Hanaya Kanbee

Light C

1930, printed 1970s

Not on display

Hanaya Kanbee 1903–1991
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Support: 257 × 203 mm
image: 234 × 192 mm
Presented anonymously 2015


Light C is one of a series of three photographs in Tate’s collection in which Hanaya Kanbee experimented with long exposures and the movement of a light source resulting in abstractions of light and shadow. Here the traces of light appear as a flecks and dashes across the image plane, with one large, blurred crescent shape dominating the middle of the image. The other two photographs, which were also made in 1930 but printed in the 1970s, are Light A (Tate T14389) and Light B (Tate T14390). Kanbee originally made all three works in 1930 as ferrotypes. This type of photograph, also known as a tintype, is one of the earliest photographic processes and is made by exposing a negative image onto a thin iron plate. The plate is then blackened with paint, lacquer or enamel and coated with photographic emulsion. The dark background lends the print the appearance of a positive image. The nature of this process means that ferrotypes are unique objects, so in order to replicate the images Kanbee made sets of ferrotyped gelatin silver prints on paper in the 1970s. The gelatin silver prints were made in the traditional manner, but dried in direct contact with a polished plate leaving the prints with a glossy appearance. The original ferrotypes of Light A, Light B and Light C are held in the collection of the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History in Japan. The later ferrotyped gelatin silver prints are not editioned and it is not clear how many Kanbee made from the original set of ferrotypes as only very few are known about.

Born in Osaka in 1903, Kanbee (also spelt Kanbei) opened a photographic supply store in Ashiya in 1929 and co-founded the Ashiya Camera Club (1930–42), Japan’s leading avant-garde photographic group of the period. Its members, often amateur photographers, experimented with various darkroom techniques and approaches to composition that connected them with the modernist sensibilities of their contemporaries in Western Europe, particularly the practices associated with the New Vision, dada and surrealism. This radical approach was part of the ‘Shinko Shashin’, or ‘New Photography’, movement which gave rise to many avant-garde photography groups across Japan during this period. Describing the Ashiya Camera Club within this context, the curator Ryuichi Kaneko has noted how its members’ ‘imaginative style ... expressed in photograms, photomontages, and classic female portraits’ stood apart from the more ‘literal’ strand of the New Photography that emerged from Tokyo (Ryuichi Kaneko, Modern Photography in Japan 1915–1940, exhibition catalogue, Ansel Adams Center, San Francisco 2001, unpaginated). The expressive and experimental style seen in these works is typical of Kanbee’s practice, which continued late into his photographic career with the publication of his photographs in the short-lived but influential magazine Provoke, published in Japan between 1968 and 1970.

The Light series is considered to be one of Kanbee’s most important works. Examples of the later prints have been included in the exhibitions Japon des avant-gardes at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 1986; Japanese Photography in the 1930s at the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura and Hamaya, in 1988; and Art in Ashiya: Ashiya Camera Club 1930–1942 at the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History in 1998.

Further reading
Heinz Spielmann, Die Japanische Photographie: Geschichte, Themen, Strukturen, Cologne 1984, pp.44, 56, 62, 252 (there titled Revolving, Flying A and Flying B).
Japanese Photography in the 1930s, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura 1988, pp.238–40.
Art in Ashiya: Ashiya Camera Club 1930–1942, Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, Ashiya 1998, reproduced pls.69–71.

Emma Lewis
December 2014

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