This guide provides information and direct links for those interested in early original photography in Asia held at the University of Colorado Boulder and beyond. To get started, check out the introduction below and use the tabs at the top of the guide to navigate to specific regions. Entries by country include a link to University of Colorado Boulder digitized photographs or to the library catalog entry for the item (if it is not digitized). If you are interested in seeing items that are not digitized, schedule an appointment in the Rare and Distinctive Collections reading room in Norlin Library. Each page on this guide also includes links to other relevant digital libraries of institutions with early photographs of the region.
The first true photographs were produced in Europe in 1839. In the decades that followed, photographic technology developed quickly. By the 1850s and 1860s, the wet collodion process was replacing older technologies to produce a glass-plate negative that could be used to create photographic prints in a dark room. By the 1870s, the dry collodion process made it even easier to take photographs in the field and make many prints from a negative.
The earliest photographs and photographic technology in Asia came via Europeans through colonialism or semi-colonialism. Samuel Bourne, for example, was a British citizen who set up a studio in India in the 1860s. He produced over 2000 photographs and sold prints of a variety of people, cities, and landscapes in India and the Himalayas.
Samuel Bourne, "View from the Thibet road at Pangi - Great Chini Peaks in the background." 1866.
European merchants and tourists in China and Japan were also early consumers of photographs. The Japanese port city of Yokohama, for example, had photographic studios set up as early as 1860 (Wakita, 2013). Japanese and Chinese photographers set up studios in many cities by the 1870s and 1880s, aiming to appeal to both citizens of their countries and foreigners. For example, Lai Afong worked in British studios in Hong Kong before setting up his own studio in 1870. Kazumasa Ogawa, a Japanese photographer and printer, set up the first photographic studio in Tokyo in 1884 and published many photo books in Japanese and English.
However, the majority of countries in Asia were colonized or under colonial control during the second half of the nineteenth century, just as photographic technology was spreading. In most colonized countries, photography and photographic infrastructure (the chemicals, cameras, paper, and dark rooms) remained items of the colonizers (there were exceptions to this, particularly in port cities or international cities such as Singapore). Colonial powers often used photography to support their agenda and assert control. European and American tourists, consciously or unconsciously, often perpetuated racism and biases through their photography.
"Residence in Rangoon." c. 1885-1895. A photograph of British colonists in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).
The Rare and Distinctive Collections at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries holds an important collection of historical photographs taken in Asia as part of our broader collection strength in the history of photograph and published photography books. We continue to build this collection through new acquisitions to support research and instruction on campus and beyond. To find these and additional materials held in our Rare and Distinctive Collections, search the following databases: