In Japan, the color red has varied meanings, depending on its shade. On the country’s flag, a bold, red circle depicts the vivacity of the sun; on clothing and makeup worn by women beginning in the Heian period, a deep red dye made from safflower denoted rank.
All photos by Felice Beato, courtesy of Galerie Verdeau, Paris and The London Photograph Fair
This crimson-like hue, along with other colors symbolic and not, was added with paint to photos taken in 1865 by Italian-British photographer Felice Beato. A prolific chronicler of the East, Beato was granted access to far-flung areas of Japan seldom seen by Westerners of his time. Though his earlier work in China has been characterized as imperialistic, his colorized pictures of samurai and courtesans from the Japanese Edo period have been lauded for capturing their subjects more honestly.
In the below images, a long-haired woman gazes apprehensively at the camera while bathing; two sumo wrestlers pose in unison; a crew of proud samurai don blue uniforms. Beato’s added shades of crimson and cherry give the viewer a fuller view of what the country was like just before Western infiltration.