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  Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr., Photographer

Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. was born to Eliphalet Sr. and Mary “Polly” Davis Brown in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1816. He relocated to New York in his twenties to pursue work as an artist, where a growing printing industry had a huge demand for sketch artists and lithographers. He gained considerable experience in lithography while employed by several prominent publishers, including Currier and Ives. By the age of 25, Mr. Brown exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design. His younger brother James Sydney Brown had initially come to New York to pursue a career as an artist, but became a daguerreotypist instead. He shared his technical knowledge with his older sibling, and the duo formed a brief partnership before James joined Mathew Brady’s firm, becoming its first daguerreotypist.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brown studied his craft and produced several impressive lithographic cabinet cards, including one of Austrian-born dancer Fanny Elsser in 1842 or 1843. Another attempt at a partnership by the brothers in the late 1840s dissolved within a few years, and by 1851, Mr. Brown was working with fellow lithographer Charles Severyn before returning to steadier employment at Currier and Ives. When U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry chose Mr. Brown to be his official photographer for his Japan expedition over his brother James, it was a bit of a surprise because the younger sibling had more years of experience. However, the elder Mr. Brown appeared to have greater maturity and broader ability, which particularly appealed to Commodore Perry, who knew the journey would be long and difficult.

Perry’s expedition set out from Annapolis, Maryland on November 24, 1852. After sailing a southern African route, stopping at Madeira, Cape Town, Mauritius, Ceylon, Singapore, and Shanghai, before arriving at Naha, Okinawa on May 26, 1853. From the moment the ship docked, Mr. Brown was busily making daguerreotypes with a decidedly American influence. His more casually posed subjects stood in sharp contrast to Japan’s decidedly more formal portraiture approach. In so doing, Mr. Brown introduced to the West to the unique Japanese culture, reflected in distinctive styles of dress, Samurai customs, and Buddhist architecture. Of the nearly 400 daguerreotypes made during this three-year voyage, 19 were classified as lithographs and featured within a triple volume report on the expedition issued by the U.S. government.

After his assignment with Commodore Perry concluded, Mr. Brown served as an officer of the U.S. Navy, as an Acting Master and Ensign, and later as a secretary for an Admiral stationed in the Mediterranean. It does not appear that he ever returned to photography as a profession after his naval career ended. He married Margaret Hawley on December 15, 1874, and after his retirement the following year, the couple lived quietly until Mr. Brown’s death on January 24, 1886. Several of Mr. Brown’s signed lithographs can be found in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC; the New York Public Library; and the Museum of the City of New York. His lone remaining lithographs are housed in the B. P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii.

2017 Bell House at Simoda (Type I) (URL:

2016 The Dark Lens: Eliphalet M Brown Jr, the First to Make Photographs in Japan (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 222-224.

2017 Entrance to a Temple at Hakotadi (Type I) (URL:

2017 The Pleasures of Looking: Women as Performers (URL:

2006 Photography in Japan by Terry Bennett (Tokyo, Japan: Tuttle Publishing), pp. 27-29.

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2020-04-28 20:13:42

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