This article examines the photographic paper and the colorant in an album of hand-colored photographs made in Japan and explores the interconnectedness between industry and the arts. To do so, it looks at the historical discourse over hand-coloring materials and follows the chain of manufacture for albumen paper in Europe, comparing both to the material evidence in the album. By doing so, this article shows that the networks of information transfer, labor, and capital worked in tandem to create the conditions of production for the photographs.
Hand-coloring as a general practice was an early technical development in photography. The urge to color is understandable, for while early photographic processes possessed a degree of verisimilitude in terms of recording forms and the interplay of shadow and light, they lacked color, an essential part of seeing. The manually applied color, although not photographic, is an intrinsic part of the photograph, even though the technique of its application or its materials in general does not involve the action of light on a substrate.
The practice of hand-coloring of photographs was global in scope and followed the same general principle: a monochrome photograph had a layer (or multiple layers) of color applied, either on top or below the image.1 This application of color could take many forms, ranging from transparent to opaque. For example, hand-colored photographs from India are known for their opaque gouache application, whereas portraits colored with crayons, allowing a faint image underneath to show, were fashionable prior to the First World War.2 The practice was not restricted to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; Christopher Pinney records photographs being hand-painted as recently as the 1990s in India with “poster paints, oils, and ‘Fuji Transparent Watercolour Folios.’”3 Furthermore, there were colored “photographs,” or more accurately, photomechanical images, made using various variants of lithography or intaglio processes.
The different typologies of hand-coloring can be seen used in the considerable variety of photographic processes that emerged in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Early processes like the daguerreotype and salted paper prints were overshadowed by positive processes such as albumen, collodion prints, and the silver gelatin print processes. All were colored by hand. At the same time, the chemical industry was undergoing the Second Industrial Revolution. Novel materials, such as cellulose nitrate (collodion), cellulose acetate, and the like, were invented and were quickly adopted into photographic practice. In this period, as will be later described, synthetic dyes were invented, and they kick-started a color revolution, allowing strongly saturated colors to be available at a lower cost. These were incorporated into photographic practice as well.
While work on hand-painted photographs has been done through a purely art historical lens, they have not been considered via technical art history or material history, wherein scientific investigations into the materiality of the object contextualize its history and present. An investigation into hand-painted photographs from a technical art perspective would ask, for example, With what materials were photographs colored globally or in Asia or Europe? What does the selection of materials say about the creation of objects? Are there parallels to be drawn in the materials and techniques? What are the systems that cause the use of specific materials?4 This article restrains itself to a more modest scope and aims to sketch out brief answers to these questions for just one album.
This article builds on research conducted by the author on an album of hand-painted albumen prints (hereafter referred to as the Japanese Album) that was done to understand, in depth, the materiality and conservation stability of hand-colored photographs from Japan.5 The album is in a private collection in Amsterdam and was purchased by a collector in Paris in 2006. No prior provenance is available. The album itself is a five-hole, stab-bound, softcover book with a painted book cloth (figs. 1 and 2), and the twenty-four prints in it are attached via slits in the leaves. (See figures 3–5 for a sample of the images.)
Over the course of the research, multiple photographs in the album were identified, based on identical prints belonging to institutional collections such as the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Alinari Archives, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The photographers who took them are varied, including the Japanese photographer Kusakabe Kimbei and the Austrian photographer Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Rathenitz. This variety is characteristic of a common practice of Yokohama photographers producing photographs and albums for the tourist trade: they would purchase negatives from other photographers and print and sell them in their own albums (e.g., Kusakabe's portfolio contained photographs taken by the European photographers Felice Beato and Stillfried and the Japanese photographer Uchida Kuichi).6
The variety of photographers does not pose a problem for this research as the common practice of the period was to populate albums from a large catalog of photographs.7 Being produced in the same studio, the materials should be consistent, even though the photographers were not. Their manufacture as objects for tourist trade has an additional advantage for this research: as will be described later, the hand-coloring industry had a considerable output, and prints were produced on an industrial scale. Thus, a degree of consistency in technique and materials can be expected from the prints, which would not be the case for one-off objects.
This research on the Japanese Album was necessitated by the fact that there was little to no information on the stability of Japanese hand-colored photographs beyond the standard recommendation of minimal illumination and cold storage at low humidity. Approaching the album from a conservation perspective allowed deeper insight into not just the object as it is and its constituent materials but also what it likely was at the time of its making. This is an intrinsic part of the conservation perspective, wherein a photograph is not just an image but also a material object. As such, it can be “read” much like a photographic image can; that is, the materiality and alteration can give insight into the creation and the history of the object. The ability to “read” the object in this manner is an essential part of work for an art conservator and regularly informs conservation treatments.8 In addition, this ability, as will be demonstrated in the article, can also be used to gain insight into the social and cultural history of the object.
While the results of the research are reported elsewhere, a short description of it is useful to contextualize this paper.9 At the time of the research, there was no technical literature in English that described the manufacture of hand-painted photos in Japan or modern technical investigations identifying the colorants used. It was necessary to conduct a two-pronged investigation. Firstly, a literature review had to be conducted that combined all accessible technical literature in English on hand-painted photographs both in the East and the West.10 The survey also included contemporary technical research on colorants historically used in Japan across materials such as prints, paintings, and textiles. This was necessary as there were no translations of nineteenth-century Japanese photographic literature available. As will be described later, this transmedia approach is viable when dealing with colorants as the information was cross-referenced with the second half of the investigation.
As part of this object-centered investigation, optical and tactile phenomena, such as differences in gloss, texture, paint application, and color (both in visible light and combined with ultraviolet and infrared radiation), were used to deduce the behavior of the colorants, their use, and their probable identity.11 For example, an area of color raised above the flat photograph surface would either have a colorant that possessed volume (“body”) or a heavy coating of a colored binder. In either case, this area of color would need some material to bind it on the surface and to itself. This additional material would cause light to scatter differently from the surface in comparison to the bare photograph, giving a differential gloss. Microscopy and multispectral imaging could then be used to characterize optical behavior of the colorants, which would be compared to known references.
This style of examination was iteratively combined with the results of the literature survey to create a list of probable colorants used in the album.12 This article will restrict itself to colorants rather than paints for two reasons. First, from a technical aspect, identification of binders and other materials was not conducted in the original research. Second, due to lack of translated Japanese sources, I had to take recourse to present-day technical studies in Japanese art, which include studies on prints, painted paper, and textiles. This research approach could, in principle, be a less representative sampling in terms of photographic hand-coloring. However, the distinction between colorant and paint allows a certain leeway in the selection of sources.13
The research revealed a large variety of colorants in the album, both synthetic and natural. As I will show in this article, this is due to networks of industrial production and supply and of shared information between practitioners. The use of albumen from 1860 to1890 coincided with the rise of industrialization and commercial manufacturing in the photographic industry. The photographs not only are images but, being constituted by the output of these industries, also become physical traces of the multiple industries themselves. Further, while being Japanese in origin, the album's technical and material antecedents are transnational.
This article discusses two of the aspects of hand-coloring on albumen prints: the dyes and the paper. Rather than dealing with the specific materials found in the album case study, I examine trends in classes of materials. I use contemporary conservation research and historical textual sources to trace the historical discourse about photographic paper and dyes. Specifically, I examine synthetic dyes and the photographic support (paper) as commodities that, when looked through a material-centric lens, show how hand-colored photographs reveal the interconnectedness between industry and the arts and how the networks of information transfer, labor, and capital worked in tandem to create the conditions of production for hand-colored photographs. In doing so, much like The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu by Gilbert and Sullivan, this essay aims to show that what at first glance seems “Japanese,” actually resides somewhere on a spectrum between Japan, an orientalized conception of Japan, and Europe.14
Due to limits in accessibility and language, this article mostly refers to Western literature (English, French, and German) and translations of Japanese sources. As such, this article, in a manner of speaking, remains a view of Japan through Western eyes, much like the nineteenth-century texts described later in the text. However, the information is reported in order to expand the discussion on this topic and encourage translation efforts to make more details available in the future.
The albumen print, a photographic technique employing egg whites as the carrier for the photographic silver image on a paper support, was invented by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard. He described the process first in Compte rendu des séances de l'Académie des sciences in 1850 and further in his Traite de photographie sur papier, published in 1851. Superseding the salted paper print as the prevalent negative-positive photographic process, the albumen print from its inception until circa 1890 was the dominant photographic printing process.
This dominance was partially due to the physical properties of the albumen print, such as its sharpness, in comparison to those of the previously used salted paper prints. However, it was also in part because of the rise of the commercial manufacture of albumen paper circa 1854–55.15 Thus the albumen print can be considered an important turning point in photographic history around the world. Prior to the introduction of the albumen print, photographic processes involved considerable preparation of raw materials prior to use, whereas commercial albumen paper reached the photographer ready to sensitize and print.16 After 1872, even the sensitization step was optional, as pre-sensitized albumen paper became commercially available.17 However, the albumen print in the nineteenth century still involved considerable labor in its processing, from mounting and matting to coating and coloring.
