Ichiro Kojima: To the North, From the North

August 3—December 25, 2014
Kizukuri, Tsugaru, 1958 (private collection) © Hiroko Kojima

Between His Hometown Aomori and Tokyo

This exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of Ichiro Kojima’s death. Born and raised in the northern city of Aomori, Kojima was the eldest son in a family that ran a toy and photographic supply store. He learned photography under the influence of his father, and began to publish his work in photography magazines. His subjects were everyday landscapes on the Tsugaru and Shimokita peninsulas, but his work stood apart from the mainstream realism of that era and soon gained notice for its compositional and poetic sensibilities. With strong encouragement from the pioneer photojournalist Yonosuke Natori, Kojima mounted his first exhibition, Tsugaru, in Tokyo in 1958. Following this strong start, he moved to Tokyo in 1961 to pursue a career as a professional photographer. There he held his second exhibition, Freezing. However, having emerged on the scene with photographs of his home country, he now faced great difficulty making photographs in a new environment. After the death of Natori, his main supporter in Tokyo, Kojima returned to Aomori. He embarked on a new project in Hokkaido, but he feel ill after repeated exposure to severe conditions and died at the early age of thirty-nine.

Kita-Kanegasawa, Fukaura,
Nishi-Tsugaru, ca. 1957-58
(private collection) © Hiroko Kojima

The exhibition features calling card-sized prints dubbed “playing cards” that he produced for editing and introducing his photographs; it also reproduces parts of the Tsugaru and Freezing exhibitions that were held in Tokyo. We will examine the meaning “The North” held for Kojima, while spotlighting his emotional tug-of-war between Aomori and Tokyo and the process of production under Natori’s influence. In the wake of his rediscovery in the 2009 retrospective at the Aomori Museum of Art, we will introduce new facets of the work of Ichiro Kojima.

“Playing cards” mounted in an album, ca. 1960
(private collection) © Hiroko Kojima

Kojima solo exhibition Tsugaru 1958
Konishiroku Photo Gallery, Tokyo
from right: Yonosuke Natori, Ichiro Kojima, Daisuke Akimoto
From the Solo Exhibitions Tsugaru and Freezing to the Even More Frigid North

When Natori visited Aomori to conduct a survey for the Iwanami Photography Library book series, he is said to have praised Kojima’s work by saying, “This artist has an uncommon character.” With Natori’s strong backing, Kojima’s first solo exhibition, Tsugaru, was held in 1958 at the Konishiroku Photo Gallery in Tokyo. It took place at a time when the school of photo-realism led by Ken Domon dominated Japanese photography. There were 120 panels in the exhibition, reflecting the influence of Natori, who advocated the creation of photographic sets that were meant to be “read,” rather than showing photographs as independent images. Not only did Natori actively advise on the selection and the method of exhibition of the photographs, he went to the gallery when the show was hung and contributed his thoughts. Having had his talents recognized at an early age, Kojima moved his base to Tokyo three years later.

Oma, Shimokita, ca. 1961
(private collection) © Hiroko Kojima
Having come to the capital with his family in 1961, Kojima was awarded the Camera Geijutsu New Talent Award for The Rough Seas of Shimokita, and held his second solo exhibition, Freezing, at the Fuji Photo Salon the following year. The photographs of the Shimokita area were made with high-resolution film in which midtones disappear, and the complicated techniques and strong compositional quality were striking. The two Tokyo exhibitions were entirely made of photographs from his home region of Aomori, and the only Tokyo-themed work to appear was a series, Tokyo Sunset, published in Camera Mainichi magazine. After the death of his main supporter Natori, and with his work in Tokyo facing a creative block, Kojima returned to the North and began to photograph in the wintry expanse of Hokkaido. The negatives of his photographs from this time have never been found. Repeated exposure to the elements left Kojima ill, and he is said to have told friends, “I haven’t been able to tale photographs recently,” and “Hokkaido was much more vast than I had imagined.”


Panel Discussion

To Document the North: Considering Ichiro Kojima

Picking up on questions raised by the 2009 Ichiro Kojima retrospective exhibition at the Aomori Museum of Art, this discussion will examine the question of what “The North” meant to Kojima.
Participants:Hiroshi Oshima(photographer)
Keizo Kitajima(photographer)
Shino Kuraishi(professor, Meiji University)
Shigemi Takahashi(chief curator, Aomori Museum of Art)
Masashi Kohara(researcher, Izu Photo Museum)
Date/Time: September 28 (Sun.) 2:30–4:00
Place: Clematis no Oka Hall (near the museum)
Free (exhibition ticket required for entry), limited to 100.

