Unfortunately, many of these albums did not indicate the studio's name. Therefore, it was challenging to attribute the images' authorship to a particular studio or photographer. However, the vast majority of the photographs displayed descriptive captions and numbers on the face of the prints – presumably as an aid to studio stock control and copyright registration with the authorities. Fortunately, some albums did include a title page showing the studio name and address, or the same information was wet-stamped to the inside covers.
Starting in the early 1980s, I began to record the captions and numbers of those photographs contained in albums whose studios were identified and those whose studios were unknown. In those days, Japanese souvenir albums were relatively common, and within a few years – thanks to the support of collectors and dealers - I had compiled lists from several hundreds of albums. Number patterns quickly emerged, and I identified an increasing number of studios. I eventually published the preliminary results in my 1996 book 'Early Japanese Images', where some 1,200 photographs were matched with their studios. In 2006, I published an expanded list of 4,000 in my book 'Old Japanese Photographs: Collectors' Data Guide'. These have now been further supplemented below to around 5,000 – 6,000. However, many gaps remain, and a few studios are yet to be identified. Nevertheless, I am confident that by using these lists, it will be possible to identify at least 80% of the albums in circulation.
When I began recording the captions all those years ago, I thought it would only be a matter of time before all or most of the albums’ studios would be determined. I have come to realise that the task is almost certainly impossible. It is clear to me now that there was an active trade between studios where they exchanged or sold their negatives. Most of the studios’ customers were foreign tourists whose arrival points would have been Yokohama or Nagasaki. Their travel itineraries might typically include visits to places such as Kyoto, Hakone, Kobe, Mount Fuji, and Nikko. Those with the time and resources would travel more extensively – perhaps even as far as Hokkaido. And if they had first arrived in Japan at, say, Yokohama, then a popular choice would be to end their stay in the country at Nagasaki, from where they would begin the long journey home. The opposite would be the case if they arrived at Nagasaki. Journeys of this nature meant that they could claim to their friends and families at home that they had circumnavigated the globe!
Most visitors to Japan would want to return home with a souvenir album of photographs, recording their travel throughout the country. Probably, the purchase of an album – typically holding fifty images – would take place at the end of their stay in Japan, at Nagasaki or Yokohama. A studio in Yokohama, for example, would have no shortage of good local views. But most travellers would want samples of the other places in Japan that had been visited (not forgetting portraits of Japanese locals such as Geisha and tradespeople). It would be very time-consuming and expensive for the photographers of the Yokohama studio to travel throughout the country, putting together a comprehensive portfolio of popular destinations. So how could they satisfy their customers’ demands? Capturing scenes in nearby Tokyo, Nikko, Mount Fuji, and Hakone would not have been too difficult. For places further afield, however, it is clear that many Yokohama studios made arrangements with studios in, say, Kobe, Nagasaki, and elsewhere to acquire negatives from those areas. After all, the distance from Yokohama to Nagasaki is around 1,000 km, and it was some undertaking at the time to transport heavy photographic equipment and chemicals. To minimise costs, therefore, studios exchanged images. The result is that the Yokohama studio customer could select photographs representing perhaps all the places they had visited. Particularly discerning customers might well choose photographs from more than one Yokohama studio. What does all this mean for collectors and students of early Japanese photographs?
It is rare to find an album of photos that can be safely attributed to one studio – especially if the images cover a wide geographical area. The commercial imperative of geographical gap-filling described above renders that outcome most unlikely. And attributing an album photograph to a given photographic artist is even more complicated when one considers that a successful and established studio might have more than one resident cameraperson. It is tough to generalise, but a typical 50-image album might contain 50% to 90% of photos taken by a studio visited by the customer, with the rest coming from one or more alternative studios. One should compare the styling of the numbers and captions shown on the face of the prints. I have been talking here about views. Portraits are more likely to have come from one studio, but this is not always the case. When attributing Japanese photographs, it is more accurate to talk of the studio rather than the photographer. To further explain how the number lists have been compiled, it will be helpful to consider each of the studios shown. Before doing so, just a few words about some of the studios not mentioned.
