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.
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