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Museum Ludwig Presents Photographs from 19th Century Japan and China

Masterpieces from the Photographic Collection. The new gallery for photography

Following the presentation of outstanding works from the history of 20th century photography, Museum Ludwig is now highlighting a new section of its extensive photographic holdings.

Open through 09.01.2011, a selection of 19th century Japanese photographs from the Robert Lebeck Collection will be presented together with the Chinese travel album that once belonged to the Bremen merchant Julius Menke. This records the things he witnessed and experienced in China during the 1860s in the form of a carefully made picture atlas.

On show at the exhibition will be photographs by European pioneers Felice Beato and John Thomson, as well as by early Japanese photographers Hikoma Ueno and Kimbei Kusakabe, along with the beautifully made travel albums in which the photographs were presented for sale. To this day these often delicately hand-coloured photographs have all the allure of the exotic and suggest authentic insights into distant cultures. But even in the 19th century they were less concerned with the realities of the day than with centuries-old traditions, as for instance in the photographs of a Japanese woman in her kimono being transported in a sedan chair, or a young Japanese mother carrying her baby in a traditional woven cloth on her back, or a broom seller hawking his self-made besoms. The western interest in Japan and China in the 19th century was not only economic in nature, but also motivated by a curiosity about exotic life worlds. The technical know-how for making photographs was also quick to arrive in the countries of the far East, where photographic production for export soon started up on a wide scale. And these photographs were put on sale in precious travel albums with ornately decorated lacquer covers. The tourists has a certain freedom to compile their own albums from the enormous choice of available photographs. These photographs document the staging of foreign cultures and the ways of seeing and means of representation which photographers there chose for export purposes. The extent and quality of this photographic industry testifies to the enormous success of their sales strategies.

In this joint exhibition of photographs from Japan and China the visitor is granted fascinating insights into the ‘virtual’ world of these two foreign cultures, which despite their geographical proximity were portrayed in quite different ways. At the same time it becomes easy to understand the enormous fascination that the original photographs elicited in the West for Japanese and Chinese life worlds, which not least exerted a telling influence on the whole of western art around 1900.

Unbekannter Fotograf, Tätowierter Mann (hikkyaku), Japan, um 1880, Museum Ludwig/Fotografische Sammlung (Sammlung Lebeck)

Museum Ludwig
Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Köln
Telephone +49-221-221-26165
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