Benkichi Ohno, a Karakuri Master, invented the negative exposure camera

In 1849 (Kaei 2), Benkichi Ohno, a Karakuri Master (an expert in mechanical devices,) invented a practical photographic method that allowed printing without reversing right and left. This technique was unknown in Europe at that time. Two years later in 1851, Frederic Scott Archer, one of the fathers of practical photography, invented glass negative photography.

In 1801, Benkichi Ohno was born in Kyoto, the son of a craftsman in work with feathers. At about the age of 20, he studied medicine, physics and chemistry, and astronomy from the Dutch who were resident as traders in Japan. He is thought to have been learning drawing and sculpture as well.

Benkichi travelled to Korea from Tsushima. He went on to learn gunnery, horsemanship, arithmetic and calendar science in Kii (in the present day Wakayama and Mie Prefectures.)

After returning to Kyoto, Benkichi married into the family of his bride, Uta, a daughter of Hachiemon Nakamuraya. He moved to Ohno village, Ishikawa county in Kaga, where his wife’s parents lived. Although his birth name was Benkichi Nakamuraya, he was commonly known as Benkichi Ohno.

A wealthy merchant, Gohyoe Zeniya, gave the young genius access to his house as an advisor. This relationship continued over twenty years.

Having never sought the public eye, Benkichi passed away at age 69 in 1870 (Meiji 3rd.)

Benkichi was famous as a Karakuri Master, that is, an advanced expert in mechanics; and his unique high-precision works have been substantiated by high technology. His work range from many varieties of mechanical puppet (e.g. Tea Serving Puppet, Jumping Frog, and Sanbaso Puppet, etc.) to technological instruments (e.g. pedometers, pistols, an automatic lighting stand, and so forth.)

Benkichi’s writings entitled “Itto Shikyuroku” showed advanced scientific levels and cited a wide range of unpublished drawings of technological instruments, which have been inferred from his existing works. His writing demonstrates that era’s cutting-edge knowledge in physics and chemistry, mechanical engineering, medicine and other fields of science and technology.

Benkichi’s photographic knowledge was particularly advanced. His photos and the documents of his apprentice, Choemon Asakura, demonstrate that Benkichi could have succeeded in inventing Wet-Collodion, or wet-plate, photography two years before the Englishman Frederic Scott Archer’s 1851 claim.