Felice Beato

Felice Beato (1832 – Jan 29, 1909), also known as Felix Beato, was an Italian–British photographer. He was one of the first people to take photographs in East Asia and one of the first war photographers. He is noted for his genre works, portraits, and views and panoramas of the architecture and landscapes of Asia and the Mediterranean region. Beato’s travels gave him the opportunity to create images of countries, people, and events that were unfamiliar and remote to most people in Europe and North America. His work provides images of such events as the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Second Opium War, and represents the first substantial oeuvre of photojournalism. He had an impact on other photographers, and his influence in Japan, where he taught and worked with numerous other photographers and artists, was particularly deep and lasting.

Photographs of the 19th century often now show the limitations of the technology used, yet Felice Beato managed to successfully work within and even transcend those limitations. He predominantly produced albumen silver prints from wet collodion glass-plate negatives.

A death certificate discovered in 2009 shows that Beato was born in Venice in 1832 and died on 29 January 1909 in Florence. The death certificate also indicates that he was a British subject and a bachelor. It is likely that early in his life Beato and his family moved to Corfu, at the time part of the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands, and so Beato was a British subject.

Because of the existence of a number of photographs signed “Felice Antonio Beato” and “Felice A. Beato”, it was long assumed that there was one photographer who somehow photographed at the same time in places as distant as Egypt and Japan. In 1983 it was shown by Chantal Edel[6] that “Felice Antonio Beato” represented two brothers, Felice Beato and Antonio Beato, who sometimes worked together, sharing a signature. The confusion arising from the signatures continues to cause problems in identifying which of the two photographers was the creator of a given image.

Beato pioneered and refined the techniques of hand-colouring photographs[30] and making panoramas. He may have started hand-colouring photographs at the suggestion of Wirgman, or he may have seen the hand-coloured photographs made by partners Charles Parker and William Parke Andrew. Whatever the inspiration, Beato’s coloured landscapes are delicate and naturalistic and his coloured portraits, more strongly coloured than the landscapes, are appraised as excellent.[note 6] As well as providing views in colour, Beato worked to represent very large subjects in a way that gave a sense of their vastness. Throughout his career, Beato’s work is marked by spectacular panoramas, which he produced by carefully making several contiguous exposures of a scene and then joining the resulting prints together, thereby re-creating the expansive view. The complete version of his panorama of Pehtang comprises seven photographs joined together almost seamlessly for a total length of more than 2 metres (6 1/2 ft).