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A fishing boat in 19th century Japan

6 Beautiful Color Photographs from 19th Century Japan


The precision and refinement of this technique allowed photography to achieve color when everything was still black and white.

By the mid-18th century photography had become a well-established practice. However, the art was unable to hide its intense longing to embrace color. With the initial desire led to the possibility of photographing something overcome (at least in some circles), everything pointed to an evolution of technique whose only possible destination was color.

Together with diverse experiments carried out by photographers around the world in their attempt to bring color to their images, a technique was developed that comprised coloring them by hand. The almost alchemical process that photographing something implied was complemented with a second treatment, handcrafted, that gave the images an enrapturing but always delicate beauty.

Perhaps due to the popularity of the technique in Japan, the art reached its maximum refinement there. Whether it was with watercolor, pastel or even oils (shashin abura-e), cheeks finally blushed and the Pacific Ocean recovered its blueness.

The images we present here (all of which are from the Dutch Nationaal Archief) are just some examples of this refinement they evoked, both in portraits and in landscapes.

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