It's been a long time coming. A purchase I made nearly 40 years ago has recently propelled me back into a project that has been on a very slow simmer for decades. The purchased items were 2 small wooden boxes that were both filled with glass lantern slides. They were greatly appreciated, but their origins were entirely unknown - until now.
These slides are film positives that are attached to one piece of 3 1/4" x 4" glass plate as a gelatin layer, and then covered with another glass pane of equal size and thickness as protection. Once they're paired into a sandwich, they get bound with a gum-backed cloth binding tape to seal out dirt and anything volatile that could harm the image. These photos can then be inserted into a projector made specifically to hold the glass slides and then can be projected for viewing on any surface.
One of these two boxes contained someone's black and white personal photographs, mixed in with a few school-house instructional slides geared towards agriculture and economics. They may have been somewhat mundane in subject matter and a little tattered on the bindings, but to a photographer like me, they were interesting just the same. With a bit of digging I managed to find a few jewels within the lumps of coal.
Box number two was quite a different story. The slides were obviously produced commercially and were in an unbelievably great state as they looked almost new - as if the day that they were created was in the weeks or months before I opened the box to get a better look. It turns out they were far from new, and oh so far from ordinary or familiar.
I had spent more time haggling with the antique dealer about a final price in the last 20 minutes before the antiques show's door would close for the final night, than actually looking at what the slides contained. The following day left me with a lot of "wow" and "holy shit" moments with my mouth wide open when I went through everything in that 2nd box. I'd bought myself 127 hand-colored photos preserved as lantern slides, with every one as vibrant and color saturated as the day they were bound. There was no mistake that these were the work of someone remarkable.
Every image was unmistakably from or of Japan or of it's citizen's, since there were no western faces to be seen anywhere. Everyone pictured was in their everyday clothes that couldn't be misinterpreted as anything but Japanese. Many photos were of outdoor locations, like gardens or temples or simply what most of us would recognize much later on as 'street photography' scenes. These weren't merely photos of a different country, they were time capsules of a very different time. And by different time, I mean 1895-1905.
There was only one hint of where these had come from, that took the form of a single and small label under the glass at the front of each slide. Each one began with the letter "S", followed by a series of numbers - and then a brief caption of what was pictured. There were no other markings aside from the later-affixed consecutively numbered labels on the outside of the glass plates. I presume these were someone's scheme for what order to project them in.
I was determined to find out who created these, and the 'where' and 'whys' that go along with the answer.
To follow along with my progress on this expanding project, I've created a separate site to detail the journey... https://t-enami.com