Uchida Kuichi

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Uchida Kuichi ( 1844 – February 17, 1875) was a pioneering Japanese photographer from Nagasaki. He was greatly respected as a portrait photographer and was the only photographer granted a sitting to photograph the Emperor Meiji.

He may have first encountered photography through contact with the Dutch physician Johannes Pompe van Meerdervoort at the naval training school there. Uchida studied photography with Ueno Hikoma in the early 1860s. In 1865 Uchida and Morita Raizø opened the first photography studio in Osaka. Uchida moved his business to Yokohama in 1866, and then to Tokyo in 1869. Over the next several years he established a reputation as the finest portrait photographer in Tokyo. His fame resulted in a commission from the Department of the Imperial Household in 1872 to make the first official photograph of the Emperor Meiji. Uchida photographed the young emperor wearing traditional court dress. State authorities believed the image fed negative stereotypes of Japan as a regressive country, and commissioned another photograph in 1873 to show a more updated look. The later image, depicting the emperor in a West- ern military-style uniform and with a new short haircut, was widely distributed as the official imperial portrait. Uchida also traveled with the emperor throughout Japan in 1872, where he photographed the various locations visited as well as the public’s response to the imperial entourage. Uchida’s successful career was cut short when he died of tuberculosis in Tokyo in 1875.