Portrait of Gonzalo de Cordova, Guatemala 1886

Portrait of Gonzalo de Cordova, Guatemala 1886

Today we are inaugurating the Antique Photographs thanks to a kind soul in Texas who donate a batch of photos taking between 1880 and 1888. The donated antique photographs were sent to my postal box in Miami less than two weeks ago since we started sharing the Brooks Buderus archive.

When we finish scanning and publishing the antique photographs, I will donate the lot to Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica [CIRMA], the institution with the largest photo archive in Central America, which just happens to be located in Antigua Guatemala. Ditto for the Brooks Buderus photo archive. Lucky us, antigüeños!

Also, we’re so fortunate to inaugurate with a portrait of Gonzalo de Cordova taken by Japanese-born photographer Juan José de Jesús Yas (1844-1917), one the most renowned photographers of the time. Below is a brief description of the life and importance of Juan J.J. Yas found at Fotofest’s Faces of History in Latin America:

In colonial Latin America and for most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Spanish Catholicism was more than a religious presence. It constituted the backbone of the government and the basis of social and political culture. Alongside the military and landed interests, it remained one of the richest and most powerful forces in Latin America throughout the 1800s.

In the countries with predominantly indigenous populations, the Catholic Church and its clergy were important purveyors of European colonial values, ritual, and hierarchy. Ornate religious ceremonies and artifacts, the elaborate dress of various levels of Catholic clergy, the elaborate Baroque facades and sheer size of church structures marked the presence of the colonial Catholicism in Latin America and its hold over indigenous peoples.

There are few photographic studies of the Catholic Church as haunting as the work of this Japanese-born photographer. Juan José de Jesús Yas was born Kohei Yasu in Fujisawa, Japan. He converted to Catholicism after he went to Central America in 1877 with Francisco Díaz Covarrubias, a noted nineteenth-century Mexican astronomer for whom Mr. Yas worked as an interpreter. Through Mr. Díaz Covarrubias, he met a Mexican photographer Agustín Barroso and became fascinated with photography. When he later accompanied Mr. Díaz Covarrubias on a scientific trip to Guatemala, he began to study photography with two well-known Guatemalan photographers.

Mr. Yas set up his own studio, Fotografía Japonesa, in Guatemala City in 1890. After converting to Catholicism shortly thereafter, he moved to Antigua, where he opened a new portrait studio. He developed a lifelong passion for photographing the clergy, churches, and ritual objects. He became well known for his documentation of life in Antigua and for striking portraits of Catholicism in Guatemala.

Mr. Yas did his portraiture work primarily in his studio. He spent much time painting scenes for his studio backdrops and collecting rocks, plants, and ornaments to enhance the environment of his portraits. Today, the Yas archives are part of the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica [CIRMA] in Antigua Guatemala.

© 2014, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • NYChapin

    This is awesome Rudy, keep them coming. I love the calligraphy, or decorations, in Guatemala,

    • Stay tuned NYChapin for the updates on Saturdays.