Old Asia Photography

Japan - Suzuki Shinichi - Shajo series

Ref: 01524

Suzuki Shinichi

It looks very much as though the shrewd editor of The Far East,John Black, commissioned this series in the early 1870s, and this would support his claim, in the July 1873 edition that “we have already in possession photographs of ‘groups of the people’ from life, sufficient for our work for the next three years.”That issue, and subsequent ones, then proceeded to publish selections from the series. Black also said that whereas in the past he had not been able to pay his contributors—literary or photographic—he was now able to financially reward them because of the success of the publication. There is no doubt that the series, stylistically, bears a distinct semblance to a number of the portrait groups seen in known Shimooka Renjo cartes de visite: they have a certain zest which is characteristic of Shimooka’s style. Black and Shimooka must have known each other well, if only through their mutual friend and amateur photographer Cocking. Black probably approached Shimooka about the proposed series and asked for his help. Shimooka at that time was not particularly active as a photographer and most likely introduced Black to his talented apprentice Suzuki. The series was published in July 1873 and Suzuki set up his own studio in October of that year. Perhaps he had already left Shimooka. In any case, despite Black’s newfound confidence in being able to pay for photographic contributions, he would not have been willing (or able) to pay the going commercial rate for this extensive, highly professional, and therefore costly series. He would also have required the negatives themselves in order to produce the hundreds of prints needed for each issue of The Far East. Shimooka was perhaps returning a favor and providing Black with the series at a heavily discounted price—or perhaps he just caught Suzuki at the right time. Whilst this series is exceptionally rare, the writer has seen some of the shajo images continue to appear in Suzuki albums into the 1880s, but by then the subject matter probably seemed outdated and not reflective of a fast-modernizing country.

Original text from Terry Bennett's: Photography in Japan (2006).

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