Felice Beato is not shown because he did not number or caption his prints in the negative. Incidentally, although he took a high percentage of the photos appearing in his albums, there are some exceptions. For example, it is believed that he never visited Hokkaido. However, we can sometimes find in his albums a group portrait of Ainu men, taken in Hokkaido by the British naval officer Frederick Sutton, and a portrait of the Tokugawa Shogun, by the same artist. Beato sold his negatives to Baron Raimund von Stillfried in 1877. A year later, Stillfried sold everything to his business partner, Hermann Andersen, who traded under the name Stillfried & Andersen.
Further complications arose when Stillfried’s brother, Franz, opened a Yokohama studio under the Stillfried name. I didn’t feel that trying to record the different number sequences for these various negatives was something I had the appetite for. When Andersen left Japan, these negatives, in turn, passed to Adolfo Farsari in 1885. When Farsari himself left Japan in 1890, his studio continued under different names, but many of his negatives started to appear in the portfolios of several other studios.
Some years ago, Professor Takahashi Shinichi discovered an album by Kanamaru Matashiro in the Yokohama Archives of History. It has proved to be a veritable 'Rosetta Stone' in that many previously unidentified photographs can now be linked to this studio. Kanamaru was prolific, and over recent weeks and months, I have been reviewing and correcting numerous attributions in these lists.
Putting these lists together has been a labour of love for more than 40 years. I hope other researchers will continue what has been a frustrating but rewarding task. In addition, I encourage anyone with numbers that do not appear (or you have some corrections to suggest) to send in the details via the links shown. Contributing in this way would help collectors, researchers and photo historians.
A word of warning. The vast majority of studios had little hesitation in including the works of other studios in their portfolios. This practice might have been a simple case of geographical gap-filling if customer demand could not be satisfied with a studio's existing holdings. And as studio owners retired or died, family members might have continued their businesses, or their stock and negatives sold privately or auctioned off. So, we can now consider each of the studios included in these number lists.
ENAMI T. (Studio)
The Yokohama-based Enami opened his studio in 1892, and his portfolio consists of just over 1,000 portraits and views. Helpfully, many of his photographs are illustrated in several early 20th-century books such as D.C. Angus, 'Japan: The Eastern Wonderland' (1904), A. Lloyd, 'Every Day Japan' (1909), and Burton E. Holmes, 'Burton Holmes Travelogues' (1910). Matching these images with the same ones appearing in Enami’s albums makes it relatively easy to build number patterns from his work. However, we can see from the list that he occasionally imported images from other studios – especially the alphanumeric numbers at the end of the list. Oddly, there appears to be a gap between numbers 1050 and 1500. Future research may produce the answer.
ESAKI REIJI (Studio - possibly)
The Esaki attribution is the most tenuous of all the lists shown here. The number patterns suggest a well-organised and established studio based in Tokyo and quite distinct from the better-known contemporary studios of Enami, Farsari, Kanamaru, Kusakabe, Tamamura, and Usui. And yet, I have never seen an Esaki album with a studio nameplate, nor have I seen more than a handful of his photographs published and attributed. Known for his early adoption of dry-plate photography, which enabled him to photograph often restless babies and children in his studio, one of the attributed albums I have seen includes as a frontispiece his famous collage of 1,700 children, illustrated as Fig. 221 in my book Photography in Japan 1853-1912 (2006). In and of itself, this is not definite proof that the number sequence shown in this list belongs to Esaki. At the moment, it is only a hypothesis that has stood the test of time. Note the unexplained gaps between the numbers 1 and 50 and 1100s to 1500s.
FARSARI, Adolfo (Studio)
This was one of the easier lists to compile since Farsari albums often contain the studio nameplate.
KAJIMA Seibei (Studio)
Many of Kajima’s photographs are illustrated in D.C. Angus, 'Japan: The Eastern Wonderland' (1904) and in some of Ogawa Kazumasa’s collotype publications. In addition, Christoph Scharzenbach has a Kajima album with the studio nameplate in his collection. Taken together, these have helped to produce the Kajima numbers list.