For most photographers in the nineteenth century who wanted color in their photographs, the only practical way was to manually apply color on top of a monochromatic image.18 This was not an insight novel to photography; mechanical prints were often printed in single colors and painted manually to produce a colored print.
Hand-colored photographs came into being from an early date in western Europe. For example, early photographer Antoine Claudet hand-tinted daguerreotypes in collaboration with a miniaturist painter named Mansion, and their results could “scarcely be distinguished from the most highly finished miniatures for delicacy and effect.”19 Heinz K. Henisch and Bridget A. Henisch, in The Painted Photograph, mention the Swiss photographer Johann Baptist Isenring (1796–1860), as the first to paint daguerreotypes.20 They refer to a list of photographs for sale by Isenring published in July 1840, of which seven are described as colored.21 Considering that Daguerre's public announcement of his photographic process took place in August 1839, it is evident that hand-coloring and photography were quickly and closely entwined.
It is thus not surprising that by the 1860s, the techniques of hand-coloring were highly developed and systemized, much like photography.22 The 1860s are particularly pertinent to the history of hand-coloring, as 1863 is when the peripatetic photographer Felice Beato arrived in Japan.23 Beato is known for his photographs of Japan, where he produced the first albums of hand-colored photographs for sale in Japan in 1867, titled Native Types and Views of Japan.24 Beato previously worked with James Robertson, a few of whose photographs were colored.25 This is important to note because it would imply Beato's familiarity with hand-colored photos prior to his arrival to Japan.
It is generally accepted that Beato and his colleague Charles Wirgman collaboratively started producing hand-colored albumen prints and later hired Japanese artists to paint the photographs.26 While these prints were similar in principle to the work done by Robertson, there were differences as well. Robertson's painted photographs were oil paints on salted paper, whereas Beato's photographs were “watercolor” on albumen print.27 By accident or design, the colors in Beato's photographs were translucent and allowed the sharp details inherent in the albumen prints to remain visible. The quantity of images produced by Beato's studio and his efforts to promote and circulate them widely meant they had a significant and long-lasting impact. The use of translucent colors to color photographs became associated with Japan over time, so much so that even synthetic, dye-based colors made in America were referred to as “Japanese.”28
This essay will show that the use of translucent colors was not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon. To be able to explain this in more depth, a digression into the early history of synthetic dyes, their use in Japan and the West, and a discussion of the colorants of the Japanese Album are necessary.
On Dyes and Their Early Use
The early history of the discovery and manufacture of synthetic dyes shows limited connection to Japan. The first synthetic dye was invented in 1856 in England by William Perkins and called mauve. This dye had considerable tinting power and saturation and consequently enjoyed significant popularity. The popularity of Perkins's mauve was such that the magazine Punch published an article titled “The Mauve Measles” in 1859, which describes the preoccupation with mauve as a type of measles: “The eruption, which is of a mauve color, soon spreads, until in some cases the sufferer becomes completely covered with it.”29
The massive demand for synthetic dyes brought about widespread investment in manufacture and research into synthetic dyes, so much so that by 1887, just thirty years after the invention of the first synthetic dye, over seven classes—each class encompassing multiple dyes—were in production and use.30 As will be further discussed, in addition to being used to dye textiles, these dyes were also used in photography.
While the first synthetic dyes were produced in England by Perkin, Germany and France led global production of synthetic dyes for most of the nineteenth century. In the 1860s multiple major industrial dye manufacturers were founded in Germany: Meister, Lucius (later Hoechst), Friedrich Bayer, Badische Anilin and Soda Fabrik (BASF), Casella, Kalle, and Aktiengesellschaft für Anilinfabrikation (AGFA).
The German companies garnered an extensive market share of the global dyestuff production, and by 1883, Germany produced at least 65.22 percent of the global dye production.31 This dominance lasted until the First World War, which led to substantial dye shortages. For example, in Japan the declaration of war and consequent reduced exports from Germany resulted in a “dye famine.”32
While most of the research and development into synthetic dyes was conducted because of their utility in the dying of textiles, they were adopted into photography as well. The use of dyes to color photographs is not exceptional, as they were just dyes that happened to be synthetic in origin, rather than plant- or animal-based. Moreover, they were colors that behaved much like natural dyes in application via fixatives such as mordants. Thus, the choice was based more on aesthetics and practicality rather than on scientific grounds.
This can be seen in an 1869 journal article on tinting photographs, which suggests tinctures of the synthetic dye aurine and the natural dyes turmeric and annatto before noting, “As we have said, an endless variety of tints may be secured by using varied colours, the aniline colours being the richest and best.”33 Richard Penlake in How to Colour Photographs notes that proficient colorists often would use only the three primary colors, mixing and matching colors for the desired results.34 Similarly, the tinting recipes for cinematographic film stock at the Pathé labs circa 1919 do not show pure dyes but blends. For example, three different tints of orange were produced by differing ratios of the dyes Jaune T, Ponceau 4R, and Ecarlate B, and the same dyes were also used to make green, red, and pink.35
The same pragmatism prevailed in Japan. Historically, Japanese art made considerable use of natural dyes such as safflower, dayflower, madder, and indigo.36 The artists working with color, such as printmakers and textile workers, were familiar with the use of dyes as colorants. Further, synthetic dyes were not the first synthetic colors to be used in Japan. The blue pigment Prussian blue was famously used by Hokusai and was first imported into Japan in 1782; its incorporation into the palette of the Japanese artist is a significant example of a practical approach toward coloring.37
The synthetic pigment Prussian blue was created, in part, because the earlier two available blues, indigo and dayflower, had inherent practical problems as colorants for prints. Dayflower quickly fades with exposure to light and humidity. In addition, it requires considerable amounts of raw materials, adding to the cost of manufacture.38 Indigo, while more stable than dayflower, is expensive, has a slightly dull tone, and has weak tinting strength, meaning more colorant is required to reach the desired strength of color. Prussian blue had none of these disadvantages. Thus, it is likely that pragmatic concerns such as stability, handling, application, and, above all, cost contributed to the adoption of the synthetic color.
This pragmatism can also be seen in the adoption of the natural dye cochnieal carmine, which was in use from 1869 to 1889, and which replaced the traditional Japanese safflower dye.39 Its use is pertinent to this article as this is a period when synthetic dyes were available in Japan and records suggest that the “mauveine” purple was used by the silk producers in Takasaki, north of Tokyo, in 1863; and the synthetic dye rosaniline has been identified in an ukiyo-e print produced in 1864.40 Thus, the colors were likely used for their working properties rather than for their novelty.
The same was found in the case of the Japanese Album. Despite the availability of multiple synthetic dyes, the colorants used in the album are a mixture of synthetic dyes and natural pigments which were traditionally used in Japan. The table below lists the probable candidates for colorants in the album, which were determined in the original research by a combination of literature review and technical investigation of the album.
Note that while the “Japanese method” involved transparent washes, there are areas of the photographs where the color applied is opaque (i.e., the photograph underneath it is not visible) and has body (i.e., the paint surface itself rises above the photograph and has texture) (see figs. 6–7). These areas contrast with the areas of dye application in the same photograph (fig. 8). In these areas, both the photographic image and the paper fibers of the support layer are visible under an overall violet tint.
It is important to note that the heaviest use of opaque colors was in the color red, identified as vermilion with the use of X-ray fluorescence analysis, and the color was only selectively applied, mostly in areas of text or design on textiles. This use of opaque red is not limited to the Japanese Album. Multiple such examples have been observed in other Japanese hand-colored prints in private and institutional collections.41
While it may be easy to argue that a heavy application of color is necessary for the required tinting strength, this is not the case, as illustrated in the Japanese Album. Synthetic dyes can provide highly saturated areas of color while retaining transparency, (figs. 9–11). Here again, under the saturated orange tint, both the photographic image and the paper fibers are visible. This is particularly evident in figure 11, where the brick pattern is obvious, as is a faint mottling that are the paper fibers.
In addition, detailed micrographs of the painted areas serve to illustrate that it is not necessary to use synthetic dyes for transparent effects. Indeed, natural pigments can also be used to the same ends (figs. 12–17). In figure 13, note that both the image of the lip and paper fibers are visible. However, there are also local clumps of color that are more saturated and appear slightly crystalline. This is where a pigment is finely ground and thinly applied to the surface to give an impression of transparency. Indeed, depending on the properties of pigments, even heavy applications can result in transparent color, as in figure 16, where the photographic image below the paint layer is visible.
Furthermore, in figure 14, the area of blue appears transparent as the paper fibers are visible. No particles are apparent, which would indicate a dye. However, the blue areas have a characteristic response of indigo in infrared radiation. In the realm of woodcut prints, Hokusai was known to use blends of indigo and Prussian blue for specific effects.42 Moreover, no other likely candidates emerge from any contemporary technical sources for blue colors in Japanese art; hence, the likely candidate for the blue colorant in figure 14 is finely ground indigo. The same applies in figure 17.
