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T. Enami
A rediscovered Meiji master

T. Enami (1859-1929) was one of Japan‘s most successful photographers during the Meiji and Taisho eras. While offering many of the same services and productions as his contemporaries, he also engaged in other activities that made him unique. All told, Enami was the only Japanese professional photographer known to have worked in all commercial formats of his time.
He was one of only a few photographers born in Japan‘s old Edo period to successfully grow out of his roots as a traditional maker of the classic, large-format "Yokohama Shashin" albums, finding new techniques and modes of expression that were ahead of his time.
Over the years, he became a living link between the style of the early Meiji-period masters, and the sensibilities of the "Taisho Art" pictorial movement in the early 20th Century. Enami would not retire or put a cap on the lens until his camera had eventually panned across the first four years of the Showa era under Emperor Hirohito, whereupon his long life finally came to an end.
The wide-ranging activities of his professional life included, but were not limited to being the cameraman behind:
  1. all sizes of Souvenir "Yokohama Shashin" photograph albums consisting of hand-tinted studio and scenic views of Japan, all bound with Gold and Cherry Lacquered covers;
  2. all sizes of private studio portrait work;
  3. private visits to photograph the homes of foreign residences, or family groups gathered there;
  4. copy and enlargement services for existing photographs brought in by customers;
  5. numerous tipped-in photos for the American [Boston] published Brinkley Japan sets;
  6. Japan‘s finest stereoviews;
  7. numerous postcards issued by local and foreign publishers;
  8. the finest hand-colored lantern-slides in both British and American standard sizes;
  9. larger glass transparencies for display;
  10. mammoth prints for display;
  11. stock-photos for "anonymous" album makers and raw print wholesalers;
  12. images for book publishers and advertisers;
  13. contributor to commercial photo and picture services;
  14. photo-processing, printing, and enlarging for amateurs and tourists traveling through Japan;
  15. classic images for International Photo Exhibitions;
  16. several of the Japan images in The Philadelphia Museums print series;
  17. the establishment of branch studios outside of Japan;
  18. the only commercial images of other Asian countries to be advertised and sold out of a Japanese-based studio, including stereoviews of the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and many regions of China;
  19. photographs from home and abroad taken as an Imperial Army Photographer during the Russo-Japan War;
  20. a large portion of the realism of Burton Holmes lantern-slides, Enami‘s studio being one of the first employed by Holmes to add the careful, detailed colors to the international image content of the live Travelogue lectures;
  21. a respectable portion of Burton Holmes Travelogue book illustrations of Japan;
  22. the 100-view set of JAPAN Stereoviews published by both Ingersoll (as real photos), and as the best selling Sears, Roebuck & Co JAPAN set (as three-color litho-views), this being the only popular 3D "photo-essay" published in the West that showed Japan from a Japanese photographer‘s point of view;
  23. a fine series of Mount Fuji folio images published by the famous K. Ogawa; and
  24. being an honored member of that special alumni of photographers whose credited photographs have appeared on the pages of National Geographic Magazine—in Enami’s case, at least four issues.

T. Enami was born Enami Nobukuni on 17 February, 1859 in the city of Tokyo (then called Edo or Yedo). Like many of his well-known contemporaries, Enami was an "old timer" who came into the world during the Bakumatsu era, when the Shogun and various military vassals ruled Japan. Men wore their hair up in top-knots, "rickshaws" were yet to be seen on the streets, and the Meiji-era restoration of the Emperor was still almost ten years away.
Auspiciously, 1859 was also the year Yokohama opened its port to the world, and when Pierre Rossier arrived to photograph the first commercial images of Japan—a set of 25 stereoviews for the British firm of Negretti & Zambra.
Virtually nothing is known of Enami’s early years. As a young boy, he probably never imagined he would see three Emperors ascend to the Chrysanthemum throne, or that he would spend most of his life with a camera, capturing the people and places of Japan during three of the four tumultuous eras his long life would touch on. However, at some point he was drawn to the world of photography, and that‘s where we are again able to pick up the story.
He appears on the scene in his mid-to-late twenties as a student of the pioneering photographer and collotypist K.Ogawa, eventually becoming one of his assistants. It is possible that Enami was the camera operator behind some of the images credited to Ogawa‘s studio, as he had already developed a skilled technique by the time he launched out on his own.