Gallery Talk
A curator will provide commentary on the exhibition.
Date/Time: Saturdays at 2:15 (approx. 30 minutes)
August 30, October 25, November 15, December 20

Free, no registration (exhibition ticket required). Please gather at the museum entrance counter.
Near Inagaki, Tsugaru, 1960
(private collection) © Hiroko Kojima

Ichiro Kojima’s Photobook (Facsimile Edition)

Tsugaru: Poetry, Writings, Photography, edited by Yojiro Ishizaka (Photographs by Ichiro Kojima, writings by Yojiro Ishizaka, poetry by Kyozo Takagi), 1963

A limited-run, facsimile edition of the only photobook published during Kojima’s life has been published by Izu Photo Museum and NOHARA.

Now on sale
Hiroko Kojima, Warm Sunlight, Keisei Shuppan, 2014
Kojima Ichiro Photographs, Inscript, 2009
Inoue Seiryu / Kojima Ichiro, Rat Hole, 2007
Kojima's first and last photo book Tsugaru, 1963

Ichiro Kojima
(photograph by Hiroko Kojima) © Hiroko Kojima
Ichiro Kojima chronology

1924Born in Aomori, the eldest son of Heihachiro and Taka, the proprietors of the Kojima Store.
1942His photographs, Winter Sunlight, Early Spring, and Light Snow, are selected for the photography section of the 12th To-o Art Exhibition.
1944Drafted as an active duty soldier and assigned to the 47th Regiment of the Japanese Imperial Army.
1945Enrolled in the Jinan Provisional Reserve Officers School in Jinan, China, he hears the news of Japan’s surrender.
1946Returns to Japan by ship from Qingdao, China. He is shocked at the sight of his hometown reduced to scorched earth by Allied air raids.
1954Becomes a member of the Hokuyo Kai photography group.
1957Meets up with Yonosuke Natori at the Sukayu hot springs in Aomori; they are thought to have originally met the previous year.
1958His first solo exhibition, Tsugaru, is held at the Konishiroku Photo Gallery in Tokyo (it travels to Osaka and Fukuoka).
1961Awarded the Camera Geijutsu New Talent Award, together with Seiryu Inoue. Despite his father’s opposition, he moves to Tokyo.
1962His second solo exhibition, Freezing, is held at the Fuji Photo Salon in Tokyo.
1963Tsugaru: Poetry, Prose, Photography, the only photobook released during his lifetime, is published.
1964After photographing in Hokkaido, he recuperates in Aomori. He suffers a heart attack and dies in his apartment there.

Photography Books
1963Tsugaru: Poetry, Prose, Photography (Prose by Yojiro Ishizaka, poetry by Kyozo Takagi), Shincho-sha [out of print]
2004Hysteric Eleven: Ichiro Kojima, Hysteric Glamour [out of print]
2007Inoue Seiryu / Kojima Ichiro, Rat Hole [in print]
2009Kojima Ichiro Photographs, Inscript [in print]

Comments by Ichiro Kojima and His Wife, Hiroko

Only a scattering of forlorn thatched-roofed houses on the desolate, snow-covered shore, facing the strong winds blowing off the Sea of Japan, appeared as if they were barely able to support themselves. I thought that image, having lost everything, flattened against the white expanse, could be the very image of myself, or perhaps the image of the human tenacity to try to live again.

Ichiro Kojima, “My Photographic Journey,” in Tsugaru: Poetry, Prose, Photography, edited by Yojiro Ishizaka (Photographs by Ichiro Kojima, prose by Yojiro Ishizaka, poetry by Kyozo Takagi), Shincho-sha, 1963

Having grown accustomed to the quiet life in Aomori in northeastern Japan, living in Tokyo, inundated by waves of people and waves of cars, makes me feel as if my nerves are being worn away. For me, what offers some solace and provides some peace are the moments when I stand transfixed by the setting sun. That short span of time makes me forget everything, as if I am alone in the world.

Ichiro Kojima, Camera Mainichi, September 1963
Oma, Shimokita, 1961
(private collection) © Hiroko Kojima

Tokyo Sunset, 1961-63
(private collection) © Hiroko Kojima
As winter nears, human activity become sparse, and soon the snowstorms begin to howl and rage. Travel between villages thins, the roads are buried in snow, the scent of people and the scent of the earth disappear. Just the faint footprints on a bridge and the traces of a sled give a hint of people, and ease the solitude after emerging from an endless snowfield.

Ichiro Kojima, Camera Geijutsu, February 1964

Ichiro was deeply moved by the sight of a farmer sinking his hoe into an endless plain, continuing to work until the sun set. Struggling inside a disconcerting mix of the lethargy of defeat and self-hatred, Ichiro became absorbed in photographing Tsugaru, almost as if he was entranced. Nothing was conscious or planned; he was simply snapping photographs with a rush of passion, in response to the inspiration he received. In time, he found his path in life.

Hiroko Kojima, Warm Sunlight, Keisei Shuppan, 2014