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Masterclass Kurokawa Collection: Kajima Seibei and the End of Yokohama Photography

Saturday, September 23, 2023, 14:00 - 15:00 hours

20230923 LZ kurokawa

In this Master Class lecture on the Kurokawa Collection guest curator Sebastian Dobson will take you to the late 19th century to tell you about the life of Kajima Seibei and the End of Yokohama Photography.

Kajima Seibei (1866-1924) is one of the most fascinating figures in nineteenth-century Japanese photography. Independently wealthy and extremely well connected, the so-called ‘photographic magnate (shashin daijin)’ dominated the photographic scene in Japan for most of the 1890s, and, despite his self-claimed amateur status, was the moving force behind the Genrokukan Studio, one of the most ambitious enterprises of its kind and, in its day, the most commercially successful studio in Tokyo. By 1899, however, Kajima’s career was in free fall, and after a series of personal misfortunes and professional setbacks he withdrew from photography altogether, spending the remainder of his life in genteel poverty as a performer in the Noh theatre.

Historians have hitherto regarded Kajima as something of an anomaly in the history of Japanese photography, with most commentators taking his self-claimed title of ‘King of Amateur Photographers’ at face value. In this lecture, I will suggest that, at the height of his fame in the 1890s, Kajima occupied a more nuanced, Janus-like, position in Japanese photographic history, with his divided gaze looking back to the practices of the market in souvenir photography that had developed in Yokohama since the 1860s while simultaneously looking ahead to the possibilities offered by the latest advances in photographic technology in the following century.

Date: September 23, 2023, 14:00 – 15:00 hours
Fee: € 5 (excl. museum entrance fee)
Lecturer: Sebastian Dobson (in English)


Sebastian Dobson

UK-based independent scholar, Sebastian Dobson graduated in Modern History from Durham University. He pursued his postgraduate study at Cambridge University before being awarded a Monbushō Research Scholarship in 1989 to study in Japan. He has written extensively on the history of photography and other aspects of visual culture in Japan during the Bakumatsu and Meiji eras, and his works include the monograph "Under Eagle Eyes: Lithographs, Drawings and Photographs from the Prussian Expedition to Japan, 1860-61" (Munich: Iudicium, 2012, co- authored with Sven Saaler), articles, reviews, and contributions to "The Oxford Companion to the Photograph" (Oxford, 2005) and "The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography" (New York/London, 2007). Dobson also collaborated on exhibitions held at institutions in the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan.

His most recent publications are:

  • "A Carte Album attributed to Shimooka Renjō" (Tokyo: Shashasha, 2021)
  • "Japan 1900: A Portrait in Color" (Cologne: Taschen, 2021; co-authored with Sabine Arqué)