To reiterate, the colors used by the Japanese painters were likely not used because they were imported goods or because they were novel (both legitimate criteria, considering the wholehearted embrace of Western technology in Meiji Era Japan [1868–1912]); they were used for practical reasons related to aesthetics, availability, and cost.43 This, however, begs a question: What is the reason for the use of certain opaque colors or natural pigments? For example, what does the opaque vermillion offer that a similarly colored dye does not? Alternatively, what is gained when transparency is lost? This remains a question for art historians and students of Japanese aesthetic theory.
From a purely materials-specific perspective, we can ask a few questions. First, where are the colorants sourced from? While the pigments most likely came from traditional sources, the dyes were imported from Europe, with Germany being the likely source considering the share the German chemical industry had on global dye production.44 Second, when did the Japanese painters gain access to synthetic dyes? Current technical literature suggests the early 1860s, less than a decade after the invention of synthetic dyes. Third, how were these dyes used? As described prior, it appears that much like in the West, where dyes were used for practical properties (color strength, handling, cost, etc.), the Japanese artists also were deliberate and pragmatic in their choice of colorants.
Finally, and perhaps more important: How did they learn their handling and use? Was their technique sui generis, reflecting Japan's long isolation, or was it in line with contemporary trends, such as the embracing of “Western learning” in the period of the Meiji Restoration? This will be answered in the following section.
“Japanese Coloring” and Its Transmission
Discussing a letter sent by by Samuel Cocking, a trader operating in Japan, to the British Journal of Photography, historian Luke Gartlan notes that Cocking was familiar with materials such as Cary Lea's “collo-developer.”45 This “collo-developer” was published in 1876, as recorded in the editorial for the 1877 British Journal of Photography Almanac by J. Traill Taylor.46 Thus we see that a novel technique was described in a journal published in England, and by February of the next year, the same journal received a letter from Japan, where a photographer had not only read the journal but also performed the necessary testing. This is a triumph both of the age of sail and steam, which transported the journals and letters, and of the professional journals that disseminated knowledge of photography.
Photographic journals also serve to illustrate the adoption of synthetic dyes in photography. An 1865 article in the British Journal of Photography, “Concerning Aniline Colours,” states that “aniline colours have been introduced to the photographic world by Dr Jacobsen, or, if not introduced, have received from that gentleman a considerable impetus in their adaptation to photographic wants.”47 The article goes on to discuss the use of the dye set, which contains twelve colors, of which eleven are transparent, and states that “they may be applied to a photograph without obliterating its details [emphasis added].”48 The article also discusses the dye's applicability to albumen prints, noting their ability to adhere to the surface.
Another article published in the same journal by Dr. Jacobsen later that year mentions that Charles Seeley reported using synthetic dyes to color photographs in the American Journal of Photography in 1861.49 Note that the photographic journals of the day served not only to share cutting-edge information about developments in photography but the day-to-day trials and tribulations of the working photographer. A letter to the editor of the same journal in 1864 illustrates this:
I purchased a box of your aniline colours about two years ago, and I coloured some photographs and a short time afterward they were in the face as red as blood, and I was so ashamed of them that I replaced them with new prints to get them out of sight. I then bought a box of Worden's colours, but found they dimmed the surface too much. . . . I have seen a photograph taken and coloured on Broadway NY., I think at Anson's gallery, which no doubt was very fine when first coloured, yet four months afterword the colours had so increased that the face looks more like beef than flesh colour.50
It is easy to feel for the writer. It is also important to note that the excerpt reinforces the claim that the aim of the photographer was to get transparent color effects on monochrome photographs, and the photographer used synthetic dyes to this end. Further, this was done using materials that were described in the journals, and attendant troubleshooting was also conducted in the same forum. This letter and the letter by Samuel Cocking to the British Journal of Photography show the importance of these sources. Cocking writes, “Unfortunately, the rich stores of knowledge contained in the photographic literature of the day is a sealed book to the Japanese, and many a willing listener I have had of a cool summer's evening as I have translated to them some of the articles from the British Journal of Photography. They were so interested that they have decided to become subscribers, and to employ an interpreter to translate it for them.”51 These early examples show that the aim of “transparent” coloring was not a uniquely Japanese one. The literature review conducted of period journals and of contemporary technical literature shows that over 250 unique dye types for use in coloring photographs were mentioned in Anglophone photographic literature in the latter half of the nineteenth century.52 It should further be noted that “transparent coloring” was pervasive in photographs from the West within a related type of photographic image: the lantern slide. In the lantern slide, the photographic image is made not on paper support but on a glass support. This image is then projected via a magic lantern, an early projector. The color layers applied to the lantern slide image must be transparent, or at least translucent, as any opaque layers of color would cast shadows in the projection.
Thus, both the materials and the techniques of applying transparent layers of color on a photograph existed both in the West and in Japan. Further, we do have technical literature from the nineteenth century that shows that both dyes and pigments were used to color lantern slides.53 This would indicate that the photographs from the Japanese Album are not unique in having a variety of colorants. Rather, they reflect a common practice, and deviations in appearance derive not from the colorants themselves but in the way they were applied, that is, overall application vs. localized application or thin washes versus heavy application of paint.
While the practice of transparent coloring was global, its nomenclature was not. As mentioned, the style of transparent washes on a photograph became closely associated with Japan, so much so that a brand of photograph painting dyes was called “Peerless Japanese Transparent Watercolors.” In writing about these colors, historian Sophie Lehmann contends that “the colours were Japanese not by substance or origin but rather through practices and ensuing aesthetics with which they could be associated.”54
One can only speculate as to why this was the case. The discussion prior has shown that photographers globally knew synthetic dyes could be used to color photographs, as attested from multiple references in photographic journals. Further, photographers globally did color their photographs and colored them with explicit aim toward transparency.55 To assume that photographers in the West would not use colors made in Europe but that the Japanese would to the degree that that style became “Japanese” is perplexing. Possibly, the reason for the association between transparent hand-coloring and Japan was as follows.
Literature suggests that hand-colored photographs held a lower cachet in the West. This is illustrated by E. J. Wall, in the introduction to A Manual of Artistic Colouring, where he notes that painted photographs were denied entry both in galleries of painting and exhibitions of photographs.56 Additionally, on occasion, the coloring could test the boundaries of taste. Wall discusses this and refers to “mechanical daubers . . . whose gaudy inartistic colouring, and crude, raw and hard style have brought this art into no little disrepute.”57
This does not mean that hand-colored photographs were not produced, just not introduced into the higher echelons of photographic society. In contrast, the work of the Japanese hand-painters was held in higher esteem. The British Journal of Photography, for example, in 1893 reported from a showing of magic lantern slides at the Richmond Camera Club: “To suggest a comparison with the English coloured slide was by no means favourable to the latter [the English]. In fact, the difference would seem to be that in Japan slides are coloured by artists, in England by mechanics.”58
The Japanese photographs were products made for the tourist trade and as such had a clientele that could travel and purchase souvenirs.59 These, when brought back to the West, would be seen and shared among the well-heeled. These photographs and their albums, in addition to being finely presented (Beato's albums were bound in leather, and later Yokohama albums were bound with lacquered covers), were also a means to mediate the views and sights of Japan.60 Particularly since until 1899 Japan enforced restrictions that limited travel for foreigners to a forty-kilometer radius from a foreign settlement without a special permit,61 the Japanese photographs of the nineteenth century were valuable documents of a place still not accessible to most Westerners (except for the photographers and tourists who possessed the requisite permits). All the reasons above meant that the photographs would possess a certain higher status in the West, in comparison to domestically produced, hand-painted photographs.
