In photographs — Felice Beato: On the Eastern Road by Anne Lacoste
Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Eastern Road by Anne Lacoste
(Fred Ritchin, contributor)
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: J. Paul Getty Museum (December 21, 2010)
Lantana Public Library Call No: B Bea
We usually think embedded journalism started with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the American military allowed reporters and photographers to travel with them. Really, though, it started a century earlier, when Roger Fenton and James Robertson (Englishmen) and the Italian-born Felice Beato began to photograph the Crimean War of 1853-1856. And even though it was engravings of their photography that would be featured in newspapers (it was only new photographic and printing technology of the 1890s that allowed reproduction of actual photos in newsprint), colonial empires and public audiences were becoming large and extensive at this time. Beato saw and traveled much, and his photography of the lands, peoples, famous personages, conflicts, and vanishing cultures all attest to these developments.
Felice Beato was born in Venice in 1832 and raised on the Mediterranean island of Corfu, then a British protectorate, and later in Constantinople. In Constantinople, along with his brother Antonio, he began an apprenticeship with Robertson, traveling with him to the Holy Land, Egypt, and Greece, and also Crimea during the war. With Robertson, Beato photographed the fall of Sebastopol, one of the major sieges of the war and the subject of some of Leo Tolstoy’s earliest writings. On his own, Beato travelled on to India, Mandalay/Burma, as well as China and Japan. With the help of earlier contacts (ranking British officers), Beato photographed other conflicts in the Empire, including the Indian Mutiny (1857-1858), the Second Opium War between Britain and China (1860), America’s expedition in Korea (1871), and later the Anglo-Sudan War (of the 1880s). He lived in Hong Kong and Japan for many years, as well as Burma, returning to Italy and settling in Florence, and died in 1909.
Beato’s albumen silver prints are beautiful to look at, being clear, crisp compositions. Beato helped pioneer the panoramic shot, and his use of albumen negative process (new in its day, involving the use of egg white and silver nitrate solutions) and the wet-collodion method allowed durable negatives to be created quickly on-site, with multiple prints from the same negative. The processes allowed for experimentation with hand-coloring later on with the help of local artists. As a global photographer, he educated and influenced the following generation of photographers.
I’m partial to the picture of The 49 Gautamas in the Saigaing Temple, in Burma (Plate 80), and also to the shot of Beato’s colorist (Plate 50). The Japanese landscape and human photos are also moving. The photos of the conflicts, though staged, are nonetheless unforgettable.
Anne Lacoste curated and collected these photos for a Getty Museum exhibit from December 2010 — April 2011. With Fred Ritchin’s contributing essay on war photography, readers are in for a treat! Check it out at your library!