Samurai: Guimet Photographic Collection

The last of the great Samurai warriors, photographed for the first time.

Steeped in History

Japan has fascinated explorers, historians and artists for centuries. As the world modernized, the Edo period, Japan’s last era of isolated growth, flourished economically and artistically. The Samurai warriors have come to represent the Edo period at the height of its glory, when Shogun power still reigned and their noble way of life was preserved. We have very few large scale depictions of daily life and practices from this time, especially from the point of view of an outsider.

Project Story

A small number of photographers, both Japanese and foreign, gained access to some remaining Samurai enclaves in the 19th century. The photographs they took are some of the most poignant depictions of the Samurai that exist today. The Guimet Asian Arts National Museum in Paris, housing the largest collection of Asian arts outside of Asia, has collected an invaluable array of these historical photographs over the years in an effort to preserve a part of their legacy.

The Museum created an entire department to house photographs after the acquisition of a huge number of historical prints. In collaboration with the Benrido Atelier, the Guimet carefully curated 25 images from their collection that best depicted Samurai life and culture. These portraits show a sensitivity and awareness of the subject that transcends more traditional depictions of the Samurai in paintings, drawings, or prints.

Portfolio Details

The 20 images include black and white as well as hand-colored works on fine art pulp paper, printed by the master artisans at the Benrido Atelier using the collotype process. The collotype’s tonal nuance and precision perfectly recreates the effect of the original works, preserving their historical value and offering a vibrant visual experience for the modern viewer. The immersive limited edition of 80 portfolios is housed in a gorgeous red clothbound cover with hand-printed text.

The portfolio includes an introduction by Jerome Ghesquiere, the head of photography collections at the Guimet, who oversaw the selection of the images included in the portfolio. Included as well are remarks from Sophie Makariou, president of the Guimet, detailing the acquisition of the photographs and their provenance.

As part of the 2015 Kyotographie photography festival in Kyoto, these images will be on view at the traditional Japanese sweets store Tora-ya from April 18-May 10.

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