KANAMARU Matashiro (Studio)
This numbers list is a relatively recent discovery. Thanks to the find a decade ago by photo-historian Takahashi Shinichi of an album by Kanamaru Matashiro in the Yokohama Archives of History, it has been possible to put this list together. The album had the photographer’s name printed on the inside front cover. However, added confirmation came when I noticed that many of the photographs appeared in another album with assistants of the photographer in the foreground wearing happi coats with the studio name printed thereon. The studio was prolific, and hundreds of previously unidentified photographs can now be attributed to this studio.
KUSAKABE Kimbei (Studio)
In the 1890s, Kusakabe published a catalogue listing his portfolio of more than 2,000 photos. His studio photographed the vast majority, but earlier in his career, he did not hesitate to include in his albums the works of other artists such as Uchida, Kajima and Stillfried. Some of these had their captions and numbers overwritten and became permanent fixtures in his portfolio. A further aid to identification is that many of his albums carry the studio name wet stamped to the inside covers.
OGAWA Kazumasa (Studio)
Unlike all of the other studios listed here, Ogawa was not mainly focused on producing albums of hand-coloured albumen prints. Instead, he was famous for publishing photography books using the collotype printing process – colour or monochrome. His albumen print work is, therefore, rare and difficult to identify. His collotype work was extensive, and he often included the work of other artists such as Kajima, Tamamura, and Farsari. Helpfully, he would usually credit their work. In attempting to track Ogawa’s albumen print photography, it would be necessary to search for matches from his numerous collotype productions.
OGAWA Sashichi (Studio)
Ogawa was Yokohama-based and married Kusakabe Kimbei’s daughter. He set up his studio in 1895, at the latest, and acted as an agent for Kajima Seibei. Therefore, expect to find examples of the work of both Kusakabe and Kajima in his albums, complicating the work of attributing Ogawa’s efforts. The numbers shown here have been taken predominantly from three albums, including the studio name wet stamped to the inside covers. Ogawa’s studio output was prolific. He died in 1909.
This Kobe studio advertised itself as “Photographers” in Chamberlain and Mason’s ‘Handbook for Travellers in Japan’ from 1894 to 1901. A sign outside its studio described itself as a ‘Photograph Depot’ and ‘Dealer in Lacquered Albums’. It is probable that the studio produced some local views but that its main business was as a portrait studio and agent for major Yokohama studios such as Enami’s and Kanamaru’s – many examples of which we find in Shin-E-Do’s albums.
SUZUKI Shinchi I (Studio)
The numbers in this list are taken from his famous ‘Shajo’ series, many examples of which appeared as pasted-in albumen photos in the 1870s publication ‘The Far East’. As far as I know, his other work is yet to be identified.
SUZUKI Shinchi II (Studio)
The owner of this studio was the son-in-law of Suzuki Shinichi I. The numbers here have been taken from albums with the studio wet stamp impressed on the inside covers. His albums are rare.
TAMAMURA Kozaburo (Studio)
It is relatively easy to build Tamamura’s number list. His albums often displayed the studio name, and his captioning style was quite distinctive, with the numbers often prefixed with ‘No.’ His output was prodigious.
USUI Shusaburo (Studio)
Usui also often displayed his studio address in his albums. He also numbered his prints in Japanese characters, Roman numerals, or both. He does not seem to have used many shots, if any, from other studios.
In compiling the lists below, I have been helped by many generous contributors. These include Tom Baker-Stimson, Greg Barattini, Emma Bennett, Torin Boyd, Tom Burnett, Alex Byrne, Jim Clinefelter, Agata Czapkowska, the late Joseph Dubois who contributed enormously, Elmer Funkhauser, Arlene Hall, Philippa Holman, Naomi Izakura, Nayla Maaruf, Beth McHugh, Rob Oeschle, Bonnie Olson, Christoph Scharzenbach, Paula Sealy, Fred Sharf, Pierre Spake, and Shinichi Takahashi (with my apologies for any names inadvertently omitted).