Shikanosuke Yagaki

Banister Detail


Shikanosuke Yagaki 1897–1966
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 275 × 205 mm
Presented by Jacqui Brantjes and Daniel Pittack 2012


Banister Detail 1930–9 is a photograph taken by the Japanese modernist photographer Shikanosuke Yagaki. It depicts a close-up view of a section of staircase and an iron banister. The uneven patterns formed by the oblique angle of the banister demonstrate Yagaki’s interest in the formal potential of photography as a way of exploring composition through light and shadow.

The photograph was taken between 1930 and 1939, after interest in photography surged in Japan following the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. At this time, newspapers had become inexpensive and easy to circulate, and the documentary photographs of the disaster contained within the pages of the press increased the status of the photographic medium. As Tokyo was rebuilt, photographers continued to document the emergence of the modern city and the consequences of its refashioning in concrete, glass and steel. This modern Japanese photography movement became known as Shinko Shashin and magazines such as the Japan Photographic Annual and Asahi Camera, launched in 1925 and 1926 respectively, provided a platform for the work of its members. Many photographic clubs also emerged at this time, linked by the All Japan Association of Photographic Societies, which enabled exhibitions of its members’ work. Yagaki was an active member of three of these groups throughout the 1930s: the Sanwa Bank Photo Club, the Karashishi-kai Photo Group and the Kyoto Leica Club.

A further consequence of the increased appetite for photography in Japan was that exhibitions of work by European modernist and surrealist photographers were imported and toured the country, including a 1929 Werkbund exhibition of German photographs called Film und Foto, which featured the work of artists from the Bauhaus such as Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, Marianne Brandt and T. Lux Feininger. The influence of these European photographers can be observed in the images created by their Japanese counterparts, including those of Yagaki. His photographs, which are also represented in the Tate collection by works such as Untitled (Street lamp and shadow) 1930–9 (Tate P13148) and Untitled (Jazz) 1930–9 (Tate P13150), employ an unusual vantage point and focus on uncovering the unexpected beauty that can be found in the everyday. Yagaki’s work also embodies the Japanese idea of ‘wabi-sabi’, a philosophy that embraces the transient and the imperfect to capture a fleeting beauty. The convergence of these two influences is revealed in Yagaki’s sensitivity to the play of light, which enabled him to expand the viewer’s perspective by capturing the momentary shadows and reflections of his urban surroundings.

Despite a lack of professional training, Yagaki created a    modernist technique through his personal studies, combining a European    modernist sense of light and shadow with traditional Japanese subject matter    of Geisha, street life, architecture and still life. His work was widely exhibited    throughout Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, including the International Photo    Salons and the All Japan Association of Photographic Societies exhibitions.    

Further reading
   Ryuichi Kaneko, Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo 1993.
Gennifer Weisenfeld, Visual Cultures of Japanese Imperialism, Durham, North Carolina 2001.

Simon Baker
February 2011
Phoebe Roberts
May 2016

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