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Kotaro IIZAWA's essay

Photographers of Japan

Vol.8 "IWATA NAKAYAMA (1895-1949)"

by Kotaro Iizawa (Critic and historian of Photography)

Among photographers of Japan, there may not be anybody with a career more magnificent than that of Iwata NAKAYAMA. Born in 1895 at Yanagawa, southern city of Fukuoka, Japan, he was the first student to graduate from photography course at Tokyo School of the Arts (now Tokyo University of the Arts) in 1918. Within the same year, he moved to America to learn at California University. From there, he moved to New York and opened his portrait photo studio in 1921. By the April of 1926, he has moved to Paris, working for a fashion magazine and becoming friends with artists Man Ray and Futurism painter Enrico Prampolini, to deepen his experience as a photographer.

Returning to Japan on November of 1927, NAKAYAMA established his studio residence at Ashiya, Hyogo. In 1930, he formed Ashiya Camera Club along with Kanbei HANAYA and Kichinosuke BENITANI. In the same year, NAYAMAYA entered the 1st International Advertising Photography Exhibition held by Asahi News Paper Publishing, and was awarded the 1st prize with his "Fukusuke Tabi". NAKAYAMA continued his magnificent activities such as presenting new works in every issue of the photography magazine "Koga (Photograph)", which he published with Yasuzo NOJIMA and Ihei KIMURA in 1932. Works by members of Ashiya Camera Club, with NAKAYAMA as a centering figure, functioned as a leader for "Shinko shashin (New photography)" (Modernism for Japanese photography).

Claiming his own works as "Pure art photography", NAKAYAMA's style built a world of beauty by photograms and montages, which was not conventional in the world of Japanese photography then. In the article of "Camera Club" in January 1938, he wrote: "I admire beautiful things. If I am misfortunate and could not meet a beautiful thing, I will make it myself". With such hard aestheticism expression, he faced some criticisms and was often isolated in the era when the country was moving towards militarism. However, he was always proud of his doings and continued his search for the "state of narcissism".

From late 1930s to 1940s, NAKAYAMA's montage works became more deeply symbolic and freely. At the same time, he produced his master piece female portrait "A woman from Shanghai" (1936) and his series of nude portraits which could be described as the extreme point of eroticism. In 1945, the long-lasting war has finally came to an end, and photographers were able to create freely again. This should have applied to NAKAYAMA like all others, but unfortunately, his health which was worn away by the war did not allow that. NAKAYAMA passed away in 1949 with a cerebral hemorrhage. At th age of 53, he was still in the prime of his life.

Since 1980s, whilst "Shinko shashin" in Kansai (West Japan) was being re-evaluated, NAKAYAMA's works begun to be noticed again. After retrospective exhibitions at Ashiya city Museum of Art & History, The Shoto Museum of Art, Shibuya and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, we finally have the idea of overall view of his works. An assignment hereafter will be to re-evaluate his works in international perspective.

(Kotaro Iizawa)


Vol.16 "Ogawa Takayuki (1938 - 2008) − explorer of “shape” through photography"
Vol.15 "Kitai Kazuo - Capturing “a scene I once saw…”"
Vol.14 "Kazama Kensuke"
Vol.13 "Narahara Ikko - Double Vision"
Vol.12 "Q Ei and photo dessin"
Vol.11 "Fukuhara Shinzo 1883-1948 -- Japanese Landscape Photography"
Vol.10 "The city observer’s gaze Akihiko HIRASHIMA (1946~)"

Vol.9 "Hitoshi FUGO 1947- -- The unusual world of works which fuses thought and technique"
Vol.8 "Iwata NAKAYAMA (1895-1949)"
Vol.7 "KISEI KOBAYASHI (1968-)"
Vol.6 "Tamiko NISHIMURA (1948-)"
Vol.5 "Shigeo GOCHO (1946-83)"
Vol.4 "Shoji UEDA -Locality open to the world-"
Vol.3 "Yu OGATA, ICHIRO OGATA ONO -Dyslexia's picture of the world-"
Vol.2 "Eikoh Hosoe's theatrical imagination"
Vol.1 "maroon" -- Whereabouts of new works by Hiroshi Osaka


Born 1954 in Miyagi prefecture, Japan. Iizawa is a Japanese photography critic, historian of photography, and magazine editor.
He studied photography in Nihon University, graduating in 1977. He obtained his doctorate at University of Tsukuba in 1984. With his trilogy, "Geijutsu shashin to sono jidai (Art Photography and its Time)", "Shashin ni kaere (Go back to the photography)" and "Toshi no shisen (Glance of the City)" published in 1986, 1988 and 1989, he stood out and became the representive photography researcher of the early 20th century. Iizawa founded magazine "Deja-vu" in 1990 and was its editor in chief until 1994. He has been taking part as a judge in public competitions "Shashin-shinseiki (New Generation Photography)" and "Hitotsubo-ten (3.3m² Exhibition)", since their beginning, and through these competitions made the "girly photo" trend in the 1990s.

Reknowned as Nobuyuki Araki researcher. In 1996, he was awarded the Suntory Arts Award for his book "Shashin bijutsukan e yokoso (Welcome to the Photography Museum)". Also, he is an enthusiast for mushrooms and published books such as "Sekai no kinoko kitte (World's Mushroom Stamps)" and "Aruku kinoko (Walking Mushrooms)".
He was a part-time instructor at the Tokyo College of Photography in 1981, teaching Photography Artist Research. In 2004 and 2008, he was a part-time lecturer at Faculty of Liberal Arts, University of Tokyo, teaching history of photography in Japan.

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