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Early child photography by Beato, Cameron, Carroll & Edgerton

A new exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography not only reveals the tricks used in the first decades of photography to keep young clients still, but also explains the rapid advances in photographic technology during the 19th and early 20th centuries by focusing on that trickiest of subjects: the child.

Take, for example, a family portrait (No. 8) taken between 1840 and 1865. It's unusual to see such a young child in an early photograph like this because the daguerreotype method required an exposure time of several minutes. An adult could make use of neck and back supports to remain immobile, but the only way to keep a child still long enough was to put an adult in the picture to hold the child still. If you look closely, you can see that the mother and father are holding the baby's arms and legs down.

Similar techniques were used in Japan as well. In a photograph of a Japanese woman and a baby (No. 24) taken by Felice Beato, an experienced photographer who came to Japan in 1863, the baby is secured to the woman's back with a cloth. Even so, the image is blurred because the child moved his head. For a composed photograph of the interior of a Japanese home, intended for sale to foreign tourists (No. 25), Beato used a doll rather than risk a real child who might move and spoil the shot.

In addition to works by Lewis Carroll, Julia Margaret Cameron and Henri Cartier-Bresson, the exhibition includes photographs by Harold Eugene Edgerton, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology perhaps best known for capturing the corona made by a drop of milk at the moment it splashed. He used the same strobe equipment to catch his daughter Mary Lou mid-air as she was jumping rope (No. 27). There are similar juxtapositions of works by celebrated Japanese photographers including Suizan Kurokawa, Shomei Tomatsu and Daido Moriyama.

Details of the exhibition can be found here, and a full report here.


Photo: Childhood blooms: Children sell flowers in a photograph by Renjyo Shimooka (c. 1862-78). COURTESY OF THE TOKYO METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY

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