After the Meiji Restoration, photographs were becoming almost more popular than woodblock prints and the technical skill of the Japanese woodblock printer was capable of elevating hand coloring of photographs above what had been achieved in Europe. Artists would apply the color using water-soluble pigments that were more transparent than the oil paints used in the West. The paint was mixed with a small amount of glue. The process of coloring a photograph was so time consuming an expert could only complete two or three prints in a twelve-hour day. Soon however studios began to streamline the coloring process, where each colorist would specialize in a specific area of color, passing the photograph to another colorist after completing his section. By the 1890s, a successful studio regularly employed anywhere from 20 to 100 colorists.
About the artist
Kozaburo Tamamura was a pioneer of Japanese photography during the Meiji Period. Born in Edo in 1856, Tamamura began to study photography under Genzo Kanamaru in 1868. Tamamura opened his first photography studio in Asakusa, Tokyo in 1874. In 1883, he moved business to Yokohama, where he continued operations until 1909. The studio enjoyed great success, in part due to Tamamura’s creation of Yokohama shashin, staged-scenes intended for foreign tourists. Beginning in 1897, the Boston-based publisher J.B. Millet commissioned Tamamura’s studio to produce staged scenes of the Japanese landscape and traditional customs. These hand-painted photographs were wildly popular among foreign audiences. Tamamura’s photographs were compiled with the writing of Okakura Tenshin and collotype plates of Kazumasa Ogawa in an album titled Japan. Tamamura’s death is often given as 1923, though there is some uncertainty about this date.