|Death: ||Jan. 29, 1909|
Felice Beato also known as Felix Beato was an Italian–British photographer. One of the first photographers to take pictures in East Asia and one of the first war photographers. He is noted for his genre works, portraits, and views and panoramas of the architecture and landscapes of Asia and the Mediterranean region. Beato's travels to many lands gave him the opportunity to create lasting images of countries, people and events that were unfamiliar and remote to most people in Europe and North America. To this day his work provides the key images of such events as the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Second Opium War. His photographs represent the first substantial oeuvre of what came to be called photojournalism. He had an impact on other photographers and his influence in Japan, where he taught and worked with numerous other photographers and artists, was particularly deep and lasting.
The origins and identity of Felice Beato have been problematic, but the confusion over the dates and places of his birth and death seems now to have been substantially cleared up. A death certificate discovered in 2009 shows that Beato was born in Venice in 1832 and died on 29 January 1909 in Florence. The death certificate further indicates that he was a British subject and bachelor.
Because of the existence of a number of photographs signed "Felice Antonio Beato" and "Felice A. Beato", it was long assumed that there was one photographer who somehow managed to photograph at the same time in places as distant as Egypt and Japan. But in 1983 it was shown by Chantal Edel that "Felice Antonio Beato" represented two brothers, Felice Beato and Antonio Beato, who sometimes worked together, sharing a signature. The confusion arising from the signatures continues to cause problems in identifying which of the two photographers was the creator of a given image.
Little is certain about Felice Beato's early development as a photographer, though it is said that he bought his first and only lens in Paris in 1851. He probably met the British photographer James Robertson in Malta in 1850 and accompanied him to Constantinople in 1851. Robertson and Beato were joined by Beato's brother Antonio on photographic expeditions to Malta in 1854 or 1856 and to Greece and Jerusalem in 1857. A number of the firm's photographs produced in the 1850s are signed "Robertson, Beato and Co."
In 1855 Felice Beato and Robertson travelled to Balaklava, Crimea, where they took over reportage of the Crimean War following Roger Fenton's departure. In contrast to Fenton's depiction of dignified aspects of the war, Beato and Robertson showed the destruction. They photographed the fall of Sebastopol in September 1855, producing about 60 images.
In February 1858 Felice Beato arrived in Calcutta and began travelling throughout Northern India to document the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. During this time he produced possibly the first-ever photographic images of corpses. It is believed that for at least one of his photographs taken at the palace of Secundra Bagh in Lucknow he had the skeletal remains of Indian rebels disinterred or rearranged to heighten the photograph's dramatic impact. He was also in the cities of Delhi, Cawnpore, Meerut, Benares, Amritsar, Agra, Simla and Lahore. Beato was joined in July 1858 by his brother Antonio, who later left India, probably for health reasons, in December 1859. Antonio ended up in Egypt in 1860, setting up a photographic studio in Thebes in 1862.
In 1860 Felice Beato left the partnership of "Robertson & Beato", though Robertson retained use of the name until 1867. Beato was sent from India to photograph the Anglo-French military expedition to China in the Second Opium War. He arrived in Hong Kong in March and immediately began photographing the city and its surroundings as far as Canton. Beato's photographs are some of the earliest taken in China.
While in Hong Kong, Beato met Charles Wirgman, an artist and correspondent for the Illustrated London News. The two accompanied the Anglo-French forces travelling north to Talien Bay, then to Pehtang and the Taku Forts at the mouth of the Peiho, and on to Peking and the suburban Summer Palace, Qingyi Yuan. For places on this route and later in Japan, Wirgman's illustrations for the Illustrated London News would often be derived from Beato's photographs.
