulting prints together, thereby re-creating the expansive view. The complete version of his panorama of Pehtang comprises nine photographs joined together almost seamlessly for a total length of more than 2.5 metres.

While the signatures he shared with his brother are one source of confusion in attributing images to Felice Beato, there are additional difficulties in this task. When Stillfried & Andersen bought up Beato's stock they subsequently followed the common practice of 19th century commercial photographers of reselling the photographs under their own name. They (and others) also altered Beato's images by adding numbers, names and other inscriptions associated with their firm in the negative, on the print or on the mount. For many of Beato's images that were not hand-coloured, Stillfried & Andersen produced hand-coloured versions. All of these factors have caused Beato's photographs to be frequently misattributed to Stillfried & Andersen. Fortunately, Beato captioned many of his photographs by writing in graphite or ink on the back of the print. When such photographs are mounted, the captions can still often be seen through the front of the image and read with the use of a mirror. Besides helping in the identification of the subject of the image and sometimes in supplying a date for the exposure, these captions provide one method of identifying Felice Beato as the creator of many images.
 
 



Upper North Taku Fort



Alcock



Tattooed japanese men



Belvedere of the God



Chattar Manzil



Dilkushab



Self Portrait



First known photo of Koreans 1871



Lucknow - La Martini



SaigoTsugumichi and Beato, 1882



Samurai



Secundra Bagh after Indian Mutiny



Sikandra Bagh exterior



Japanese porters



Indian Rebellion



Luxor - Group of men on street lined with palm trees



Temple of Denderah



Head Quarter Staff, Pehtang Fort



Shamisen



Scene de la vie japonaise, vers 1875-1880




Scene de la vie japonaise, vers 1875-1880




Scene de la vie japonaise, vers 1875-1880




Jonkina danse. Trois danseuses et trois musiciennes entre 1875 et 1880




Palanquin




Japan
c. 1860s




Hman Kyaung Mandalay




Coolie
1870




Corean
1871




Four Coolies




Coolie (water carrier)
1868




Coolie
1868

 
 
 

 
 
 
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