The above description of Enami as a Student of Ogawa naturally brings to mind a picture of an "Elder Master" taking a "Young Novice" under his wing. But in fact, Ogawa was born in 1860, making Enami his senior by a year. They were both in their 20s, and their relationship probably hinged on a different spirit than that which would have been established during the strictures of the old Bakumatsu era.
It is not surprising to find that the already "internationalized" and younger Ogawa (who had developed a degree Western sensibilities during his time as a student of photography in America) had no qualms about teaching his "older brother" Enami both the art and rapidly changing science of photography. It is possible that he sensed from the start that "latecomer" Enami had something of his own artistic sentiments and business sense. One might also wonder if there was already an established friendship existing between the two. In any event, the elder was taught by the younger, and in the end, although their creative paths took different directions, their eventual professional equality led to a life-long cooperation and friendship.
After leaving Tokyo to set up his own commercial studio in Yokohama, and his talent and reputation on solid footing, Enami continued to meet over the years with his "Younger Brother and Teacher", as well as with friends and professionals who formed a part of the Ogawa Alumni Association. Strangely, the long, remarkable, and intertwined lives of these two creative men would cooincidentally come to a close in 1929.
At age thirty-three, Enami moved from Tokyo to Yokohama, establishing his first studio at No.9 Benten-Dori (Benten Street) in April 1892. Benten Street was one of Japan‘s most famous international shopping districts, and a virtual "Photographers Row" of famous studio names, including the location of Kusakabe Kimbei‘s first studio.
It is not known how Enami gained his prime spot along this important thoroughfare, or how he financed the establishment of his fledgling studio with all of the building modifications, props, and equipment needed. Without discounting the possibility that Enami had some independent wealth to rely on, it is possible to speculate that the highly successful K. Ogawa had a part in sponsoring the launch of his former student. In any case, the timing and location was right, and Enami appears to have been successful from the start.
Although his given name (first name) was Nobukuni, he began his business by taking the professional "trade name" of T. Enami—not N. Enami. It appears that the T stood for Toshi, an alternate "name reading" of Nobu, the first Chinese character of his name. The name T. Enami, and all studio-related advertising, documents and ephemera would be done in English, or "Romanized Japanese" using the alphabet. Only in the Yokohama phone books and business directories would his studio appear listed in the Japanese language—using his real given name Nobukuni.
Six months after the studio opened, his first son Tamotsu was born. Tamotsu would eventually take over the T. Enami Photographic Studio in 1929. Later researchers confronted with these two names thought that Tamotsu Enami was the full name of T. Enami, resulting in the father’s photographs being attributed to his son. However, the father and son shared the T only by coincidence. To further complicate matters, Enami’s first wife (mother of Tamotsu) died soon after the birth of Tamotsu. Enami later remarried, and his second wife bore him a son whom they named Tomojiro—another T ! All that can be said of Enami‘s love for the letter T is that it led many photo-researchers astray.
Enami‘s studio at No.9 was a few doors down from the already-famous Tamamura Kozaburo located at No.2. Enami’s senior by three years, Tamamura had opened his first studio in Tokyo at age eighteen, and had moved to Benten Street nine years before Enami arrived. Tamamura had not been a student of K. Ogawa. However, like Enami, he maintained a close and friendly relationship with K. Ogawa.
These three men would occasionally come together to combine their images for both domestic and international works of photographic art—the most well known being the multi-volume Brinkley sets of Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese (Millet: Boston, Various editions 1897-1910). In these volumes, only K. Ogawa is given credit for his contribution of the beautiful frontispiece collotype flower images.
By the turn of the century, Enami had established his first overseas branch studio in Hong Kong, followed closely by two studios in the Philippines—at Dagupan and Manila. Here again, the camera-toting Enami sets himself apart by engaging in activity unique among his contemporaries. A survey of all Japanese Photographer and Studio advertisements for the entire Meiji-era finds T. Enami expanding his local dark-room work to include a portfolio of images beyond the shores of Japan, making him the only Japan-based photographer to advertise both stock photographs and stereoviews of the Philippines and Singapore, as well as several locations throughout China.
After examining the few Enami images now identified from China and the Philippines, it appears that Enami took the actual commercial images of these locations that appeared for sale in his Yokohama studio. On the other hand, personal portraits were probably taken by the studio photographers appointed by Enami. Other images might also be the work of amateurs, and simply processed and mounted by the studios. The "professionalism" of any image in question, as well as whether the subject is of a "genre" nature or a personal memento, should help in making a tentative judgment as to who was behind the camera.
