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Felice Beato
Felice Beato

Felice Beato

Country: Italy / United Kingdom
Birth: 1832 | Death: 1909

Felice Beato, also known as Felix Beato, was an Italian–British photographer. He was one of the first people to take photographs 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 gave him the opportunity to create images of countries, people, and events that were unfamiliar and remote to most people in Europe and North America. His work provides images of such events like the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Second Opium War, and represents the first substantial body of photojournalism. He influenced other photographers, and his influence in Japan, where he taught and worked with numerous other photographers and artists, was particularly deep and lasting.

A death certificate discovered in 2009 shows that Beato was born in Venice in 1832 and died on 29 January 1909 in Florence. The death certificate also indicates that he was a British subject and a bachelor. It is likely that early in his life Beato and his family moved to Corfu, at the time part of the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands, and so Beato was a British subject.

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 photographed at the same time in places as distant as Egypt and Japan. 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.

Photographs of the 19th century often now show the limitations of the technology used, yet Beato managed to successfully work within and even transcend those limitations. He predominantly produced albumen silver prints from wet collodion glass-plate negatives.

Beato pioneered and refined the techniques of hand-coloring photographs and making panoramas. He may have started hand-coloring photographs at the suggestion of Wirgman, or he may have seen the hand-colored photographs made by partners Charles Parker and William Parke Andrew. Whatever the inspiration, Beato's colored landscapes are delicate and naturalistic and his colored portraits, more strongly colored than the landscapes, are appraised as excellent.

As well as providing views in color, 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 seven photographs joined together almost seamlessly for a total length of more than 2 meters (6 1/2 ft).

Although Beato was previously believed to have died in Rangoon or Mandalay in 1905 or 1906, his death certificate, discovered in 2009, indicates that he died on 29 January 1909 in Florence, Italy.

Source: Wikipedia


In a peripatetic career that spanned five decades, the photographer Felice Beato (1832–1909) covered a wide swath of East Asia. Following in the wake of Britain's vast colonial empire, he was among the primary photographers to provide images of newly opened countries such as India, China, Japan, Korea, and Burma.

A pioneer war photographer, Beato recorded several conflicts: the Crimean War in 1855–56, the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny in 1858–59, the Second Opium War in 1860, and the American expedition to Korea in 1871. His photographs of battlefields, the first to show images of the dead, provided a new direction for that genre.

Catering to a Western audience, Beato produced an exceptionally diverse oeuvre: topographical and architectural views, including panoramas, as well as portraits and costume studies of the countries he visited or in which he resided.

From Beato's series on domestic Japanese society, the full-length portrait shown here depicts the traditional armored costume of the samurai, the soldier of noble class who served the powerful rulers of Japan. Beato spent more than 20 years in Japan (1863–84), his longest residency in one country and the most prolific period of his career. There he witnessed one of the most turbulent eras in Japan's history, known as the Bakumatsu period (1853–68), when the Tokuga shogunate gave way to the Meiji reign.

During his time in Japan, Beato employed the wet-collodion method, which reduced the length of exposure to seconds rather than minutes. The use of photography began to spread in Japan in the mid-1850s, and Beato's work rapidly achieved success as he offered the first hand-colored photographs and photographic albums in the country.

Despite restrictions on foreigners' travel, Beato developed a remarkable and rare visual record of Japan. This photograph depicts the monumental sculpture of the Dai Bouts (Great Buddha), which had been the centerpiece of a temple that was destroyed by a typhoon. It was an important attraction at Kamakura, and Beato was the first Westerner to photograph it. He posed himself in the scene, sitting on the stairs, while local men climbed the statue.

Beato left Japan in 1884, but his photographs continued to circulate with the successive sales of his negatives to different studios.

Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum


 

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In general, Weston was moved by the landscape and folk art of Mexico to create abstract works, while Modotti was more captivated by the people of Mexico and blended this human interest with a modernist aesthetic. Modotti also became the photographer of choice for the blossoming Mexican mural movement, documenting the works of José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Between 1924 and 1928, Modotti took hundreds of photographs of Rivera's murals at the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico City. Modotti's visual vocabulary matured during this period, such as her formal experiments with architectural interiors, blooming flowers, urban landscapes, and especially in her many beautiful images of peasants and workers during the depression. In 1926, Modotti and Weston were commissioned by Anita Brenner to travel around Mexico and take photographs for what would become her influential book Idols Behind Altars. The relative contributions of Modotti and Weston to the project has been debated. Weston's son Brett, who accompanied the two on the project, indicated that the photographs were taken by Edward Weston. In 1925, Modotti joined International Red Aid, a Communist organization. In November 1926, Weston left Mexico and returned to California. During this time Modotti met several political radicals and Communists, including three Mexican Communist Party leaders who would all eventually become romantically linked with her: Xavier Guerrero, Julio Antonio Mella, and Vittorio Vidali. Starting in 1927, a much more politically active Modotti (she joined the Mexican Communist Party that year) found her focus shifting and more of her work becoming politically motivated. Around that time her photographs began appearing in publications such as Mexican Folkways, Forma, and the more radically motivated El Machete, the German Communist Party's Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ), and New Masses. Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo divided Modotti's career as a photographer into two distinct categories: "Romantic" and "Revolutionary", with the former period including her time spent as Weston's darkroom assistant, office manager and, finally, creative partner. Her later works were the focus of her one-woman retrospective exhibition at the National Library in December 1929, which was advertised as "The First Revolutionary Photographic Exhibition In Mexico". As a result of the anti-communist campaign by the Mexican government, Modotti was exiled from Mexico in 1930. She first spent several months in Berlin, followed by several years in Moscow. Traveling on a restricted visa that mandated her final destination as Italy, Modotti initially stopped in Berlin and from there visited Switzerland. The Italian government made concerted efforts to extradite her as a subversive national, but with the assistance of International Red Aid activists, she evaded detention by the fascist police. She apparently intended to make her way into Italy to join the anti-fascist resistance there. In response to the deteriorating political situation in Germany and her own exhausted resources, however, she followed the advice of Vittorio Vidali and moved to Moscow in 1931. After 1931, Modotti no longer photographed. Reports of later photographs are unsubstantiated. During the next few years she engaged in various missions on behalf of the Workers International Relief organizations as a Comintern agent in Europe. When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, Vidali (then known as "Comandante Carlos") and Modotti (using the pseudonym "Maria") left Moscow for Spain, where they stayed and worked until 1939. She worked with Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune during the disastrous retreat from Málaga in 1937. In 1939, following the collapse of the Republican movement in Spain, Modotti left Spain with Vidali and returned to Mexico under a pseudonym. In 1942, at the age of 45, Modotti died from heart failure while on her way home in a taxi from a dinner at Hannes Meyer's home in Mexico City, under what are viewed by some as suspicious circumstances. After hearing about her death, Diego Rivera suggested that Vidali had orchestrated it. Modotti may have "known too much" about Vidali's activities in Spain, which included a rumoured 400 executions. An autopsy showed that she died of natural causes, namely congestive heart failure. Her grave is located within the vast Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City. Source: Wikipedia
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AAP Magazine #27: Colors
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AAP Magazine #27: Colors

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