I had decided to turn the Noh opera Hanjo into a photographic novel. It gave me the chance to combine the language of fashion photography with Japanese hand-colored colodion or dry plate work, and to create a separate visual style for the project.
I never became an expert on the various types of photography of the early days, but over the years I acquired a collection of books that celebrate these Japanese hand-colored images. It connects directly to the strong tradition of creating wood-carved prints. Just look at the incredible work done by Hokusai for instance. His famous image of the wave was actually part of a souvenir box filled with various prints known as the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Once the Edo period ended and Japan opened up to the outside world, photography became one of the first things to be adopted. It came on-shore with the thousands of foreigners that were being brought to Japan in an effort to modernize the country after 400+ years of feudal isolation. The modern Japanese wanted photographic images, they were losing interest in the old ways of hand-printing woodcuts.
Many of these images were shot by foreigners documenting aspects of Japanese life. Ironically, as Nippon was modernizing and deploying the first and only Industrial Revolution in Asia, the the Westerners were more interested in capturing the remnants of the Floating World.
I love the different studio set ups, and the awkwardly-held poses. Many of the images also have slight motion blur if you look carefully – it was hard to hold still for such long exposures, and sometimes a hand or a foot was caught moving. The colors were added after the image was developed, though the color composition did not necessarily reflect the actual scene. Of course, colors tend to change and fade differently, so much of the red has been lost over time, whereas green seems to hold on the longest.
I decided to loosen my images, they were too perfect in a modern digital sense, so motion blur was added… but not to my subjects. Although physically impossible, adding motion blur to the edges of the shot – as though the model was solid while the room spinning – I was able to get a dream-like effect that doesn’t over-power the image, or the narrative.
Stay tuned for the several more installments…. Here’s PART 1 of my Hanjo blog-series.