Kusakabe Kimbei

Kusakabe Kimbei (日下部金兵衛) 1841 - 1932

From around 1860 to 1900, Yokohama-shashin (Japanese albumen prints sold in Yokohama) became very popular. These photographs depicting Japanese landscapes, people and culture were popular souvenirs for tourists at the time. 
Considered to be one of the most underrated Japanese photographers of the 19th century, he worked with Felice Beato and Baron Raimund von Stillfried from the 1860s as an assistant and photographic colourist before he opened his own studio many years later in Yokohama in 1881.

Kusakabe was at the forefront of creating souvenir photograph albums for western tourists in Yokohama containing hand-painted Japanese prints of landscapes and studio portraits of everyday life in the Meiji period. For this reason, he is still better known today in the West than he is in Japan.


Kusakabe’s albums also included many of the famous photographs of his mentors as he had acquired the negatives of both Felice Beato and Stillfried, as well as those of Uchida Kuichi in 1885. Although historically the works of his mentors are held in such high regard for their remarkable record of Japan in the 1860s and 1870s, it can be said that from the 1880s no studio had come close to producing as consistent high-quality work as that of Kusakabe Kimbei. The quality of the painting and hand-colouring of his photographs are exceptional and in 1891 Kusakabe advertised himself as both photographer and painter. By 1892 his studio had a selection of over 2000 unique Japanese prints of landscapes and studio portraits of Samurai and Geisha as well as scenes of everyday Japanese life available to western tourists.
Albumen Prints


The albumen print, also known as an albumen silver print, was the first method of mass-producing a photographic print on paper from a negative. A key ingredient used in the process of creating these Japanese prints was the albumen found in egg whites which bound the photographic chemicals to paper. Becoming the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 and peaking after the Meiji Restoration (明治維新) of Japan between the 1860s and 1890s.

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