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Bonus image #1: Place your bets: Strohmeyer versus Ponting in Japan

by R Heil last modified Feb 23, 2017 08:09 AM

Strohmeyer & Wyman: Dotombori or Theatre Street, Osaka, Japan.  (1896)

Underwood & Underwood:  Dotombori, or Theatre Street—looking north—where the towns-people go for amusement, Osaka, Japan.  (1904)

5b Ponting Dotombori 19045 Strohmeyer Dotombori 1896



Within the Art of Stereography section on Henry Strohmeyer, his views from the Spanish-American War training camp in Tampa are compared to Keystone’s output from Camp Thomas in Chickamauga: Keystone is more interested in the camp than in the men being trained, while Strohmeyer constantly maneuvers his camera so he can engage with faces. In a very tough call, the decision was made to show two complementary half-views illustrating Strohmeyer’s human emphasis, rather than colliding a Strohmeyer half-view against its Keystone counterpart.

This Chapter V bonus leaps from Florida to Osaka, Japan and opts for a collision. In 1903, Underwood & Underwood commissioned Herbert Ponting to shoot a new set of Japanese stereographs; they were published in 1904. (A vivid Ponting view of the exploding Asama-yama volcano is showcased in The Art of Stereography, and a second dramatic Aso-San view is available on this website as a first chapter bonus.) Eight years earlier, Strohmeyer had published his own 72-card boxed set of Japanese views titled Tour of Japan, which was distributed by Underwood & Underwood. Both photographers created a view of Osaka’s Dotombori (also known as Theatre Street) and a comparison of the two highlights Strohmeyer’s focus on people. 

Ponting’s view has its own felicities: he fills virtually every iota of the frame’s top half with flags blocked at right angles to his camera (their top edges coincide with the frame’s top edge). The frame’s bottom half is also interesting — especially through the proliferation of umbrellas and sedge hats. In contrast, Strohmeyer shoots the street at an off-angle: this means there is less room for the flags, but more room for shops and balconies. The most apparent difference between the two views, however, is face time: in essence, Strohmeyer trades hats for faces. Ultimately, his view provides us with a much better feel for the street and its inhabitants.

Terry Bennett, author of the book Photography in Japan 1853–1912, could not be a fiercer advocate of Ponting. Yet even he felt moved to write, “[Strohmeyer’s] 1896 set is highly appreciated by collectors of Japanese stereoviews, and the artistic compositions compare favorably with Herbert Ponting’s best work. . . . A review of the original set of seventy-two views shows a balanced mix of people, places, and objects, all artistically rendered and revealing of a positive and happy experience whilst traveling throughout the country.”

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by R Heil last modified Feb 23, 2017 08:09 AM