Also at this critical turn-of-the-century time, Enami‘s stereoview series of Japan were becoming popular in several countries, and both T.W. Ingersoll (Saint Paul, Minnesota) and Griffith & Griffith (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) offered 100s of Enami titles—all unaccredited—sold by door-to-door canvassers across the USA and Canada. Meanwhile, back in Japan, Enami‘s beautifully tinted lantern-slides made from half-stereoviews were in demand by businessmen, missionaries, and the wealthier tourists passing through. His negative stock for classic album views already exceeded 1000 (and possibly over 1500) titles at this time, and was probably matched or exceeded by the title list for the far more useful stereoviews.
With exotic Japan always in the News for one thing or another, and the unceasingly popular Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado continuing to make the rounds of the world’s theaters, the rush for images of "Fairy Land Japan" was at its peak. From 1900 to 1910, Enami‘s 3D images were published as real-photos in full or in part by Griffith & Griffith, and T.W. Ingersoll, C.H. Graves, Underwood & Underwood, George Rose of Australia, E.W. Kelly, Presco, Stereo-Travel Co, German NPG, Universal Stereoscope, and many other odd makers spread throughout North America and Europe.
During this time, the old French firm of LL—Leon & Family (formerly Leon & Levy)—offered a collotype postcard series of two-dozen Enami stereoviews. These views were even sold by the Louvre Museum in Paris—a name synonymous with all that is art.
When the Russo-Japan War broke out in 1904, Enami, already in his 40s, joined the Imperial Army as a military photographer. His many wartime photographs were published in at least one Japanese book, and his stereoviews of home-front activities found their way into the still booming market for stereoviews.
Australian stereo-photographer George Rose visited Japan, Korea, and China at the height of the "war fever". Rose was a skilled and artistic photographer, and normally did not rely on others to fill out his view lists. However, his time in Japan was limited, preventing him from taking the many months necessary for a full 3-D tour. Impressed with Enami‘s images, he appears to have made some sort of deal with Enami to obtain full-plate 3-D copy negatives or prints to cover some of the areas and subjects he missed. Rose returned "down under" with this selection of Enami‘s older peacetime images that nicely filled out his own line of stereoviews taken while in Japan. He carefully reworked the negatives to fit his larger cabinet format, and added easy-to-read "stereo-captions".
Although the first Sears Roebuck & Co. offering of Enami images was in a small 1904 set, in 1905 they wanted to offer a new and more extensive line of Japan stereoviews for sale in their "Big Book" catalog, which was already seeing a press-run of over 6,000,000 copies per issue. After obtaining rights from Ingersoll to 100 of Enami‘s stereoviews, they converted the relatively expensive real-photo originals into cheap, three-color lithographs. Boxed up in 100-view sets with great catalog fanfare, they were sold in untold numbers across America. For almost five years, this was one of Sears’ best-selling stereoview items.
Even today, these colored 3D lithographs remain ubiquitous finds in flea markets. In fact, any half-tone litho-view by any publisher of a Japan proper image—as long as it does not have an H.C. White copyright on it—is from a photograph by T. Enami.
Of course, Enami himself had no control over the quality of these litho-views—the sometimes gaudy coloring was not his, and, looked at through the stereoscope, the half-tone dots might as well have been polka-dots. However, they remain valuable for showing Enami‘s studio props and a portion of his inventory—all extremely important in helping to identify his real-photo images found on both classic stereoviews, and incredibly detailed lantern-slides.
Although Enami continued to offer stereoviews—apparently until 1923—the boom had leveled off by about 1910. As the 3-D market diminished, the demand for postcards, which had really taken off during the 1900-1910 period, appeared to keep growing. Enami, who was always on top of the latest photographic trends, probably contributed to the mass of images found on Japanese scenic postcards found from this period. His views have been identified on many series, both Japanese and foreign.
1912 was the last year of the Meiji era, and also the first year of the Taisho era. Just prior to the death of Emperor Meiji, Enami’s old teacher, K. Ogawa, decided to publish a plate book of Mount Fuji photographs. Besides selecting his own best images of Mt. Fuji for inclusion in the new book, Ogawa invited only two other Japanese photographers to contribute—Tamamura, and Enami. When the new folio-sized FUJI SAN appeared (Tokyo: Ogawa Photo Press, 1912), Ogawa had used seven of his own images, with Tamamura having been allowed six. However, Enami had been given the most attention with eleven of his credited photographs on display.
