Invited Paper, 'A Photograph of the Venerable Shadow: Censorship and the Imperial Photographic Portrait.' Power Institute Public Lecture Series, University of Sydney

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic lecture/debate/seminar


For many scholars of nineteenth-century Japan, Uchida Kuichi’s photographic portraits of Emperor Meiji inaugurated a new political system that privileged the visual presence of imperial authority. No longer a reclusive figurehead bereft of effective political authority, the Meiji era transformed the emperor into a visible personification of the emerging nation-state. Yet for all the scholarship directed toward these photographs, the events preceding their official commission have been all but neglected. Although a ‘commemorative photograph’ of the emperor had been taken shortly before these official commissions, the diplomatic scandal, which resulted from this unofficial likeness, has received scant historical or critical attention. This talk aims to address this omission through an account of this unofficial photograph, the circumstances of its production and the resultant diplomatic controversy. My intention is to reconsider the official imperial photographs in terms of this little-known scandal, its diplomatic gambits and public debates. From this context, the official imperial portraits emerge as a sophisticated response to the politics of cross-cultural visual modernity and self-determination.
Period31 Aug 2010
Held atUniversity of Sydney