Further, collector and historian Frederic A. Sharf notes that “while the guidebooks described Japan, it was the photographs that conveyed the exotic, colourful, scenic appearance that so enthralled the first generation of travellers. . . . It was not uncommon for an arriving traveller to immediately visit a photographic studio, buying photos of places he had not yet seen.”62 Indeed, as Sebastian Dobson notes, sometimes the purchase of the photographic albums could take the place of traveling to the sites photographed.63
It is also possible that a tendency to exoticize played a role in the association of Japan to transparent hand-coloring, wherein prosaic prints could gain an additional aura purely for being produced in Japan. It should be kept in mind here that the peak of albumen printing was also a period of Japonisme. This phenomenon is illustrated by art historian Henry Smith II, who describes a lecture by Edward Strange, an expert on the printmaker Hiroshige at the Japan Society of London in 1910 as follows:
A member of the audience queried him about the colors in Hiroshige's prints, in particular, the “indigo” that was “quite different from that used by our own painters, and a colour possessing much beauty.” Strange, who was as ignorant as his questioner of the fact that Hiroshige's “indigo” was actually of European chemical manufacture [Prussian blue], proceeded to describe “the old Japanese tradition” by which natural indigo was extracted from old blue rags, yielding “the extraordinary quality it possessed.”64
No matter the origins, the association of transparent washes in hand-painted photographs with Japan was such that Western texts would provide instructions on how to color photographs in a “Japanese Manner,” and sales catalogs from as early as 1872 would offer “Japanese water colours.”65 An apropos example of this can be seen in Richard Penlake's How to Colour Photographs and Lantern Slides, where the writer describes the technique developed in Munich which involves mixing dyes in gum arabic. He states that the technique is “probably not exactly the same as that practised by the Japanese, [but] is comparatively simple” and concludes by stating that recommended dyes were produced by BASF.66 It might offer some consolation to the inventor of the technique to realize that considering BASF's market share, the Japanese were possibly using the same dyes that he was using to color photographs.67
Having examined the transnational use of dyes to color photographs, we can draw some preliminary notions about general themes of the photographic industry. These are as follows: Most synthetic dyes in the nineteenth century were made by large European industrial enterprises such as BASF, which formed centralized nodes of production. These dyes were in use not only in Europe but also in Japan. Further, the dependence on these centralized producers was such that disruptions in supply could have significant implications, such as the “dye famine” in Japan. This centralization was mirrored in photographic journals and societies, such as the British Journal of Photography. These journals would not only diffuse the latest technical developments among the photographic communities but would also serve as a platform for photographers to seek technical advice. These journals would also frequently reprint articles from other journals to these ends, establishing intertextual links.
These intertextual linkages would extend into photographic practice. For example, the idea of transparent coloring was regarded as a Japanese phenomenon, even though literature suggests that photographers elsewhere made conscious attempts toward achieving transparent effects in their coloring. This also extends into the materials of the photographs, with the example of the European photographer unwittingly using similar materials as the Japanese to achieve effects he imagined were uniquely Japanese.
Finally, while similar techniques (with different degrees of skill) were being applied to color photographs in Japan and in the West, Japanese photographs had a higher status. In part, this was due to an appreciation for what was perceived to be finer workmanship. It is also possible that the exoticized notion of Japan played a part in the acclaim Japanese hand-painted photographs received. Similarly, in studying the material chains of albumen paper, it becomes apparent that, much like how the transmission of dyes to Japan and “Japanese coloring” was based on transnational webs of information transfer and commerce, the manufacture and use of paper in photography was also dependent on the nineteenth-century “globalized” world.
In the following section, the manufacturing chain of paper for photographic purposes in the West will be described to illustrate the extensive networks of material supply and labor that are necessary to create the materials. To do so, I will describe the resource and labor inflows that were necessary to create photographic paper in the West. These inflows possessed a distinct character of nineteenth-century extractive capitalism, which becomes apparent through the study of the supply chain.
Paper in Early European Photography
In the early days of photography, there was a fair variety of paper that photographers used, but that was not to last. Conservator Hyejung Yum, in his study of early photographic paper, describes a literature search to identify manufacturers of photographic paper. In the 1850s Yum found twelve manufacturers listed in the advertisements of photographic journals. This number decreased to five in the 1860s and to two from 1870 onward.68
This diversity of paper is also reflected in period literature on photography. Blanquart-Evrard, the inventor of the albumen print, wrote in 1851: “Today, the quality of the paper has no influence on the result of operations. . . . In current processes, the role of paper is limited to that of a screen. It is covered with a thick and consistent photogenic layer, in which the reactions take place.”69 In this way, the paper had less of a role as a photographic substrate and more as a support layer for the albumen-silver layer, making the choice of paper less technical and more an aesthetic one. Blanquart-Evrard went so far as to suggest kitchen towels: “If the artist, for certain effects, purposely seeks rough and calloused surfaces, why should the photographer not use the same resources? In this case, therefore, grain papers, or even kitchen towels, are of necessity.”70
The possibility of using the paper support for expressive effects was liberating in the photographic context, where the early constraints of paper purity resulted in a limited selection. This sense of possibility would not last, however. In 1855, the Photographic Society instituted a blue-ribbon committee known as the Fading Committee to investigate the deterioration of photographs. The committee noted that residual chemistry in paper, in addition to mounting media, humidity, and other factors, was among the major causes of fading in photographs.71 Blanquart-Evrard's kitchen towels would not make the cut, and photographers became keenly aware that their materials needed exceptional purity.
By the end of the century, Josef Eder, in his Ausführliches Handbuch der Photographie, listed the criterion for photographic paper as follows: “The paper which is used to produce positive photographic prints should be of the best quality, made only from rag; . . . the paper should not yellow in the light, which is why the absence of wood pulp is necessary.”72 As such, literature suggests there were effectively just two paper mills worldwide that could prepare paper of this quality at scale: Blanchet Frères et Kleber Company (BFK Rives), producing paper colloquially referred to as “Rives” from their mill in Rives, near Grenoble in France, and Steinbach and Co., producing paper referred to as “Saxe” from their mill in Malmedy in Belgium (at the time a part of Germany).73
The scale of production is illustrated by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who in his 1863 trip to the E and HT Anthony paper-coating factory noted that “the amount of photographic paper which is annually imported from France and Germany has been estimated at fifteen thousand reams.”74 While exact annual production data is not available, historian Pierre Bizon does note that in 1852, BFK Rives was producing 660 tons of paper.75 Further, while the production data is from 1852, we can very reasonably assume that the paper production of BFK Rives only increased. This is because BFK, rather than operating a single mill, eventually had three, with the first expansion in 1850 and a second in 1876, powered with ninety-five and seventy-five horsepower engines, respectively.76
While the details of the amounts of production and engine horsepower might seem not pertinent, they are valuable as they hint toward the scale of raw material and energy input needed in the photographic paper industry. To understand these resource needs, let us follow the path of paper from its raw materials and trace the steps.
Following the Manufacturing Chain of Paper
The geographer Raoul Blanchard, in his study of the paper industry in southeastern France in the early twentieth century, observes that “alongside water, coal is the capital raw material of the paper mill.”77 In a section detailing the use of coal in the paper industry, he reports that the consumption could range from 630 to 1,600 grams of coal to make 1 kilogram of paper, depending on the location and design of machinery.78 While not looking specifically at fine paper, such as that made by BFK but also cardboard and cigarette paper, Blanchard notes that the paper industry of the French Alps (including BFK), collectively consumed 205,000 tons of coal in one year during his study.79
Blanchard states that coal with high amounts of volatile impurities cannot be used and describes the sources of appropriate coal, stating that the mines of Grad, La Mure, and the Loire Valley supplied much of the coal, alongside British sources and the Ruhr valley.80 A later survey by Bozon notes that coal from as far away as Tonkin was used in the paper mills of Rives.81 Here, it is pertinent to note that the coal mines of Hongay in Tonkin were owned not indigenously but by the Société Française des Charbonnages du Tonkin since 1888, with its headquarters in Paris.82
In the paper factory, coal was also used to dry paper in addition to running the motors that powered the paper machines. The paper needed to be dried as it was formed from a fiber pulp that was made workable by water.
As noted by Eder, the paper for photographic purposes needed to be especially pure and, in the nineteenth century, made only from rags.83 Conservator Cyntia Karnes, in her study of platinum papers, refers to multiple analyses of nineteenth-century photographic papers, both contemporary and historical.84 She quotes microscopy analysis by Michelangelo Scavia in La Rivisita Technica, who notes that the paper was composed of 85 percent linen and 15 percent cotton in 1903.85 She also cites an unpublished report from a survey of platinum and faux platinum prints at the Library of Congress, stating that while papers were composed entirely of cotton and linen, toward the latter half of the nineteenth century, cotton became predominant. While her research pertains to platinum palladium prints rather than albumen prints, Karnes also notes that BFK introduced wood pulp in their papers only after 1910, suggesting that previously all papers produced at the factory were rag-based.86
Blanchard, in his study, traces the sources of these rags. He states that a majority came from Paris, Lyon, Rouen, and Grenoble, as well as the rag collection nodes such as Annonay, near Rives.87 He also observes that the local costume of the French Alps contributed to the supply of the mills, as did the sailcloth from the south.88
The scale of the rag collection necessary for papermaking was significant. The paper historian Frieder Schmidt estimates the sale of the rag collection industry in sixteenth-century Germany.89 Taking the example of paper mills in Reutlinger, Schmidt reports a per-mill production of seven reams of handmade paper a day. He suggests that this would equal 35 kilograms of paper per day, for which 50 kilograms of rags would be required (as the seams, hooks, eyes, etc., would be removed). This would add up to 200 kilograms of rags a day for the four mills of the city and 60,000 kilograms of rags a year.
Schmidt further stipulates that this amount of rags would be produced by fifty thousand inhabitants spread over an area of over ninety square kilometers, which would be traversed by licensed rag-pickers.90 While three centuries prior to the period in question, this data serves as a useful hint for the scale of inputs and the amount of people involved in the rag-picking industry, especially considering that by the nineteenth century, papermaking was heavily mechanized and production was considerably more than 35 kilograms a day.
