In the 1870s, Japan was experiencing a huge tourist boom, Western tourists were flooding in keen to soak up the ambience of a country newly opened up to visitors. Japan and all things Japanese were so hot right now back then. Back home, the effects of the Japonisme trend began in the visual arts and now extended to clothing, architecture, even landscaping and gardening. These tourists snapped all kinds of souvenirs, including photographic albums of traditional Japanese subjects and sightseeing spots. Exotically tattoo-ed men, geisha women, samurai warriors, theatre performers and diverse street life featured heavily in these photographs, which crafted to project an idealised Japanese aesthetic. Many studios, both Western and Japanese opened up the bustling port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, to supply the endless procession of tourists hungry for momentos photo cards to fill their albums.
Enter the Baron – Raimund von Stillfried.
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1839, the Austrian Baron had a short military career before moving to Yokohama, where he surely recognised the opportunity the hordes of picture hungry tourists represented. He quickly set up a photography studio to cater to their needs. He soon becoming one of the best, if not the best, in Yokohama. The Baron also trained many Japanese photographers and went on photo forays to China, Bosnia and Greece.
He exhibited at the World’s Fair in Vienna in 1873 and also once in Amsterdam. In the 1877 international photography exhibition, his exceptional photographs went on display at the Arti et Amicitiae artists’ society in Amsterdam. These types of portraits and landscapes reaped him great praise plus an Austrian Royal Warrant of Appointment and a medal. Some time in the early 1880s, the Baron sold the majority of his stock to his protégé, the Japanese photographer Kusakabe Kimbei and left Japan never to return. He spent time in Vladivostok, Hong Kong and Bangkok before reaching Austria in 1883. He settled there & died in Vienna in 1911.
In his Yokohama studio, the Baron didn’t smash out tourist tat. He printed super high quality (for the time), sepia toned, silver albumen prints and adeptly hand tinted them very precisely.