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Felice Beato, photographer

Felice Beato was born in 1832 (although some reports state 1834) on the Greek island of Corfu. It is believed he became acquainted with photography while living in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and serving as an apprentice of commercial photographer James Robertson. The friendship between apprentice and master became cemented by family ties when Mr. Beato married his employer's sister in 1855. During their collaboration, the duo emphasized topographical and architectural photography, and became known for the sharpness of their albumen glass-plate prints and their exquisite panoramic views. Mr. Beato's photograph of Sultan Ahmed's mosque received widespread critical acclaim within the industry.

Mr. Beato's life and budding career as an architectural photographer was interrupted by the Crimean War of 1855-1856. His further photographic education was literally a trial by fire, gunfire, that is. Mr. Beato befriended the officers in order to gain unprecedented access to their daily lives. His battlefield photographs were brutal and uncompromising, the first to reveal the horrors of war in the bodies of the dead. In February of 1858, Mr. Beato traveled to India to photograph the first war of Indian independence. Again, he cultivated relationships with high-ranking military officials to accurately recreate the most noteworthy incidents of the conflict in the locations where they occurred. He later admitted exercising artistic license by arranging corpses to emphasize the magnitude of the carnage that had transpired.


In 1860, the globetrotting Mr. Beato became the official photographer of the Second Opium war, and for the next eight months he hauled heavy equipment, harsh chemicals, and large glass plates from one war zone to the next, and his photographs represent a documentary record of the bloodshed. During a rare combat pause, he took the earliest architectural photographs of Beijing. Next, it was on to Japan, where Mr. Beato lived and worked for the next two decades years, and observed several tumultuous sociopolitical struggles during which time the Tokugawa shogunate was eventually replaced by the Meiji Restoration. It was during his Japanese sojourn that Mr. Beato began using wet collodion techniques, which by reducing his exposure time from minutes to mere seconds allowed him to increase his productivity considerably. Even a fire in November of 1866, which destroyed his studio and several negatives, did not deter him for longer than a few months. Eager to share his methods, Mr. Beato took several up-and-coming photographers under his wing, including Kimbei (Kusakabe Kimbei) and Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Rathenitz. He was the first Westerner to photograph the famous Great Buddha statue in Kamakura, Japan, and was also the first Westerner to take photographs of Korea.

Mr. Beato left Japan in 1886, but continued to travel throughout Asia as a wartime photographer. He accompanied British General Garnet Wolseley to Sudan to document the Anglo-Sudan conflict, and eventually settled in Burma. In his later years, he owned and operated an antique shop in Mandalay that became a popular Western tourist attraction. Although it was widely reported he died in either Mandalay or Rangoon during the early 1900s, Mr. Beato had in fact moved to Europe and died in Florence, Italy on January 29, 1909. Felice Beato's innovative war images and groundbreaking photographs throughout Asia forged his photographic legacy and influenced a generation of 'vagabond' photographers.





Ref:
2011 Beato's Delhi: 1857 and Beyond by Jim Masselos (New York: Penguin/Viking).

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 128-130.

2010 Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Eastern Road by Anne Lacoste (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust).

2011 Felice Beato (URL: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/beato).

2015 Felice Beato: Vagabond Photographer (URL: http://murderiseverywhere.blogspot.com/2015/05/felice-beato-vagabond-photographer.html).


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