Descendant of samurai and relentless entrepreneur, Ogawa Kazumasa opened Tokyo’s first photo studio, shot Japan’s art treasures, the 100 prettiest geisha in Tokyo and taught photography to the military. His legacy is these exquisite images of flowers.
In 1873, Ogawa Kazumasa (1860-1929) a 13 year old Tokyo schoolboy from a family of Samurai was introduced to photography by a British missionary. Enthused, he bought himself a second-hand camera and it seems it never left his hands. His career moved quickly. After leaving school he started an apprenticeship locallywith the photographer, Yoshiwara Hideo. By the time he was 17 he’d opened his own studio in Gumna Prefecture and established himself as a portrait specialist. He moved to Tokyo to improve his English then to Yokohama where he worked as a police interpreter whilst he learning more photographic skills from one of Japan’s first pro photographers, Shimooka Renjō. He left for America in 1882 becoming the first Japanese to study photography abroad. In Boston and in Philadelphia he took courses in portraiture and in the dry plate process as well as in collotype printing.
After two years in the US, he returned to Japan where he opened Tokyo’s first photographic studio. Within the next he launched his own dry plate manufacturing company (making the process available to other photographers) and Japan’s first collotype printing business. He also found time to edit Japan’s only photographic journal, Shashin Shinpō as well as working for the General Army Office as photography instructor and shooting 100 of Japan’s prettiest geisha in his book, Celebrated Geisha of Tokyo.
Kazumasa also captured military conflicts, Japan’s art treasures, temples and shot pictures for the American author, Alicia Little’s book on rural Chinese life, My Dairy in a Chinese Farm (1894).
It was in the late 1890s that Kazuma produced his magnum opus, a flurry of large hand coloured collotypes of Japanese flowers for an extravagant ten-volume photo book project. Like many of Ogawa’s publications, these images were aimed at the Western market and reflected both the revival of traditional Japanese culture at home in the 1890s and the growing Japonisme craze in the West. Kazuma’s flowersprobably constitute the most technically accomplished and well crafted photography produced in Japan at the end of the 19th century. Sensitively exposed and exquisitely hand coloured, they are certainly the most beautiful.