Geisha 芸者 group dancing with fans 扇子


Hand coloured albumen print
(Not attributed)
Circa 1880
D. 21 × 27 cm or 
8 1/4 x 10 5/8 in

Video presentation


This studio photograph immerses the viewer in the fantasy world of geisha. This subject gives rise to a dynamic composition despite a long exposure time during which the models had to remain static. The work on the position of the bodies in space brings a great vivacity to this composition, skilfully orchestrated. It is in front of a screen that this group of women pose with fans 扇子 of the sensu type, i.e. they unfold. This accessory accompanies many traditional Japanese dances.

This photograph on albumen paper is part of the refined production of the Yokohama school, whose subtle tones and soft colour palette ensured its success, especially with Westerners.

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 appeal 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 suited to the technique used for the colouring, whose translucent aspect reinforces the naturalism of the representation.

Here, colour is used to emphasise the refinement of the kimonos and their motifs. Under the impetus of European photographers who settled in Japan when the treaty ports opened, clothing became a subject in its own right in Japanese photography. Raimund von Stillfried was one of the first to illustrate this trend around 1875, compiling a large number of views in albums under the title Views and Costumes of Japan. This title is evocative of the interest in Japanese clothing, such as the kimonos worn by geishas. This traditional Japanese dress corresponds in fact to the European taste for exoticism and their vision of a dreamed-of Japan, embodied by the souvenir photograph.

Condition report:

Fair condition with some light folds on the upper border and a small tear on the left side of the photograph.