Ogawa's Floral Revolution

Discover the seminal photography of Kazumasa Ogawa

K Ogawa PortraitDulwich Picture Gallery

Kazumasa Ogawa

Kazumasa Ogawa (1860–1929) was born in Saitama prefecture (now Greater Tokyo). His father was one of the last Samurai in Japan before their abolition in 1870. Despite his noble background, Ogawa was an ambitious industrialist. 

After studying English in Tokyo as a teenager, he apprenticed himself to the photographer Yoshiwara Hideo. 

K Ogawa PortraitDulwich Picture Gallery

At just seventeen years old, Ogawa opened his own photographic studio. Five years later he signed on as a crew member of the USS Swatara and set sail for the US to study photography, making him the first Japanese citizen to study photography abroad. 

Old court DressDulwich Picture Gallery

In 1884 Ogawa returned to Japan to capitalise on his newfound skills and opened a new studio in Tokyo. He became one of Japan’s most celebrated photographers, internationally recognised through books and published portfolios. 

Ogawa’s success can be credited, in part, to his mastery of the colour collotype process. 

Morning Glory (1896)Dulwich Picture Gallery

A Visual Revolution

A mechanical process for reproducing images from glass negatives, the collotype revolutionised visual communication in Japan. Combining his understanding of Japanese hand-colouring techniques, Ogawa could produce prints of up to 25 different tones, which he called ‘chromo-collotypes’. 

Elsewhere in the world, six or eight colours per image was considered to be the maximum achievable colour range.

Lily PhotographDulwich Picture Gallery

Between 1894-1896 Ogawa produced a three-part series of photographs of native Japanese flowers, which were sold to foreign visitors. Through isolating the subject in close range, and utilising the chromo-collotype technique, Ogawa produced still-life photographs with a highly modern aesthetic.

Japanese Azaleas by Kazumasa OgawaDulwich Picture Gallery

More colourful than any photograph that had come before them, his work contributed to the Western perception of Meiji-era Japan as a source of new inspiration for design.

Lily PhotographDulwich Picture Gallery

The most recognised work from Kazumasa Ogawa comes from his published portfolio Lilies of Japan (1896). This collection of 12 collotype prints of the finest Japanese Lily specimens were presented initially as  black and white images, and then as coloured chromo-collotypes in the publication Some Japanese Flowers at around the same time.

Chrysanths by Kazumasa OgawaDulwich Picture Gallery

Another hugely popular floral export from Japan is the Chrysanthemum. Ogawa documented these in his second publication picturing Japan’s glorious flowers Chrysanthemums of Japan (1895). 

Chrysanths on displayDulwich Picture Gallery

Alongside Ogawa’s signature minimalist style, this volume also gave collectors an opportunity to see Japan’s native flowers lavishly displayed 

Paeony (1896)Dulwich Picture Gallery

Some Japanese Flowers

Between 1894 and 1896 other flower specimens photographed by Ogawa were collated and presented as various portfolios bearing the title Some Japanese Flowers

These multi coloured collections have since been re-published as a single volume of reproductions which is available via the gallery’s online shop: http://dpg.art/some-japanese-flowers

The Art of Flower ArrangingDulwich Picture Gallery

Daily Life

During his career Ogawa produced many volumes of photographs documenting daily life in Japan. Due, in part, to technological limitations at the time these were typically staged portraits as opposed to ‘action shots’. We do, however, see a shuttlecock suspended in mid-air in one of these images. 

ShuttlecockDulwich Picture Gallery

Although many high speed photographic systems were developed between 1890 and 1930 (before the invention of stroboscopic flash) it is more likely that the shuttlecock is in fact suspended via some invisible wire to give the impression of it flying through the air. 

Outdoor CostumeDulwich Picture Gallery

Look carefully at this image and you will notice that the model is not outdoors at all. This ‘winter scene’ has in fact been carefully crafted from bamboo and cotton. Such were the limitations of photographic technology at the time, that it was often easier to reconstruct real life in the studio.

Mount Fuji (1897)Dulwich Picture Gallery


A true expression of hand-colouring flair, this landscape scene featuring Japan’s most famous mountain could just as easily be a watercolour painting. It wasn’t until some 30 years later that the tension between photography and modern art would peak, partly due to developments in colour photography.

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