The human costs of this industry were reported by Eduard Fuster, a social economist, in La Reforme in 1893: “Because its value is tiny, and its search unattractive and unhealthy; collected by the ‘Social Waste’; despised and condemned to low wages and a life different from ordinary . . . we can expect to see in the rag industry the whole mechanism of industrialization continuing its regular movement, with these workers without capital, professional education, etc.; flowing in and out in a most messy variability.”91 One could further try to trace the antecedents of the rags used by BFK and Steinbach; however, that is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, there are two examples that illustrate the sources that fed the supply chains of paper in the nineteenth century and the histories embedded in the materials that constitute the photographs.
First, Katherine Mintie, in her study of the transatlantic trade of photographic materials, observes that, considering the United States was the largest exporter of cotton in the nineteenth century, at least a part of the cotton that made up the rags would have been produced by slave labor and sharecroppers in the American South.92 Indeed, the American Civil War and its consequent disruption to the cotton fiber and textile industry created to a shortage of rags for paper pulp, leading to an American “paper panic” and prompting a shift toward mechanical wood pulp and later, sulfite-pulp-based paper in the United States.93
Second, due to the American Civil War, the cotton exports from the United States decreased, and the shortfall of cotton supply was made up by Egyptian cotton production. This was in part due to the extensive infrastructure efforts by Ismael Pasha, the khedive (viceroy) of Egypt (1863–1879), to boost cotton production.94 These and other infrastructure and development projects were funded by foreign debt, of which over 50 percent was held by British individuals such Prime Minister William Gladstone (and not the government as one would assume) in a form historian Jared Iacolucci calls “gentlemanly capitalism.”95 After the war, the American supply of cotton resumed, and Egypt's ability to pay the debt it had accrued declined. By 1875, the khedive offered his shares in the Suez Canal Company to finance the debts, which were purchased by the British government via proxy.96 This debt crisis eventually culminated in the occupation of Egypt by the British in 1882.97
To summarize, the manufacture of the photographic paper on which the photographs of the Japanese Album were made required specialized manufacture. The two factories that supplied such paper in the West used coal was sourced from Europe but also from as far as away as Vietnam, which was then a French colony. The coal used to power machines that processed rags and to dry the paper that resulted. These rags were made from cotton and linen whose sources were areas such as the American South, a site of slavery, and Egypt, which eventually became a British colony. The rags themselves were collected by rag-pickers, who were subject to abject poverty and grueling labor. These factors collectively worked to create the substrate of the photographs that were held in such esteem in the West, as described in the previous sections.
The next section will discuss the likely sources of the origin of the paper used to make the photographs of the album. It should be kept in mind that, if the paper was to be made in Japan, a similar scale of paper production would be necessary. One would be speculating here, but considering the scale of the use of photographic paper in Japan, the extent of production of the Rives and Steinbach paper mills, and the fact that the papers produced by the mills was recorded as used in all of Europe, the United States, and (at least) parts of Asia, one would be led to believe that the papers of Rives and Steinbach were used in Japan as well.98
To gauge the scale of the industry, note that the Yokohama photographer Tamamura Kōzaburō reportedly received a single order of a million prints, and at least four hundred thousand were hand-colored and delivered.99 The extraction of natural resources and the anonymous labor involved would have to occur on an enormous scale to start the chain of processes that would culminate in the production of the Japanese Album and thousands of others like it.
Making “Plain Paper” into Photographic Paper: Germany or Japan?
The story of paper in albumen photographs does not end at the mills of BFK or Steinbach. These mills would supply pure photographic paper to manufacturers, which would then be coated with albumen or other photographic substrates. This process could be done in Europe or at the place of receipt.
To trace the flow of photographic materials across Asia, we have some clues that can allow us to make preliminary notions. For example, historian Karen Fraser, writing about her findings in the Tomishige Rihei Archive in Japan, discusses letters sent from Ueno Hikoma, a pioneer of Japanese photography, to fellow photographer Tomishige. Fraser describes letters sent in 1878 anticipating shipments of albumen paper, noting that Ueno would often receive shipments from Prussia and Shanghai if materials were not available in his inventory in Nagasaki.100 Frasier speculates based on her research that Tomishige might have supplied albumen paper to other photographers.101 She notes another interesting detail in the correspondence, that Ueno supplied Tomishige with lower-quality paper while waiting for the shipment of higher-quality paper.102
It could be possible that Ueno was importing the Saxe paper directly from the Steinbach factory. Here it is important to note that it appears that imported paper played a substantial role in Japanese photography, possibly for the same reasons of purity and quality described earlier. Fraser reproduces sections of Ueno's manual for photography, Seimikyoku hikkei (The chemist's handbook, 1862), which instructs the photographer to “make printing paper from smooth Western paper.”103
Imports of Western paper are also recorded from other sources. Luke Gartlan, in his article on Wilhelm Willmann, assistant to photographer Baron von Stillfried, notes that Willmann advertised for sale circa 1873 “the latest imported goods to indigenous practitioners . . . [including] albumen paper (ranekigami).”104 Gartlan, in his article on Samuel Cocking, reproduces an advertisement for Cocking Co., listed as a “western goods importer” from the 1881 Yokohama Shōninroku (Directory of Yokohama Merchants), which lists for sale two types of albumen paper.105 Further, The Revised Customs Import Tariff shows a tariff of 15 percent on “albuminoid paper.”106
It is unclear whether the photographic paper in the Japanese Album was preprocessed before being imported into Japan or imported as raw paper and domestically coated. Given the scale of manufacture, it is possible that the paper imported to Japan was coated in Dresden as discussed by Mintie, Reilley, and Eder.107 Dresden was home not only to one major manufacturer but to two major conglomerates, in addition to multiple smaller coaters. The Vereinigten Fabriken was a conglomerate of seven manufacturers of albumen paper and was incorporated in 1874.108 This conglomerate was significant enough that its formation was reported in American journals such as the Philadelphia Photographer, as recorded by Mintie.109 The second conglomerate was the Dresdener Albuminpapier Fabriek, composed of five manufacturers and incorporated in 1885.110
While there are no production amounts for the Vereinigten Fabriken, the Dresdener Fabriek did provide amounts in their annual financial disclosures. In 1886 they produced 12,318 reams, and in 1888 they produced 18,674 reams.111 To fully understand the scale, an illustration is needed. A ream is 480 sheets of paper, and the standard sheet of paper used was 46 cm by 58 cm, which means the net area of coated albumen paper from the Dresdener Fabriek in one year was 2,339,479 square meters, enough to cover the entire Republic of Djibouti. It is also important to note that the work of coating the papers was done by women, as reported both by Eder from the Dresden coating factories and by Holmes, in the E and HT Anthony Factories.112
While the Vereinigten Fabriken did not disclose production amounts, they did report their annual balance sheet, which is roughly double that of the Dresdener Fabriek, and suggests the extent of production.113 Further, the files of the Vereinigten Fabriken show Blanchet Freres and Kleber of Rives as members of the supervisory board for the conglomerate, showing the close integration between the paper manufacturers and coaters.114 Considering the scale of production by the Dresden factories and the fact that albumen and “albuminoid” paper were being imported and taxed enough to merit inclusion in official customs tariffs, it is possible that some of the Dresden production ended up being exported to Japan.
The scale of manufacture is not the only reason why it is possible that the papers were made and coated in Europe. The presence of paper tint is also an indicator that the papers could have been coated in Dresden. James Reilley, in The Albumen and Salted Paper Book, notes that a majority of albumen paper was tinted pink, purple, or blue with the addition of synthetic dyes to the albumen prior to the paper being coated.115 Here he cites Eder, who visited the Dresdener Albuminpapier Fabriek and gave an extensive description of the coating process in his Ausführliches Handbuch. Eder states: “Aniline red, methyl violet, methylene blue, and other aniline colors are used to colour the albumen mixture, but unfortunately they soon fade in the light.”116
Note that the colors are synthetic dyes, again, likely produced by the German dyestuff industry (by merit of proximity). Their presence is an additional layer of color over the monochrome photographic image. While not applied by hand by the photographer or a painter, the color was inherent to the photograph, nevertheless. Further, with the propensity for fading with exposure to light, which was already known in the nineteenth century, the material is not readily visible at present, but it played a firm role in the artistic decision making when the print was made.117
The practice of tinting albumen paper was not restricted to the Dresden albumen paper industry. The Philadelphia Photographer contains advertisements, such as one for Clemons' Paper and Varnish, which state that their paper is “just introduced, and fully equal to any imported article . . . equal to any manufactured for brilliancy, uniformity, and easy working, and is made Pink, White, and Blue.”118 Mentions also exist of “Pink Rives paper” manufactured by Hovey of Rochester,119 and “N.B. Albumen Paper,” tinted violet.120
However, the coated and tinted albumen paper could be manufactured in Japan, and certain photographs of the Japanese Album are printed on tinted paper. See figures 18–20 for the presence of pink tint or lack thereof.121
Samuel Cocking, previously mentioned in the dye section, was already recorded as of 1878 as a producer of collodion in Japan, with Gartlan suggesting this as the earliest record of collodion production in Japan.122 Collodion production involves nitrocellulose, an explosive, and diethyl ether and high-proof alcohol, both highly flammable compounds, and thus presents a high bar for entry in terms of safety and quality control. It is possible that if collodion production was ongoing, albumen coating operations were also carried out, as they are considerably safer and require fermented and salted egg whites, which merely emit noxious odors.
