Imaichi Road to Nikko
Hand coloured albumen print
D. 19,5 × 26,5 cm
This photograph, printed on albumen paper and then hand-coloured, is part of the refined production of the Yokohama school, which was very successful with Western clients. It depicts the village of Imaichi, which is the last stop on the Nikkō Kaidō road, linking the capital to the famous Nikkō shrine since the Edo period. Initially a sacred place of Buddhism and Shinto, the Nikkō site, on which numerous temples are built, has become a popular holiday resort since the Meiji era.
Thousands of Japanese cedars were planted in the 17th century under the order of the feudal ruler Mastsudaira Masatsuna, of which nearly 12,500 specimens remain today. These Japanese cedars, cryptomeres to be precise, are sacred trees in Shintoism. They give this photograph a majestic vertical momentum, while the mere presence of humans gives scale to the gigantism of these trees.
The photographers take views of the site and its surroundings, producing souvenir photos for Westerners who visit for pleasure. These photographs quickly found their way into Western collections, as they were produced for European and American clients.
This sacred landscape is sublimated by the subtle colour palette, highlighting the texture of the trunks and the rays of light that bathe them. Although the use of colour, so typical of Japanese photography, was initially intended as a documentary tool, it is now widely used for its aesthetic aspect and contributes to the originality of Japanese production. Hand-coloured, these photographs bear witness to a specific know-how, and the translucent colours are obtained from pigments mixed with bone glue (nikawa). This technique is particularly suited to the paper used for the print, whose main component is albumen. This warm-toned paper is particularly suitable for the colouring technique, whose translucent aspect reinforces the naturalism of the representation.
Condition report: Very good condition