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Edward Weston, American, (1886–1958)
No. 1 Tatsujion, 1921
Photographic materials on paper
13 1/2 in. x 10 1/2 in. (34.29 cm. x 26.67 cm.)

Object Type: Photography
Technique: Black & white photography
Credit Line: Scripps College, Claremont, CA
Accession Number: PH7

An ancient warrior? A futuristic cyborg? Edward Weston does not identify the person in this photograph, and the helmet hinders a clear view of the face. Even the gender and ethnicity of the figure are difficult to discern. The title, Tatsujin, suggests a Japanese term, literally translatable as “dragon person” and generally used to describe people engaged in martial arts. Tatsu also can be translated as “standing,” referring to a form of martial arts, using a weapon or practice tool (such as a sword or wooden/bamboo stick) while in an upright position, tatsu jutsu. In the 1890s photograph (Document # ) from the studio of Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1934), two men are engaged in kendo, fencing with such bamboo weapons. These Japanese warriors wear protective gear nearly identical to that worn in Weston’s photograph, so the image may be of a Japanese or Japanese-American man. In 1911, Weston opened a studio in Tropico, California, a few miles north of Los Angeles (now part of Glendale), where he did portraits, “photographing brides, pets, everything from the newborn in its cradle to the corpse in its coffin” (quoted from his journal by Beth Gates Warren). Tatsujin is thought to date from about 1921, and is one of two photographs in the Scripps College collection of the same armored figure. The circumstances of the portrait are not yet known, but the roughly textured wall in the background of this photograph suggests plaster on a Southern California Spanish-style building. The lighting here appears to be natural sunlight, in contrast to the strongly shadowed studio photograph with a fabric background titled Japanese Fighting Man. Of the two images, Tatsujin seems compositionally more about the person, and the other about the formal elements of the helmet and its dramatic shadow. About 1921, such a portrait might have been a straightforward document of a man in his martial arts outfit. The Japanese and Japanese-American community in Los Angeles at that time supported such community activities as traditional martial arts training as ways of preserving cultural heritage. Certainly members of this community would be mindful of their country’s samurai past and also know of the rising military power of Japan, having recently defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905-1906 and annexed Korea in 1910. I do not know whether Weston was aware of politics in early 20th century Asia, but he might have been intrigued by the mysterious and perhaps ominous image of the helmeted man. The way Weston has lighted the Tatsujin figure and cropped the image suggests a hidden but potentially powerful and destructive force. The polished leather straps and textured fabric panels give an almost mechanical look to the form, suggesting a science fiction combatant. This is even more evident in the Japanese Fighting Man, where the facial features disappear behind the glistening striated surface of the mask and are almost absent from the shadowy grid behind the figure. Both of these Weston photographs have an emotional impact beyond their function as a portrait of a warrior. Bruce A. Coats Professor of Art History and Humanities

"American Photography, 1920-1945", Lang Gallery, 11/6/88-12/18/88

In pencil on verso: "Scripps College Ph7 Edward Weston"

Black and white photograph (platinum print) mounted onto mat board with glue and tape.

Object Description
Early twentieth century black and white photographic print of a man in a Japanese Tatsujion mask.

This piece is also known as Tatsujion.


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