Gartlan's article on Cocking also suggests that papermaker Katsuyama Hyōkichi was employed at Cocking's factory prior to 1882. Cocking had a business relationship with Sugiura Rokuemon, whose photographic store would expand into the Konica Corporation. Cocking also loaned the services of Katsuyama to Sugiura's supply house in 1882.123 While it is possible that Katsuyama made paper mounts rather than photographic paper itself for Cocking and Sugiura, it is equally possible that he produced paper for albumenizing.
This would not be outside the realm of possibility. By 1877, the Japanese mint had already imported a paper machine, and a domestically manufactured cylinder mold machine was in use by 1879.124 The growth of the domestic Western-style paper (yōshi) manufacturing industry was also exponential. Economic historians Takafumi Kurosawa and Tomoko Hashino note that at the end of the first decade of yōshi manufacture (1884), the production was 2,388 tons, and in the next decade (1894), it was 16,507 tons, culminating with a production of 35,552 tons.125 In the meantime, imports of Western-made paper were stagnant.
As described in the earlier sections, paper production requires substantial amounts of pulp. Kurosawa and Hashino suggest that, while cotton was used earlier, sourced from Osaka, Kobe, Tokyo, and Kyoto, by 1883, rice straw pulp was used instead in yōshi manufacture.126 While it is possible that photographs could have been made on this rice straw paper, the necessity for higher quality materials was well-known. No extensive fiber analysis has been conducted on Japanese, or for that matter, Asian photographs as of now.
One could argue that it would make economic sense to domestically produce the albumen paper in Japan, either from scratch or from coating imported raw paper. Cocking's letter to the British Journal of Photography states that there were 240 photographers in the capital and 180 photographers in Yedo, among others.127 Photographer W. K. Burton, in a letter to the editor of the Photographic News in 1891 also noted that while Japanese photographers were occasionally using platinum, bromide, and carbon paper, albumen paper was “almost the only medium for prints issued in moderate numbers.”128
Considering the scale of photographic production in Japan, it is very likely that domestic processing of raw paper would be cost-effective in comparison to importing previously coated materials.129 Domestic processing would also allow the coaters to use other suppliers of paper such as Canson, Whatman, and Turner, which were used in salted paper printing, in addition to domestically produced yōshi and (especially) washi paper, which was and is held in high esteem globally for its quality.130
Sadly, one has had to resort to conjecture and speculation here because of the dearth of translated literature and extant sources. One does not doubt, however, that more information on this will be found, given time. Much of this section was spent on Europe's role in the photographic paper industry. This does not, however, mean that the transfer of materials was one-way. It is well-known, for example, that Rembrandt made prints on Asian paper in seventeenth-century Amsterdam.131 References to the use of Asian paper in photography in literature similarly exist but are few and far between.
In the section for selection of paper for printing in Traité de photographie sur papier, Blanquart-Evrard, the inventor of the albumen print, notes: “This proof [print] has been made on a Chinese paper, and in this respect, in many circumstances, they will be preferred by men of taste who seek the effects of art in the results of photography, rather than the rawness of the oppositions and the dryness in the contours.”132 Blanquart-Évrard is not unique in his use of Asian paper in the nineteenth century toward “art” prints. An auction catalog for prints (non-photographic) for sale in Leipzig in 1865 lists almost a hundred art prints made on Chinese paper.133 The Annuaire-almanach of 1880 also lists the presence of three specialist paper-sellers in Paris who imported paper directly from China and Japan, with eight suppliers two years later indicating a demand for these papers.134
For the remainder of the nineteenth century, I have not been able to find reference to Asian paper in photographic literature, save one by Eder, in his Ausführliches Handbuch. Eder describes a process wherein Japanese paper (Eder names Usayo and Gampi) is impregnated with sandarac, a plant resin, and then coated with a gelatin halide solution.135 Interestingly, photography came full circle at the turn of the century with the advent of the various secession movements, and Japanese paper was copiously used in photomechanical printing.136 The magazine Photographisches Wochenblatt in 1908 published instructions for making albumen prints on Japanese paper in an article titled “Salzpapier auf Japanpapier.”137 The author of the article repeats instructions that are effectively the same as those published by Blanquart-Evrard in 1851. One assumes that the article was necessitated by the ubiquity of industrially coated paper for the prior four decades, which had led to in-house preparation of photographic materials being outmoded and forgotten.
Readers of the article who might seek to duplicate the methods of early photographers who worked with albumen, that is, procuring raw paper and coating and sensitizing it themselves, were possibly trying to achieve aesthetic or pictorial effects. The fact that it was necessary to provide instructions for what working photographers in the 1850s did as a daily practice reveals the invisible role of laborers in the photographic industry: not only the female coaters of the albumen paper factories but also the papermakers of the Rives-Steinbach mills and possibly the unknown Japanese papermakers who brought about the convenience of the twentieth-century photographic practice.
Furthermore, the labor of the rag-pickers, the coal miners, the cotton and linen farm workers, and the dye plant workers was collectively responsible for a product that (without the act of photographing) would be mundane. Perhaps more interestingly, the very act of photographing, and further, coloring (such as in the case of the photographs of the Japanese Album) would transform this seemingly mundane material into art that would be held in admiration in the West. And yet, for the most part the labor and the histories embedded in the material of the photographs remain invisible.
The histories of the dramatis personae, with the acknowledgement of the total lack of published information on the people who did the actual work, can be summed up as follows: Albumen paper was, except for a few manifestations such as matte-albumen popular in Central Europe in the 1920s, obsolete until the contemporary revival in the late twentieth century and present day. The entire industrial supply chain—the Rives-Steinbach paper complex, the German dye industry, the Dresden Coaters—shifted to silver-gelatin print processes and its variants. Rives-Steinbach formed the General Paper Company of Brussels and in collaboration with Eastman Kodak, controlled the photographic paper supply to the US—until it was struck by anti-monopoly action by the US government.138
The German dye companies centralized into IG Farben, which was broken up after the Second World War, and AGFA, BASF, and Bayer remained of the original companies. The vestige of the original Vereinigten Fabriken, Wilhelm Hoffman AG, went bankrupt in 1930. Nothing is known of the hand-colorists in Yokohama, where the Japanese Album was made, except for the photographer and painter Kusakabe Kimbei, to whom eight of the twenty-four photographs in the album are attributed. Kusakabe worked for both Felice Beato and Baron von Stillfried prior to opening his own studio circa 1880. His association with Beato began in the 1860s (the decade of Beato's arrival and the start of Japanese hand painting), and he worked as a painter before becoming an assistant. By 1901, his studio was the largest in Japan, and he retired in 1914. He died in 1932, after spending his retirement years painting.139
A conservation perspective to the study of photography and its history, specifically in the context of hand-colored photographs in the Japanese Album, brings to light several insights. First, the materials used were produced not locally but through centralized industrial firms, such as the paper mills, paper-coating factories, and the dye plants. These production nodes depended on the combination of technical and scientific advances, such as synthetic dyes and mechanization of paper manufacture as well as colonization, slavery, and labor of the marginalized sections of society. Second, photographic journals and societies served as central nodes for information dissemination on photographic techniques and material. They diffused knowledge of the contemporary techniques and materials and allowed practitioners to keep abreast of the work of other practitioners. And last, the transnational traffic in materials shaped perceptions about photographic practice (e.g., the association of Japan with transparent coloring).
While this article traces the transnational material antecedents of hand-colored photographs between Japan and certain locations in Europe, it is important to re-emphasize that this flow was multidirectional in its transmission of ideas, materials, and capital. The cycle of incoming raw materials and outgoing finished materials from the dye factories, paper mills, and albumen coaters of Germany and France hints at similar complementary cycles wherein materials and conceptual themes were being circulated between Europe and Asia.
These finds give way to more questions, such as, Were the systems described present in other countries as well? How were the hand-colored photographs of, for example, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia different, considering they were English, French, and Dutch colonies? Were they different aesthetically but similar materially, indicating the use of the same materials to achieve different aesthetic ends? Were there “schools” of material use across Asian photography?
While the multifaceted nature of the transnational practice of hand-colored photography requires further investigation, in this article I have tried to foreground the ways that the history of photography encompasses material, techniques, and social histories that are a product of trade and capital. In looking at photographic supplies as commodities and tracing their antecedents, I have shown that, for much of the nineteenth century, photography was not simply a romantic idyll of the photographer pouring collodion with a mule train of supplies. Instead, from its early history, it was a transnational network of suppliers, manufacturers, and workers that facilitated the advancement of photography.
