Photography sure was a lot different back in the day!

While color film wasn’t introduced commercially until 1907 and didn’t gain widespread use until decades later, that doesn’t mean that the people of the time only had plain old monochromatic photographs to look at. You may remember the stunning “postcard photos” from the 1800s we brought you a while back, which were black-and-white snapshots enhanced with color. The hand-colored prints became quite popular, and while you may be envisioning a single photographer painstakingly detailing each photo by hand, this actually wasn’t the case. Here, we see scenes from coloring workshops where a number of artists work on hand-painting each albumen silver print.


▼ Hand-colored photographs of photographs being hand-colored… Is this…photo-ception??


Colored photographs like these were often sold as souvenirs to foreign tourists, giving people outside Japan their first glimpse of the island nation. Thanks to artists like these, we can see the world that they saw centuries before us in a little more detail.





A number of other colorized photographs are available to view and download through the New York Public Library Digital Collections, so be sure to take a look at them all for a better view of what Japan was like in the late Edo- early Meiji-era.

▼ “Lake of Biwa from Miidera”


▼ “Having a rest (smoking and serving tea)”


▼ “A curio store”


▼ “A fruit stand”


▼ “Cherry tree at Kanazawa”


▼ “Chionin Temple at Kyoto”


▼ “A busy street”


Because of historical remnants such as these we can see just how drastically both society and photography have changed over the past century, but such scenes as temple grounds and blossoming cherry trees show the history and traditions that have been preserved to this day.

Sources and images: Wikipedia, Japaaan, NYPL Digital Collections
Top image: Japaaan (edited by RocketNews24)