Beato's photographs of the Second Opium War are the first to document a military campaign as it unfolded, doing so through a sequence of dated and related images. His photographs of the Taku Forts represent this approach on a reduced scale, forming a narrative recreation of a battle. The sequence of images shows the approach to the forts, the effects of bombardments on the exterior walls and fortifications and finally the devastation within the forts, including the bodies of dead Chinese soldiers. Interestingly, the photographs were not taken in this order, as the photographs of dead Chinese had to be taken first before the bodies were removed; only then was Beato free to take the other views of the exterior and interior of the forts. In albums of the time these photographs are placed in such a way as to recreate the sequence of the battle.
Beato's images of the Chinese dead — he never photographed British or French dead — and his manner of producing them particularly reveal the ideological aspects of his photojournalism.
Just outside Peking, Beato took photographs at the Summer Palace, Qingyi Yuan (Garden of Clear Ripples), a private estate of the emperor comprising palace pavilions, temples, a large artificial lake and gardens. Some of these photographs, taken between 6 and 18 October 1860, are haunting, unique images of buildings that were plundered and looted by the Anglo-French forces beginning on the 6 October, and then, on the 18 and 19 October, torched by the British First Division on the orders of Lord Elgin as a reprisal against the emperor for the torture and deaths of twenty members of an Allied diplomatic party. Bennett writes that "These [photographs] appear to be the earliest images of Peking so far discovered, and are of the utmost historical and cultural importance."
Among the last photographs that Beato took in China at this time were portraits of Lord Elgin, in Peking to sign the Convention of Peking, and Prince Kung, who signed on behalf of the Xianfeng Emperor.
Beato returned to England in October 1861, and during that winter he sold four hundred of his photographs of India and China to Henry Hering, a London commercial portrait photographer.
By 1863 Beato had moved to Yokohama, Japan, joining Charles Wirgman, with whom he had travelled from Bombay to Hong Kong. The two formed and maintained a partnership called "Beato & Wirgman, Artists and Photographers" during the years 1864–1867, one of the earliest commercial studios in Japan. Beato's Japanese photographs include portraits, genre works, landscapes, cityscapes and a series of photographs documenting the scenery and sites along the Tōkaidō, the latter series recalling the ukiyo-e of Hiroshige and Hokusai. This was a significant time to be photographing in Japan since foreign access to (and within) the country was greatly restricted by the Shogunate. Accompanying ambassadorial delegations and taking any other opportunities created by his personal popularity and close relationship with the British military, Beato reached areas of Japan where few westerners had ventured, and in addition to conventionally pleasing subjects sought sensational and macabre subject matter, even heads on display after decapitation. His images are remarkable not only for their quality, but also for their rarity as photographic views of Edo period Japan.
The greater part of Beato's work in Japan contrasted strongly with his earlier work in India and China, which "had underlined and even celebrated conflict and the triumph of British imperial might". Aside from the Portrait of Prince Kung, any appearances of Chinese people in Beato's earlier work had been peripheral or as corpses. With the exception of his work in September 1864 as an official photographer on the British military expedition to Shimonoseki, Beato was eager to portray Japanese people, and did so uncondescendingly, even showing them as defiant in the face of the elevated status of westerners.
Beato was very active while in Japan. In 1865 he produced a number of dated views of Nagasaki and its surroundings. From 1866 he was often caricatured in Japan Punch, which was founded and edited by Wirgman. In an October 1866 fire that destroyed much of Yokohama, Beato lost his studio and many, perhaps all, of his negatives, and he worked vigorously to produce replacement material.
Although Beato was not the first photographer in Japan to sell albums of his works, he was probably the first to recognize their full commercial potential, and by around 1870 their sale had become the mainstay of his business. Although the customer would select the content of earlier albums, Beato moved toward albums of his own selection (another step toward the later photobook). It was probably Beato who introduced to photography in Japan the double concept of views and costumes/manners, an approach common in photography of the Mediterranean. By 1868 Beato had readied two volumes of photographs, "Native Types", containing 100 portraits and genre works, and "Views of Japan", containing 98 landscapes and cityscapes.