This research would have been impossible without the support of the INLAKS Foundation. I also gratefully acknowledge the generous assistance of the following individuals. I am deeply indebted to Dr. S. T. J. van Velzen for his guidance on everything related to paper and for advice during the research on the Japanese Album and to my instructors Clara von Waldthausen and Katrin Pietsch for their supervision and support during this period. I am grateful to the following people for their insight and constructive criticism of the essay: Debadatta Bose, Maria Montcalm, Edith Steen, and Arushi Sahai. Finally, I am grateful for the critiques and comments from the editor and the referees.
Color need not be applied above the surface of the photographic image. Given enough translucence, paint applied behind a photograph can also give an impression of color. This can be seen in various typologies, such as certain French paper stereo transparencies, Crystoleum photographs, and Megalethoscope photographs.
For Indian hand-painting, see Dewan, Embellished Reality. For crayon portraits, see Albright and Lee, “Short Review of Crayon Enlargements.”
A classic technical art history example for this style of investigation is the presence of ultramarine blue. The main source of lapis lazuli, from which natural ultramarine blue is made, is Badakhshan, Afghanistan, and has been in use for over four millennia. The presence of ultramarine in the funeral mask of Tutankhamun and in the paintings of Titian, Vermeer, and in the dental plaque of female scribes in medieval Northern Europe beg the same questions as those asked in the text.
This information was gathered to provide storage and treatment recommendations for the Japanese Album and is detailed in Sharma, “Daubing Titipu.”
Dobson, “Yokohama Shashin,” 22. Adolfo Farsari, a contemporary of Beato, von Stillfried, and Kusakabe, for example, had a catalog of more than one thousand negatives.
As historian Chitra Ramalingam notes, “The photographic surface is revealed to be not merely a two-dimensional surface but a four-dimensional one, with a complex structure not only in three spatial dimensions but also through time.” Ramalingam, “Dust Plate, Retina, Photograph,” 319.
A broad title of “West” is used here because journals would frequently reprint articles from journals in other languages. For example, it would be common to find articles from the Photographische Mittheilungen in English journals such as the British Journal of Photography. See Jacobsen, “On the Employment of Aniline Colours.”
Restrictions on access to instrumentation, such as X-ray fluorescence and liquid chromatography, due to COVID-19 restrictions, also necessitated a more nineteenth-century deductive approach to the investigation.
The two prongs are necessary because the probable candidates for colorant ID could include ones that would not make chronological or geographic sense. For example, the list of blue candidates could include colorants such as Egyptian blue or YInMn blue. The manufacture of the former was forgotten after the Roman age and only reconstructed in the 1980s, whereas the latter was discovered in 2009 and became commercially available in 2015. The presence of either in the Japanese Album is highly unlikely.
A paint is a colorant combined with binders, modifiers, etc.
The fact that the opera opened in 1885, the year also suggested as the earliest possible date for the manufacture of the Japanese Album, and the fact that there was an entire series of synthetic dyes called Mikado dyes, produced by Farbwerk Mülheim, are merely convenient coincidences.
The salted paper process required pure photographic paper, which prior to use would subsequently be coated with halide salts, dried, coated with silver nitrate, and dried again. Prior to the commercial manufacture of albumen paper, workers would prepare it by salting egg whites, which would be frothed, filtered, fermented, and subsequently coated on paper. This dried paper was then sensitized using silver nitrate. In comparison, the commercially manufactured albumen paper would just necessitate sensitization in silver nitrate prior to use.
Color photography in the nineteenth century only came within the reach of the “common” photographer with products such as autochromes and other screen-based processes, or by fairly involved techniques such as three-color carbon.
A.H. Wall's A Manual of Artistic Colouring was published in 1861; Templeton's A Guide to Miniature Painting and Colouring Photographs was published in 1856; Simons's Plain Instructions for Colouring Photographs in 1857.
See, e.g., Turkish Woman in Outdoor Dress (84.XA.886.5.33), in Lacoste and Ritchin, Felice Beato, 17.
Tucker et al., History of Japanese Photography, 20; Lacoste and Ritchin, Felice Beato, 16–17; and Lehmann, “Transparency of Color,” 88. Chronologically, other likely candidates for the originators of hand-painted photographs in Japan, such as William Saunders, or other foreign nationals capable of transmitting this technique, such as Rossier, arrived in Japan at roughly the same period, with Rossier arriving in Japan in 1859–60 (Tucker et al., History of Japanese Photography, 20) and Saunders in 1862 (Bennett, Early Japanese Images, 34). Thus, even if Beato and Wirgman were not the originators, the argument that will be advanced in the text remains valid. To the best of my knowledge, there is no Anglophone literature that describes any prior Japanese attempts at hand paintings. This does not mean that this is not beyond the realm of possibility. For example, Japanese photographic pioneer Shimooka Renjo was a trained painter prior to learning photography.
Lacoste and Ritchin, Felice Beato, 17. Watercolors are technically defined as colorants in a water-based binder, with the most common being gum arabic; however, use of sugars and animal glue in Japanese watercolor (gansai) has been noted. There appear to be no technical sources, to the best of my knowledge, that have attempted to identify the pigments and binders of Beato's photograph, just the light sensitivity. See Freeman, “Technical Study of the Work of Felice Beato in Asia.”
“Mauve Measles,” 81.
See Welham, “Early History of the Synthetic Dye Industry.” Dyes are categorized by various means, but a convenient way to approach them is by class, wherein dyes with similar chemical structures in their chromophore (the part of the molecule that provides the colors) are grouped (e.g., the nineteenth century azo and triarylmethane dyes or the twentieth-century phthalocyanine dyes).
Salmon, “Tinting and Toning,” 179. In my own experience as both a trained conservator and a painter/photographer, unless there are adverse reactions between materials (e.g., between colorants and substrates), artists will happily use disparate materials, which sometime leads to conservation problems down the road. Indeed, sometimes, these adverse interactions in the long run are so unique that they can be used to identify the constituent colors (e.g., the blackening of lead paints often used in Indian miniature and wall paintings).
Dayflower blue extraction is particularly labor intensive. The petals from the flowers must be picked between early morning and noon, after which they wilt. Further, the colorant must be extracted from the petals within a day; otherwise it oxidizes and turns brown.
See, for example, prints held in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: RP-F-F80219, RP-F-F00138, RP-F-F02592-B, and RP-F-F02568-B.
An apropos illustration of this embrace of technology can be seen in the schools founded by the Japanese authorities for the study of Western science and technology. Tucker writes, “Called in 1856 the Bansho Shirabesho (Institute for the Investigation of Barbarian Books), the name changed in 1862 to Yosho Shirabesho (Institute for the Investigation of Western Books) and finally in 1863, to Kaiseijo (a place to illuminate ignorance and fulfil ambitions)” (Tucker et al., History of Japanese Photography, 22).
The sources of traditional natural pigments are, of course, also of interest, but when keeping in mind Japan's unique national history, they perhaps tell us less about Japan and its place in the globalized nineteenth century, in comparison to synthetic dyes and for that matter, synthetic pigments.
Taylor's editorial is reprinted in Wetzel, “British Journal of Photography Almanacs,” 24.
Johnson, “Raid on Aniline Colours,” 522–23. Emphasis added.
A notable exception is certain genres of hand-painted photographs in India. While not germane to this article, hand-painted photographs of India present a similarly interesting balance of transparency and opacity and likely are the product of a similar transnational material chain as that discussed in this article. See Dewan, Embellished Reality.
Tucker et al., in discussing the sale of Yokohama photographs quotes Saitō Takio, who estimates that a large amount of Yokohama photographs was made for export, with the largest importer being the United States; see Tucker et al., History of Japanese Photography, 30. Other Japanese photography promoted in the West includes that of Adolfo Farsari, whose photographs were recommended by Rudyard Kipling to his readers, and the work of Tamamura Kozaburo, who was contracted by the Boston-based J. B. Millet Company to provide more than three hundred thousand photographs of Japan, a large part of which were hand-colored, as part of the book series Japan: Described and Illustrated. See Dobson, “Yokohama Shashin,” 20, 33–34.
“Scovill Manufacturing Co.,” 529. This advertisement is of particular interest, considering its early date, though it must be noted that it was printed after the release of Beato's hand-painted albums; thus the arguments put forward still apply.
For yearly figures from BASF, see BASF History in Figures (https://www.basf.com/global/en/who-we-are/history/BASF-History-in-Figures.html; accessed April 12, 2022).
“Aujourd'hui, la qualité du papier est sans influence sur le résultat des opérations. Dans les procédés actuels, le rôle du papier se borne à celui d'un écran. On le recouvre d'une couche photogénique épaisse et consistante, dans l'intérieur de laquelle s'opèrent luies les réactions.” Blanquart-Evrard, Traité de photographie sur papier, 15.
