Yasushiro Ishimoto, a master of photography in Chicago and in Kyoto

parisdiaPhotography5 Comments

Katsura Imperial Villa, 1981-1982, Kochi Prefecture, Ishimoto Yasuhiro Photo Center

Le Bal is a very special center for photography inaugurated in 2010 and located behind place Clichy in a discreet alleyway. The exhibition of 169 prints by Japanese American photographer Yasushiro Ishimoto, 1921-2012, is the most striking show I have ever seen there. And this is his first in Europe. Born in San Francisco, he was trained in Kochi, Japan, in an agricultural school before moving to Chicago and studying architecture and photography at the Institute of Design in 1948. In the early fifties, he returned to Japan and brought his radical eye to the country where his austerity and intellectual modernism deeply influenced his contemporaries. He was exhibited in 1953 at the age of 32, at MoMa, by Steichen who asked him in 1953,  to accompany the then curator of architecture, Arthur Drexler, to Japan. But he always considered Chicago as his home.

Chicago, Beach, 1948-1952, Kochi Prefecture, Ishimoto Yasuhiro Photo Center

The way the exhibition is laid out in brown (for Chicago), blue (for Japan) and white (for Katsura), enlightens his early period in Chicago and his later architectural shots in Katsura Imperial City in Kyoto, where he was the only photographer to be allowed because American. The images are very pure, striking and all in black and white. Some of them are reminiscent of Mondrian. The show starts on the ground floor with his Chicago pictures on the beach. Legs, legs, legs… The lower part of the leg, set in an architectural way, already. Legs with shorts showing, two women and a man, a man and a woman lying on the sand. The legs are striking and stand like high rise buildings. When you go down the long staircase, you discover the different partitions of the gallery and the extreme esthetical shock of the Katsura Imperial Villa (the Japanese Versailles built in 1666), which he made to look like a Bauhaus construction.

Katsura Imperial Villa, Middle Shoin and the New Goten viewed from the East, 1981-1982, Kochi Prefecture, Ishimoto Yasuhiro Photo Center

While photographing Katsura he met architect Kenzo Tange (1913-2005) and a strong friendship rose from this encounter. They produced an extraordinary book published in 1960 by Yale University Press “Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture“, signed Gropius, Tange and Ishimoto which can still be found today. Walter Gropius, who created the Bauhaus school in Weimar in 1919, was then teaching at Harvard. Ishimoto mentioned in an interview that Mies Van der Rohe‘s houses in Chicago inspired his vocation for architecture. So when he found in Katsura the same lines and pure style, he fell in love with the Villa.

Diane Dufour founder and director of Le Bal explains the modernity of Ishimoto’s style

But the series of pictures he took while still at the Institute of Design are also very intriguing. Founded in 1937 by Moholy-Nagy under the name of “New Bauhaus” the school taught art history and drawing as well as photography. This is when he produced the series “Beach”, “Doors” and “Little ones” on the children of the street in Chicago. Both architectural an minimalist for doors and very lively but precisely framed for Little ones. After spending six years in Japan, where he also photographed gardens in Ana abstract way, he returned to Chicago and shot more street scenes. In 1961, he returned to Japan where he remained until his death. Towards 2002 il photographs pedestrians in Shibuya and Shijuku almost without looking.

Chicago, Beach, 1948-1952, Kochi Prefecture, Ishimoto Yasuhiro Photo Center

More pictures in the snow of cars and doors are completely striking in their black and white contrasts. This exhibition was revelation for me and I strongly recommend you to go. The design of the exhibition is by Cyril Delhomme and it is curated by Diane Dufour.

Le Bal, is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 12 pm 7 pm.

Share this Post

5 Comments on “Yasushiro Ishimoto, a master of photography in Chicago and in Kyoto”

  1. J’y cours en te remerciant, chère Laure, d’attirer mon attention sur ce photographe que je ne connaissais pas.

  2. Hi Laure
    I’ve sent this to my TATE photography group. My friend Yasafumi Nakamori (former head of photography at TATE) wrote an essay for the catalogue of this show. I hope to see it !!
    With love, Lucy x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *