top コラムExhibition Report15 Kineo Kuwabara, Hiroshi Hamaya "1930s Tokyo" 桑原甲子雄・濱谷 浩 作品展 「東京 1930年代」

Exhibition Report

15 Kineo Kuwabara, Hiroshi Hamaya "1930s Tokyo"
桑原甲子雄・濱谷 浩 作品展 「東京 1930年代」

John Sypal

In turbulent late 1930s, two young men from Tokyo's Shitaya (now Taito) ward, Hiroshi Hamaya and Kineo Kuwabara, roamed the city snapping photographs as they liked. This was not a common nor affordable hobby at the time but in Hamaya’s case, he was by then already working as a freelance photographer. Kineo Kuwabara, two years older than Hamaya, had the family business, a pawn shop, which provided him the means necessary for his photographic habits. (It is said that a Leica at that time cost as much as house.)

After the war, Hamaya made a career as a photojournalist, and in 1960, became the first Japanese photographer to join Magnum Photos. His work on Japan’s mountain village culture and folklore is an essential part of the Japanese photographic canon.

For the most part, as it was thought, Kuwabara’s photographic interest shifted to the discovery and encouragement of emerging talent as prominent editor of influential photographic magazines. (One such discovery was a young man named Nobuyoshi Araki.) Despite being well regarded as an editor, Kuwabara never gave up his snapshot approach to photography, and kept true to his open, wandering eye until the end.  Both men, it is said, remained lifelong friends.


Their connection of both brotherhood and neighborhood makes for a fitting theme of the current exhibition at JCII Photo Salon in Hanzomon: “1930s Tokyo”.  This exhibition brings together sixty-six silver gelatin prints of photographs taken at that time.

As a longtime Kuwabara fan, I had seen many of the pictures in books and at his major retrospective at the Setagaya Museum several years ago. Still, it's always nice to enjoy opportunities like these to see things up close. There are details in prints which cannot be expressed fully in books. Likewise, facing a wall of large pictures is very different than flipping through pages on your lap. This difference is worth the effort to visit an exhibition for.


Hamaya’s work here is more of a taxonomy of sorts- various things seen straightly, cleanly. His details of shop signs would be of as much interest to a historian as they would an art director working on an NHK pre-war period drama. Kuwabara's brilliant images, however, appeal to lovers of photography or poetry. His frames are responses to a compulsion to frame and keep a moment.

If, for example, Hamaya photographs a street stall vendor, we see accurately how such a man would have dressed and can infer as to what his job entailed. Kuwabara on the other hand, photographed the phenomena of street stalls- not the simply appearance of individuals, but the parts they played in the bustle of the stage that was Asakusa’s streets.


This difference in approach can be seen in the reflective self-portraits used for the show’s promotional poster: Hamaya frames himself with clarity and impact. With both hands firmly grasping his camera, he centers himself, matching his camera’s framelines with the actual frame of a mirror. His lens pointed exactly at what he wants to say. (He’s got a great hat, too.) 

Yet, in his picture, Kuwabara emerges off-center from a slight distance out from a collage of multi-layered surfaces and objects. He’s less making a picture than he is taking one.


Personally, in Hamaya’s work I see a man using a lens to make a point- or an image.

In Kuwabara’s, I feel a shared sense of fascination for what a camera can reveal from the spontaneity of world. Such a feeling is part of everyone’s early experiences with photography- how rare and precious it was for Kuwabara to maintain this sense throughout his entire life.


“1930s Tokyo” is up at JCII Photo Salon in Hanzomon until Feb.5.

A small catalog featuring every exhibited image is available in the gallery shop. (1000 yen).













2023年2月5日まで、半蔵門にあるJCIIフォトサロンで開催中の展覧会「東京1930年代」は、兄弟愛と近所付き合いをテーマにしています。 この展覧会では、当時撮影された写真66点の銀塩プリントが展示されています。































桑原 甲子雄・濱谷 浩 作品展

「東京 1930年代」




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