Ryukichi Shibuya

Untitled (Cigarettes, camera & coffee)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ryukichi Shibuya 1904–1995
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image (top): 141 × 181 mm
image (bottom): 156 × 249 mm
support: 298 × 249 mm
Presented by Jacqui Brantjes and Daniel Pittack 2010


This black and white photographic print comprises two images of a miniature camera, one of the first examples of ‘Midget Cameras’ (‘Mizetto’ in Japanese), which were distributed by Misuzu Shokai from 1937 to the early 1950s. In both the images, Shibuya has positioned the camera alongside small everyday objects – cigarettes, a cigarette packet and a coffee cup – to emphasise the scale of the miniature camera. In the upper image, Shibuya has conveyed a sense of perspective by placing the objects on a ribbed surface that casts parallel shadows created by dramatic lighting from the right-hand side, the same directional lighting used in the lower image. The print was originally part of a hand-printed studio portfolio assembled and bound by Shibuya to showcase his advertising work.

Born in 1907 in Kofu City (Yamanashi Prefecture), Ryukichi Shibuya was a leading advertising photographer in Japan throughout the 1930s and 1940s. After working as a portrait photographer for Sahshin no Ie (‘Photography House’) in Tokyo from 1931 to 1933, Shibuya opened Shibuya Commercial Photo Studio in 1934. He also taught and lectured at various photo clubs, at Meiji University, Waseda Commerce School and Mita Advertisement Research Group. Characterised by modernist techniques and Bauhaus approaches to commercial design, Shibuya’s photographic work was widely published in photography magazines of the time such as Asahi Camera, and was included in major exhibitions such as the 1956 International Subjective Photography show at the Takashimaya Gallery in Tokyo.

The 1930s saw a significant increase in the number of camera clubs and photography magazines in Japan for both amateur and professional photographers. They promoted avant-garde artistic movements from Europe, particularly principles advanced by the Bauhaus, such as attention to form and shadow and the creation of formal compositions from everyday objects and materials. In 1932 for instance, the first issue of the photography magazine Koga (meaning ‘Light Picture’) published a landmark essay by the Japanese critic Ina Nobuo entitled ‘Return to Photography’, which introduced concepts developed by the German critic Franz Roh and the Hungarian photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. In addition to these camera clubs and magazines, the German exhibition ‘Film und Foto’ (originally staged in Stuttgart in 1929 and accompanied by a key publication by Roh) travelled to Japan in 1931 and provided a showcase for many of the most famous American and European modernist photographers including Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy, Albert Renger-Patzsch and Alexander Rodchenko.

Further reading
Norihiko Matsumoto, Ryuichi Kaneko and Deborah 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

Shibuya was a leading advertising photographer in Japan. In 1936 he won first prize in the Asahi Advertising Contest for his photographic storyboard for an advertisement for Crème de lait, a women’s hand cream. Shibuya exhibited widely throughout the 1930s and 1940s, and in 1952 formed the Japan Commercial Photographers Association. The photographs on this wall were part of a hand-printed studio portfolio, assembled and bound by Shibuya to showcase his work.

Gallery label, June 2011

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