When Japan entered the Taisho era (1912-26), Enami had beyond all doubt established himself as the Japanese King of the small-format image. He emerged successfully from his humble start in 1892 when surrounded by the already famous, well-established souvenir album makers of the time. Enami‘s continued strength in the photography market seemed to be found in fulfilling a continuing demand for his well-regarded small-format images.
In 1914, the Imperial Japan Government Railways published their English language Official Guide to North-Eastern Japan. For tourists needing photographic services, they listed several studios in Yokohama. Besides Enami, the list also included the venerable studios of Farsari, Kimbei, and Tamamura. However, while these others received only a posting of name and address, Enami’s listing was given added notice of "…Colored Lantern-slides, Stereoscopic Views…" - the two things that he had become noted for. These glass slides (again, many being made from the stereoviews and album images he took during the 1895-1905 late-Meiji period) were well used by missionary organizations and educational services.
The world-wide list of books about Japan that used his photographs to help illustrate their pages continued to grow. By 1920, although many of Enami‘s old-time contemporaries still maintained their studios and negative files, they quietly faded, while Enami’s star continued to rise.
Most professional free-lance, journal and nature photographers would be happy having their photographs appear even once on the pages of National Geographic Magazine. During his life, and even after his death, Enami’s images appeared in at least four issues. He was alive to see the first two, when in 1921 and 1922, his now-credited photos landed on the pages of this yellow-bordered journal of the world’s finest photography. Many more of his photographs quietly joined the Society‘s bank of unpublished images.
A New York Times supplement devoted a full page to one of his Mt. Fuji compositions. His good friend, British missionary, photographer, and mountaineer Walter Weston also had two books coming up that would use Enami‘s images.
1922 was also the year when prolific British editor Sir John Hammerton chose over thirty black-and-white and color T. Enami images to illustrate the Japan chapter of his seven-volume Peoples of all Nations (London: Fleetway House, 1922) A color, full-plate Enami image was also chosen as the frontispiece for the later two-volume abridgment. These various versions became best sellers, and put Enami‘s images in the hands of over 12,000,000 subscribers in all the countries of the British Empire. Unfortunately, a great injustice occurred when Hammerton credited all of the images to Walter Weston, who had passed them to Hammerton on behalf of Enami. Ironically, Weston himself was always careful to credit Enami in his own works.
1922. Enami, in his early 60‘s, was at the top of his game. Via lantern-slides and printed publications, his images of Japan were experiencing an unprecedented distribution around the world. As for classic real-photo prints, the late photo-historian Frances Fralin stated, "Enami was known to have submitted pictures to several international photo salons held in the United States".
September 1st, 1923. Noon. The Great Kanto Plains Earthquake was one of the largest recorded quakes in the history of Japan. Books were written about it then, and are still being written now. In Yokohama and Tokyo, 140,000 to 160,000 souls were either crushed to death, burned beyond recognition, or had the air sucked from their lungs, suffocating them in the whirlwind firestorm that followed in the hours after the initial quake brought everything down.
Although T. Enami and his entire family escaped in the confusing mass exodus that ensued immediately following the collapse of the buildings, in the fire that followed hours later, his Studio of over twenty one years was wiped off the map. In England, Walter Weston would soon bring attention to Enami’s talent, as well as his plight. Writing in the introduction to his book Japan (London: A&C Black, 1926) Weston would state,
"The handsomely reproduced illustrations (with the exceptions of those otherwise indicated) are from beautifully coloured lantern-slides produced by my old and valued helper, T. Enami, of Yokohama, in the studio that subsequently vanished in the fire following the earthquake of 1923."
By the end of 1925, Enami had established a temporary studio at a new location (No.2–41) on the still recovering Benten Street. Apparently, the location and conditions were less than ideal. Sometime between 1926 and 1929 he settled on a final property only a block away from his original No.9 location. In any case, it was apparently not until after Emperor Hirohito‘s 1926 ascension to the throne (ushering in the Showa era) that Enami opened for business at No.29 Bentendori.
Enami had risen from the ashes, and the business he knew and loved was growing again. However, his long and active life was now coming to a close. On April 16th, 1929, Nobukuni—T. Enami—passed away at age seventy. From age thirty-three, to the time of his death, he had never put his camera down. The boxes and bins of his studio were filled with photographic art and document touching the reigns of three Emperors—all in Enami’s ever-changing styles over the course of his dedicated career. His first son, Tamotsu, at age 36, took over the studio, and his father’s legacy.
[© Rob Oechsle - Jan 2008, used with permission] (Accessed Jan 8, 2009) 



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