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Kotaro IIZAWA's essay

Photographers of Japan


by Kotaro Iizawa (Critic and historian of Photography)

Mr. Etsuro Ishihara passed away on February 27th, 2016. He was 74. I myself had a personal friendship with him, and am struck with an eddy of feelings. For now, I wish him peace.

Mr. Ishihara’s greatest achievement was without a doubt the establishment of Zeit-Foto Salon in 1978-- Japan’s first gallery to exhibit and sell photography prints. In today’s society it is taken for granted that photography prints are collected and exhibited at galleries and art museums, but to his contemporaries, Mr. Ishihara was a pioneer. Photographs were then considered a medium to transfer information, used only to deliver news or to advertise. But Mr. Ishihara challenged the widely held notion that something so easily mass produced had no value, exhibiting prints by photographers such as Jean-Eugene Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Man Ray.

In Japan, there is a saying for a very empty place - the cuckoos are singing. “We kept a bird at Zeit.” Mr. Ishihara once told me, laughing. “A cuckoo bird.” For the first year, the gallery was almost always deserted. But under Mr. Ishihara’s direction, its reputation slowly grew. By 1980, Zeit-Foto Salon had opened the doors for Japanese photographers including Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Shoji Ueda, and Kazuo Kitai, and younger generations like Toshio Shibata, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kanendo Watanabe, Naoya Hatakeyama, and Eiji Ina.

I will never forget Tsukuba Museum of Photography, opened nearby the International Expo ’85. Mr. Ishihara paid out of pocket to collect 450 photographs of Paris, New York, and Tokyo, showing the conditions of the three capitals from the 19th century to the present. Financially, it was a disaster. But working as a member of the Curator Group with Ryuchi Kaneko, Osamu Hiraki, Fuminori Yokoe, Miyabi Taniguchi, and Toshiharu Ito was an experience that cannot be recreated. We were only able to hold the exhibition for just half a year, but there is no doubt that this provisional museum was an impetus for museums and galleries to have legitimate photography sections in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, like the Kawasaki City Museum, the Yokohama Museum of Art, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

From the ‘90s onward, Zeit-Foto Salon moved its location behind Bridgestone Museum of Art in Nihonbashi, and again to Kyobashi, where it featured artists including Yuki Onodera, Tomoko Yoneda, Ryudai Takano, Ryoko Suzuki, and Masumi Kura, and younger generations of photographers. I always looked forward to visiting the exhibitions to see the works and to speak with Mr. Ishihara. Zeit-Foto Salon wasn’t just a place to buy and sell prints ? it was a haven for photographers, collectors, editors, and critics to gather openly. Romanticism rather than money ? no matter when you met him, Mr. Ishihara would make his thoughts clear, and speak what he truly believed. A gallerist like that is rare. His presence was precious and irreplaceable.

Even so, Mr. Ishihara’s absence should not stop us moving forward. Since Zeit-Foto Salon’s founding in 1970, the value of photography as art has become widespread, and, considering the uncountable number of galleries and museums at which photography is displayed, we could even say that the opinion is here to stay. However, if we contemplate whether “photography” has truly taken root as an undeniable aspect of what we call “culture”, we might say that we are still in the middle of the road. Now, at this critical moment, we must be prepared to follow through with Mr. Ishihara’s legacy.

(Kotaro Iizawa)

Photographs of Mr. Ishihara
Shibuya, Gallery Hosun
Mr. Etsuro Ishihara at the opening of Q Ei Exhibition: Towards the Dream
March 1st, 1981
Yagicho Building, Zeit-Foto Salon
(From left to right) Mr. Teruo Ishihara, Mr. Etsuro Ishihara, Mr. Masaaki Kasahara
(Photographer: Nobuhiko Tsuchibuchi)
Zeit-Foto Salon
Mr. Ishihara
August 19th, 1984
(Photographer: Teruo Ishihara)
Art Fair Tokyo, Yurakucho, Tokyo International Forum
Mr. Etsuro Ishihara (left), Director Watanuki, Ms. Hiroko Igeta (right)
March 2014

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Vol.14 "Kazama Kensuke"
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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"
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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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