THE PROBLEM OF ATTRIBUTION
Being somewhat familiar with Felice Beato, Baron Raimund Von Stillfried and Adolfo Farsari`s most famous hand-coloured albumen silver photographs, I quickly learnt that their combined body of work although important, is but a small portion of Meiji Era souvenir photographs. One of my biggest challenges was my unfamiliarity with the depth of prominent scholarship on the subject. I became well acquainted, rather quickly I must say, with the joys and frustrations that much wiser scholars than I faced while researching Meiji period photography. And so I focused on this album as the first in my more detailed examination and comparison.
I consulted several sources to learn more about this type of album, to get a better sense for dates, manufacturers, authors and sellers. What I began to learn was far more complex than I anticipated. Red lacquer covers were quite popular, and manufactured by a third party that sold it to many different studios, and the cherry blossom patterns came in several pattern choices, from few to many. I looked inside the album for any maker’s marks, wet stamps or other markings that would provide any clue and sadly found none.
Some of the hand-coloured albumen silver prints were instantly recognizable, with some of them attributed in the public record to Baron Raimund Von Stillfired, Kusakabe Kimbei, T. Enami and Kozaburo Tamamura. This presented a new issue altogether: How could I figure out who the author was, if its images came from so many different photographers? Now that I could see that this album was not the work of a single author, but rather a compound album, I needed to get a better sense of who had produced the rest of its images, and find associations between the creators and a studio.
My initial suspicions were that this album may be from the Adolfo Farsari studio. I found a local example of a Farsari-attributed album with a metallic image inset on its cover at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2003/1372), through Janet Li’s Masters Thesis on Japanese tourist photograph albums. The illustrations in Janet Li’s 2009 Ryerson University Photographic Preservation and Collections Management MA thesis Two 19th Century Japanese Souvenir Travel Albums at the Art Gallery of Ontario showed striking resemblance to the album I was working on. However, I disagreed with her observations that the image was somehow printed on a metal plate.
The surface damage to the image in The ROM’s album suggested a different composition altogether. It was clear however that these albums all belong to the highest quality product being sold at the time. The ROM album has hand-painted illustrations on the margins of every leaf, something not present in either of the AGO examples. Consulting the literature, I did find similarly decorated albums in other collections, most notably in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston’s Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf collection selections, featured in the 2004 book Art and Artifice: Japanese Photographs of the Meiji Era by Frederic A. Sharf, Anne Nakamura Morse and Sebastian Dobson.
In her Masters thesis, Li mentions Capt. J Brinkley’s important 1897-8 work Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese. I learned that Kozaburo Tamamura had been contracted to produce over one million hand-coloured albumen silver photographs to illustrate this multi-edition, ten volume set of books. I learnt that Tamamura subcontracted other photographers to supply him with the required images for this ambitious project. The name T. Enami kept turning up. As it turns out, he was one of Japan’s most prolific photographers. His list of over two-thousand photographs survives to this day, making it easier to identify his contributions to this project. Searching the Bishop White Committee Library of East Asia's database, I found two full sets of Brinkley's important compendium, and immediately requested them for examination. Their state of preservation is pristine. As a bonus, I was granted access to the Imperial Edition of Brinkley’s Japan. None of the photographs or illustrations are missing. I was also able to compare them and found several photographs that were also included in this photo album. More and more it looked like this was mostly a Kozaburo Tamamura souvenir photographs album with significant contributions by T. Enami.
A breakthrough came as I looked deeper into T. Enami’s practice, and I came across Rob Oechsle’s website. Here I learned of a link between Enami and Mizuno’s gold and silver photographs on lacquer. Armed with a name and a process, It wasn't long before I found John Marriage, Isamu Mabuchi and Mike Ware’s ‘The Gold Photographs of Mizuno Hanbeh’, Photographica World, No. 122, April 2007 on Mizuno and his invention. Their extensive research both on the process and the inventor provided me with a wealth of information on which to base my observations and analysis of the silver lacquer photograph at The ROM. With this new understanding I took my first steps towards confirming the identification of this photographic object and its process.
Fig. 2, Label found in the verso of a lacquer photograph attributed to Mizuno.
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