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Pretend you are a 19th Century colorist, an artist who added color to monochromatic photographs, when you color this image based on Kusakabe Kimbei’s Wind Costume. Create your own patterns for the kimono fabric and envision a different setting, if you’d like!
In the early days of photography, photographers offered sitters the option of adding color to the surface of the image, typically for an additional charge. It was the colorist’s job was to adorn portraits with blushed cheeks, gold-colored jewelry, or embellished clothes and backgrounds.
On paper-based photographs, such as an albumen print like this one, photographers applied thin layers of watercolor, adding color either selectively or overall. This was especially popular in Japan, where photographers produced elaborately hand-colored photographs for the tourist market.
Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1934) was a Japanese photographer who ran a studio that catered to mostly Western clientele. He created stylized studio portraits like Wind Costume that frequently portrayed women in the traditional Bijinga (“beautiful person picture”) style. Bijinga was a typical subject used in the Ukiyo-e genre woodblock prints and paintings which depicted idealized women, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, and more. Kimbei’s photographs were seen as an artistic equivalent to the popular Ukiyo-e paintings and prints.
You can see more of Kusakabe Kimbei’s photographs in the California Museum of Photography’s collection in our emuseum.