top コラムRecommended photobook22 Kazuo Kitai "Journey into German Expressionism" 北井一夫『ドイツ表現派紀行』

Recommended photobook

22 Kazuo Kitai "Journey into German Expressionism"

John Sypal

I cannot can claim any kind of authority in setting the context for the subject of this book. 

In fact, after my first look through, I Googled “German Expressionism” because at that point, my entire understanding of it was from the photos seen in this book- a visual thread of interest which Kazuo Kitai traced with his camera in Europe over forty years ago.


Wikipedia succinctly explains Expressionist Architecture as:


…an architectural movement in Europe during the first decades of the 20th century in parallel with the expressionist visual and performing arts that especially developed and dominated in Germany. Brick Expressionism is a special variant of this movement in western and northern Germany, as well as in the Netherlands (where it is known as the Amsterdam School). Wikipedia:Expressionist architecture


I see. My knowledge of this movement expanded to encompass Kitai’s monochromatic photos and a Wikipedia page or two. What stands out most here to me is “Brick Expressionism”. The bricks in the pages of Kitai’s book are indeed expressive.  

How so? Well, No.6 on the list of “Characteristics” on the Expressionist Architecture Wikipedia page is: 


6. Themes of natural romantic phenomena, such as caves, mountains, lightning, crystal and rock formations. As such it is more mineral and elemental than florid and organic which characterized its close contemporary Art Nouveau.


Natural Romantic Phenomena sounds fascinating but I’m getting ahead of myself. 


In the book’s postscript, Kazuo Kitai, who had completed a series about rural farm villages in the hinterlands of Japan, writes that he was encouraged by Etsuro Ishihara (founder of Zeit Foto Salon) to now try something completely different: German Expressionist Architecture.


So, in 1979, Kitai traveled to Germany and over two trips (four months total) walked through of Europe with his Leica looking for Expressionist buildings on a journey that took him through Cologne, Hamburg, East and West Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Dornach, Poznan, and Bresula.

People who know more about German Expressionist Architecture (or residents of the aforementioned cities) will probably recognize many of the structures seen in these pages.  I didn’t- but each looked charming. Where was each? Well, this book is no guidebook or report. Indeed, there is not a single caption or location given for any image.  This is a fine idea. I think the removal of identifying labels or locations or architect names is, especially for the architecturally ignorant like me, a way to heighten the essence of the picture/place itself. (It’s also a bit like traveling- points of interest are often mute in meaning as you pass by.)

It was only after visiting Wikipedia that I learned that the charmingly Ghibli-like tower seen in a few pages is the Einstein Tower, a century-old observatory in Postdam. That’s quite a name to have on a building- before I read it my feelings for the place was one of curiosity and, strangely enough, comfort. I think that comfort (curiosity?) came from its curves- echoes of that “natural romantic phenomena” Wikipedia was talking about.


This brings me back to the expressive bricks. 


I haven’t talked to Kitai san about this book yet, but I suspect that after his time in Japanese villages comprised of centuries-old wooden farmhouses with thatched-rooves and modular, paper-grid walls, the curves and details of German Expressionist structures would have had quite an impact. This isn’t to say this Tokyo-based photographer hadn’t seen bricks and concrete before- but that, as a photographer, such subject matter might seem to pose new challenges. 


Let’s go back to Wikipedia. Entry number one on the List of Characteristics of Expressionism is “Distortion of form for an emotional effect.”. 

Ah ha!  See, Kitai’s work has never been about distortion. Rather than try to wring expression out of a subject with a lens, Kitai has always entrusted the result of his work to the straightforward nature of photography itself. It is precisely this contrast between this dynamic artistic movement and Kazuo Kitai’s innate sense of clarity that makes this book special. 


Along with his kind, boyish character and bright smile, one of the truly wonderful things about Kazuo Kitai is how sure and equal he has always been with his camera. Regardless of location, the scope of his vision has always had a fair, open clarity to it. No matter what stands before his Leica, he frames it straightly, and kindly. In this book it encompasses a plethora of curvaceous elements- the spiral staircases, countless arches to the circular pyramid that is Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall- and the daily lives of the citizens who live among them. In fact, much of the book features Kitai’s street snaps of Europeans at the end of the 70s.  They are photographed with the sense and distance (often physical & emotional) of a polite, friendly traveler. I have a feeling that Germans 50 and older may experience a particular sentimental pull to these pictures.


Related: Currently at Mono Graphy in Tokyo has a nice exhibition up of Kazuo Kitai's color work from his series "Color - Somehow Familiar Places". Copies of that book and "Journey into German Expressionism", along with original prints, are available in the gallery






  • …20世紀初頭にヨーロッパで見られた建築様式である。多分野にわたる表現主義運動の一環として、1910年頃のドイツ語圏や北欧で始まった。同時期のオランダにもアムステルダム派(英語版)(Amsterdamse School)の運動があった。初期のモダニズム建築が採用した材料の革新や社会の大衆化にともなう斬新なデザインに特徴がある。レンガや鉄、ガラスなどの大量生産によってもたらされた新たな技術的可能性にも着想を得ている。これらは映画などの視覚芸術におけるドイツ表現主義運動と並行して展開された。
Wikipedia「表現主義 (建築)」


ウィキペディアを参照したことで、表現主義というムーブメントに対する理解が少し拡がった気がします。私が最も注目したのはレンガでした。北井さんが写し出しているレンガは確かに表現的だと感じたからです。英語版ウィキペディアのExpressionist architecture(表現主義建築)ページの「特徴」6項目には、このように書いてありました(日本語版には記載なし)。


  • 6. 洞窟、山、稲妻、水晶、岩の造形など、自然ロマンチックな現象をテーマとする。そのため、同時代のアール・ヌーボーを特徴づける華麗で有機的というよりは、鉱物的で元素的。
























この写真集では、螺旋階段、無数のアーチ、ヴロツワフの百周年記念ホールである円形のピラミッドなど、曲線的な要素の数々、そしてその中で暮らす市民の日常が収められています。実際、この本の大部分を占めるのは、北井さんが1970年代末のヨーロッパの人々を撮影したストリートスナップです。 彼らは、礼儀正しくフレンドリーな旅行者の感覚と距離感(しばしば物理的で感情的)で撮影されています。現在50歳以上のドイツ人なら、これらの写真に特別な感傷を覚えるのではないでしょうか。



最後に、現在、東京のMONO GRAPHY Camera & Artというギャラリーでは、北井一夫さんのシリーズ〈いつか見た風景〉〈フランス放浪〉からなる写真集『COLOR いつか見た風景』からの作品が展示がされています。展示作品も、オリジナルプリントが付く写真集『ドイツ表現派紀行』もギャラリーで販売されています。プリントも写真集も実際に見てみてほしいです、おすすめです!



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