“Si l'artiste, pour certains effets, recherche à dessein des surfaces rudes et calleuses, pourquoi le photographiste n'use- rait-il pas des mêmes ressources? Dans ce cas donc, les papiers à grain, voire même les papiers-torchon, sont de nécessité.” Blanquart-Evrard, Traité de Photographie, 20.
“Das Rohpapier, welches zur Herstellung positiver photographischer abdrücke dient, soll von bester Qualität, lediglich aus Hadern hergestellt, sein. . . . Das Papier soll am Lichte nicht vergilben, weshalb abwesenheit von Holzstoff (Holzschliff) zu verlangen ist.” Eder, Photographischen Copirverfahren . . . , 97.
Eder also refers to papers from the following mills as suitable but having smaller production: Schleicher and Schüll in Düren, Neusiedler Actiengesellschaft für Papierfabrikation in Vienna, Canson and Montgolfier, Johannot and Comp, Annonay; Whatman; and Schaeuffelen in Heilbronn. Eder, Photographischen Copirverfahren, 102. The dominance of Steinbach and BFK Rives over these smaller mills lay in their ability to produce at a large scale. See also Reilly, “Manufacture and Use of Albumen Paper.”
“On peut dire qu'avec l'eau, le charbon est la matière première capitale de la papeterie.” Blanchard, “L'Industrie de la papeterie,” 38.
Blanchard, “L'Industrie de la papeterie,” 44. Note that Blanchard published his report in 1926, a quarter of a century after the period of study in this article. However, his findings are included to illustrate the scale of operations. Further, speculatively, it is likely that the coal consumption was of a similar magnitude. While the factories would be making more paper, requiring more coal, it would be counterbalanced by advances in technology and processing, which would lead to less coal required.
“Car sa valeur est infime et sa recherche ingrate ou malsame, être recueilli par le «déchet social condamné à de faibles salaires, à une vie différente de la vie ordinaire et certainement dédaignée. Nous pouvons ainsi nous attendre à voir s’établir une industrie du chiffon, un commerce du chiffon, a voir tout le mécanisme de l'industrialisation continuer son mouvement régulier, alors même que ces premiers ouvriers sans capital, sans éducation professionnelle, etc. pourraient affluer ou se retirer, et donner à cette exploitation de l'inutilisable la variabilité la plus désordonnée.” Fuster, “L'Industrie du chiffon à Paris et la vie des chiffonniers,” 68–69.
As Iacolucci describes, it is impossible to offer a simple motive for an action as complex as invasion and occupation. He argues that it was a combination of an attempt to protect individual investments, the British investment in the Suez Canal, racial attitudes, and a geopolitical instinct toward protecting the empire in India. However, it should be kept in mind that the fall in the commodity prices of cotton was among the reasons for the khedive's financial difficulties, which precipitated the crisis. See Iacolucci, “Finance and Empire,” 37–38.
Western paper was being imported as early as the 1840s in India by R. C. Lepage and Co. in Calcutta who sold photographic paper of the following brands: Marion, Hollingworth, Canson, Towgood, Turner, and Whatman. See Thomas, “First Four Decades of Photography in India,” 216.
Fraser, “Studio Practices,” 135n8, citing exhibition catalogs Tomishige shashinjo no 130 nen: Bakumatsu kara gendai and Shōzō no modan eiji: Tomishige shashinjo ten.
Fraser, “Studio Practices,” 135n12. This is also particularly interesting as it suggests that paper other than Saxe/BFK was also used by photographers in Japan. Could domestically produced paper be the “lower quality paper”?
Gartlan, “Samuel Cocking,” figure 4, 154. My thanks to Adrienne Ree Ad for translating this advertisement for me.
The Trapp and Münch albumen paper factory in Friedburg, Germany, also produced coated albumen paper, as recorded by Eder, Photographischen Copirverfahren, 121; however, I have not been able to find many records of exports after 1874, when the Vereinigten Fabriken was incorporated. Mintie, “Material Matters,” 4; Reilly, “Manufacture and Use of Albumen Paper”; Eder, Ausführliches Handbuch der Photographie, 121–24.
See the listing for Dresdener Albuminpapierfabrik, Actiengesellschaft in Die Sächsischen Aktien-Gesellschaften, 245–46.
Die Sächsischen Aktien-Gesellschaften; Reilly, “Manufacture and Use of Albumen Paper.”
Holmes, Soundings from the Atlantic, 229–30; Eder, in Photographischen Copirverfahren (illustrations), 114.
See the listing for Vereinigten Fabriken Photographische Papiere AG in Die Sächsischen Aktien-Gesellschaften, 270–72. The Vereinigten Fabriken reported a balance sheet of 2,275,756 marks, while the Dresdener Fabriek reported 1,286,042 marks; however, the Vereinigten Fabriken also had a mortgage on a new factory worth 120,000 marks, which is recorded in the balance sheet. Assuming that the raw material costs and price of finished products, per unit, are the same for the two conglomerates and that the respective workforces are proportional to their original size, one can estimate the extent of sales and profitability.
“Zum Färben der Albumin mischung dient Anilinroth, Methylviolett, Methylenblau oder andere Anilinfarben, welche aber leider im Lichte bald ausbleichen” (Eder, Photographischen Copirverfahren, 123).
The July 28, 1893, issue of the British Journal of Photography reports the July 25 Meeting of the London and Provincial Photographic Association, wherein a Mr. Freshwater notes that pink and mauve albumenized papers retained their colors better than white ones. See “Meetings of Societies,” 487. Further, in March of the same year, in “Answers to Correspondents” in the same journal, Blower notes: “Prints made on rose-tinted paper invariably change when exposed for long to a strong light. The colour is simply discharged by its action. Had the prints been kept in an album or portfolio, they would not have changed in that way. The loss of the Pink tint is not necessarily an indication that the print is fading.” Blower, “Answers to Correspondents,” 192.
The tinting of albumen papers and the stability thereof have not been studied in conservation and as such presents a unique conundrum in its identification. As expected, often the tinting dyes have faded due to exposure to light. Further, they are coated uniformly and as such are hard to notice. The only way one has been able to identify their presence without technical interventions is by experience.
Burton notes that the only competitor for albumen prints is collotype printing, practiced prominently by Ogawa Kazumasa. See W. K. Burton, “Photography in Japan,” 248.
Albumen paper is also highly sensitive to moisture and humidity and thus would need to be specially packaged for transportation via sea, adding to the costs for import.
Eder also refers to papers from the following mills as suitable but having smaller production: Schleicher and Schüll in Düren; Neusiedler Actiengesellschaft für Papierfabrikation in Vienna; Canson and Montgolfier, Johannot and Comp in Annonay, France; Whatman in Kent; and Schaeuffelen in Heilbronn. Eder, Photographischen Copirverfahren . . . , 102.
Records exist of two casks of Japanese paper arriving in 1643 via the ship De Swaen, which contained more than three thousand sheets of Japanese paper. Biörklund suggests that these might be the sources of paper for Rembrandt's etchings on Japanese paper. Biörklund, Rembrandt's Etchings, 173.
The origins of the paper may not necessarily be Chinese. Biörklund notes that Rembrandt's prints on “Oostindisch Papier” (East-Indian Paper) were mistranslated as Papier de la Chine in a French auction catalogue. See Biörklund, Rembrandt's Etchings, 172. “Seulement, celle épreuve semble avoir été faite sur un papier de Chine, et à cet égard, dans beaucoup de circonstances, ils seront préférés par les hommes de goût et qui recherchent les effets de l'art dans les résultais de la photographie, plutôt que la crudité des oppositions et la sécheresse dans les contour” (Blanquart-Evrard, Traité de photographie sur papier, 21–22).
See the entry on Pohl Frères et Cie, Racqet, Vigan: Importation directe du papier de Chine et du Japon in Firmin-Didot, Annuaire-almanach du commerce (1880), 1419; and the entry on Bacharach Oppenheimer et Cie, Lips, Mitsui, Morand, Oge, Pohl, Racket, and Vigan, in Firmin-Didot, Annuaire-Almanach du Commerce (1882), 1528.
“Zur Präparation von echt japanischem Papier (in Japan ‘Usayo’ und ‘Gampi’ benannt) wird eine gemischte Lösung von 5 g Chlorammonium, 24 g Gelatine in 480 ccm Wasser und 120 ccm einer alkoholischen Sandaraklösung (1:10) empfohlen. Damit wird das Papier geleimt und mit einer nach Hardwich's Methode (s. S. 18) halb ammoniakalischen Silberlösung (1:10) oder einem anderen Silberbade sensibilisiert. Gold- und fixirbäder sollen ziemlich schwach sein” (Eder, Ausführliches Handbuch der Photographie, 114).
The company was formed by a collaboration between BFK Rives and Steinbach and Co. to price-fix paper supplies. See United States vs Eastman Kodak Co. of New York 226.F62 (1915) (https://cite.case.law/f/226/62/).