Artist Profile – Felice Beato

Felice Beato is an English photographer who was born in Italy and did the majority of his work in Japan. He was one of the most celebrated photographers in Japan in the 19th century. He was also one of the first war photographers of his time. From 1863-1877 he ran a photographic studio in Yokohama, Japan and employed Japanese watercolourists and ukiyo-e woodblock printmakers to tint his photographs. These prints could take up to 12 hours to complete only 2 or 3 prints as they had to be very meticulous in their painting. Each watercolorist would be assigned a specific area to complete on the prints eg. one on faces, one on clothes etc. This allowed for Beato to have control of the images so that they met his satisfaction.

Beato hand coloured monochrome albumen prints made from wet collodion or dry plate negatives to create his final images. These recreations of Japanese scenes were highly popular. He saw the appeal of these hand coloured images when creating them, both artistically and commercially. And it was during his time in japan from 1863-1884 that he created these hand coloured photographs for the first time. His photographs would represent daily life and were after taken outdoors. Then pigments and dyes would be added to display the natural colours that would’ve been seen if the viewer were actually there.


Felice Beato


In his series entitled ‘Native Types’ which he produced from 1864 – 1867 consisted of 100 portraits of generic scenes of Japan at that time. These included people who were craftsmen, physicians, street acrobats, rickshaw drivers and young women in winter clothing or playing musical instruments. The aim of this series was to acquaint people who had never visited these places with what were typical everyday events in that country. As this was the aim obviously colour needed to be added to portray it effectively. Especially with the country being Japan, which is known for its vibrant colours, especially red. This is seen in the image above where most of the colours are pale apart from the red which stands out and portrays this culture.

The colour on this image has been placed very thoughtfully as it has only been added where the light would have hit, making the colour visible. For example, the blue coat at the front of the frame. There are areas which have not been coloured, this has been done purposefully  and shows the thought and care that has done into the choice and application of colour. Additionally, the choice of colours have been decided upon based on what compliments each other on the print which is beneficial to the overall effect of the image.

When thinking about this work in regards to what I will be producing, I want to apply my colour meticulously, as has been done with the work of Felice Beato. Additionally, I really like the way that the watercolour looks on the print so I will experiment with the use of watercolour paints within my own work.


  • Lacoste, A. and Ritchin, F. (2010) Felice Beato: a photographer on the Eastern road. Los Angeles: J Paul Getty Museum Pubns
  • Roberts, P. (2007) A century of colour photography: from the autochrome to the digital age. London: Andre Deutsch
  • Portner, J. (no date) ‘Making Over Early Photographs with Color|The Getty Iris’, Available at: (Accessed: 31 March 2015)

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