This untitled gelatin silver print depicts the top of a pair of legs and buttocks, although the image has been cropped and underexposed to render the body parts difficult to recognise. Much of Kiyohiko Komura’s work involved photographing specific parts of the human body and using darkroom techniques to transform these images into abstract formal arrangements of light and shadow. In this example, Komura has manipulated the image in the darkroom so that the thighs and buttocks might easily be mistaken for the area around the armpit.
Born in Nagoya in 1899, Komura was an amateur photograph and worked for Todai Bank until the great Showa depression of 1929. Camera clubs and magazines for both amateur and professional photographers were cultivated in Nagoya where, in 1936, Shuntaro Narita launched a magazine called Camera Man. It published images taken by photographers associated with the Nagoya and Kansai photography clubs, including pictures by Komura, who was an active member of such clubs, and works by Niryu Nagata and Yoshio Namiki. Renowned Japanese photographer Minayoshi Takada joined the editorial team and the magazine promoted avant-garde photography trends by introducing the work of Yasui Nakaji and Yoshio Shimozato among others. In November 1940, censorship put an end to the magazine.
Komura served in the army during the Second World War but continued to take photographs and make drawings while travelling around Japan and China. After the war Komura resumed his photographic experiments and worked as a photographer documenting Nagoya’s architectural heritage.
Komura’s photographic work has its roots in the modernist movements of the 1930s when many photographers attempted to produce abstract formal compositions from everyday objects and materials by simply manipulating light and shadows in the darkroom. By the late 1940s, and under the influence of other forms of abstract art, photographic work of this kind began to be described as ‘Subjective Photography’. The German photographer Otto Steinert was the most well-known theorist of this type of photography and, although it is not known whether Komura was influenced directly by Steinert or his ideas, the Japanese photographer’s work shares many characteristics with Steinert’s.
R. Kaneko, N. Matsumoto, D. Klochko, Modern Photography in Japan 1915–1940, Carmel, California 2001.
Anne Tucker (ed.), The History of Japanese Photography, New Haven and London 2003.
Sashin Ni Kaere, Return to Photography: Japanese Photography of the 1930s, exhibition catalogue, Zen Foto Gallery, Tokyo 2010.
Inès de Bordas