Kiyohiko Komura

Two Abstract Forms


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Kiyohiko Komura 1899–1969
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 238 × 238 mm
support: 241 × 241 mm
Presented by Jacqui Brantjes and Daniel Pittack 2010


This gelatin silver print depicts a pair of bent knees cut off from the legs to which they should be attached, floating against a pale background similar in colour to the skin of the knees. The image was created by underexposing the area surrounding the knees in a manner similar to solarisation. 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.

Born in Nagoya in 1899, Kiyohiko 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.

Further reading
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
March 2012

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Display caption

Little is known of the photographer Kiyohiko Komura who was active in Japan in the 1940s, although his work shows a strong modernist influence, and combines an interest in form with an innovative approach to photographic processes. His series of three abstractions was produced by making photographic close-ups of anatomical forms, and in some cases overlaying multiple negatives.

Gallery label, June 2011

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