Many of the photographs in Beato's albums were hand-coloured, a technique that in his studio successfully applied the refined skills of Japanese watercolourists and woodblock printmakers to European photography.
Since about the time of the ending of his partnership with Wirgman in 1869, Beato attempted to retire from the work of a photographer, instead attempting other ventures and delegating photographic work to others within his own studio in Yokohama, "F. Beato & Co., Photographers" which he ran with an assistant named H. Woollett and four Japanese photographers and four Japanese artists. Kusakabe Kimbei was probably one of Beato's artist-assistants before becoming a photographer in his own right but these other ventures would fail, and Beato's photographic skills and personal popularity would ensure that he could successfully return to work as a photographer.
In 1871 Beato served as official photographer with the United States naval expedition of Admiral Rodgers to Korea. Although it is possible that an unidentified French photographer photographed Korea during the 1866 invasion of Ganghwa Island, Beato's photographs are the earliest of Korea whose provenance is clear.
Beato's business ventures in Japan were numerous. He owned land and several studios, was a property consultant, had a financial interest in the Grand Hotel of Yokohama and was a dealer in imported carpets and women's bags, among other things. He also appeared in court on several occasions, variously as plaintiff, defendant and witness. On 6 August 1873 Beato was appointed Consul General for Greece in Japan, a fact that possibly supports the case for his origins being in Corfu.
In 1877, Beato sold most of his stock to the firm Stillfried & Andersen, who then moved into his studio. In turn, Stillfried & Andersen sold the stock to Adolfo Farsari in 1885. Following the sale to Stillfried & Andersen, Beato apparently retired for some years from photography, concentrating on his parallel career as a financial speculator and trader. On 29 November 1884 he left Japan, ultimately landing in Port Said, Egypt. It was reported in a Japanese newspaper that he had lost all his money on the Yokohama silver exchange.
From 1884 to 1885 Beato was the official photographer of the expeditionary forces led by Baron (later Viscount) G.J. Wolseley to Khartoum, Sudan in relief of General Charles Gordon.
Briefly back in England, in 1886 Beato lectured the London and Provincial Photographic Society on photographic techniques but by 1888 he was photographing in Asia again, this time in Burma, where from 1896 he operated a photographic studio called "The Photographic Studio" as well as a furniture and curio business in Mandalay, with a branch office in Rangoon. Knowledge of his last years is as sketchy as that of his early years; in 1899 he left F. Beato Ltd (which would go into liquidation in 1907), but he worked in "The Photographic Studio" until 1904 and may have continued work under his own or another name after that. Although Beato was previously believed to have died in Rangoon or Mandalay in 1905 or 1906, his death certificate, discovered in 2009, indicates that he died on 29 January 1909 in Florence, Italy.
Photographs of the 19th century often now show the limitations of the technology used, yet Felice Beato managed to successfully work within and even transcend those limitations. He predominantly produced albumen silver prints from wet collodion glass-plate negatives.
Beato pioneered and refined the techniques of hand-colouring photographs and making panoramas. He may have started hand-colouring photographs at the suggestion of Wirgman or he may have seen the hand-coloured photographs made by partners Charles Parker and William Parke Andrew. As well as providing views in colour, Beato worked to represent very large subjects in a way that gave a sense of their vastness. Throughout his career, Beato's work is marked by spectacular panoramas, which he produced by carefully making several contiguous exposures of a scene and then joining the resulting prints together, thereby re-creating the expansive view. The complete version of his panorama of Pehtang comprises seven photographs joined together almost seamlessly for a total length of more than 2 metres (6 1/2 ft).
Whether acknowledged as his own work, sold as Stillfried & Andersen's, or encountered as anonymous engravings, Beato's work had a major impact:
For over fifty years into the early twentieth century, Beato's photographs of Asia constituted the standard imagery of travel diaries, illustrated newspapers, and other published accounts, and thus helped shape "Western" notions of several Asian societies.
Created by: Lorenzo Brieba
Record added: Aug 28, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 75611329