The two photographers, who met some time in the late 1920s, established Koga (or Light Pictures), a short-lived but ground-breaking photographic magazine. Published from 1932 to 1933, Koga is now regarded as one of the most important records of the New Photography school.
The artistic climate in which these photographers worked was conditioned by the stormy rise of Japanese capitalism in the preceding decades. In a few short years, beginning with the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan's closed-in feudal society was broken up and a modern capitalist economy created with a strong state apparatus, substantial industrial base and up-to-date military machine. This was established, not by a popular democratic movement but bureaucratically, from above. In the ten years from 1895, Japan, anxious to secure its place on the world stage, waged war against China (1894-95) and Russia (1905).
Japanese artists were resident in large numbers in London, Paris and Berlin in the 1910s, 20s and 30s and active participants in the various art movements of the period. Although each new international trend gave rise to new trends in Japan, the first organised challenge to the official Japanese art world, which between 1907 and 1918 was largely controlled by the Ministry of Education, was made by avant-garde artists.
Fusain-kai, established in 1912, was one of the first avant-garde groups, followed by the Second Section Society in 1914 and the National Painting Creation Society in 1918. These groupings were hostile to the conservatism and favoritism that prevailed in the official art salons and explored all the latest American and European techniques and trends.
Socialist-minded artists and others inspired by the Russian revolution and contemporary Russian art also formed their own art associations and groups; others were inspired by the surrealists, the Bauhaus, Futurism, the Constructivists and other currents.
After World War I, against the backdrop of an economic boom and under the relatively liberal rule of Emperor Taisho (1912-1926), wider layers began challenging traditional Japanese social values. The most common expression of this cultural shift was the moba (modern boy) and moga (modern girl) phenomena. This diffuse urban social movement regarded American jazz, western films, music hall dancing and modern fashion as an alternative to, and a means of, challenging the old and stultifying customs. The moga and moba provided an important social base and audience for the almost feverish experimentation of artists and intellectuals.
In the late 1920s Nojima's work began to change from mannered pictorialism to simple, subtly lit and seductive portraits and nude shots to produce some of the most enigmatic images seen in pre-World War II Japan. In a notebook entry, titled Fictions and True Stories, Nojima, wrote that "if an artist fails to weave his intent and feelings into his art it will remain stillborn."
"What they call art photography, he wrote, "is nothing more than a catalog of the absentminded, the vague, the falsely significant or deep, the diluted, and the weak. They are therefore not the qualities the age demands."3
Nojima started taking photographs in 1906, two years after he began studying at the Keio Gijiku University in Tokyo. In 1907, at the age of 21, and after entering many photographic competitions, he was admitted to the prestigious Tokyo Photographic Study Group.
From 1915 until 1920 he ran the Mikasa Photo Shop and held his first solo exhibition in 1920. The Mikasa Photo Shop was the first of several galleries he managed or owned during his life. This included the Kabutoya Gado gallery, the Nonomiya Photography Studio and Nojima Tei, a photographic salon established at his home in 1922. Nojima sponsored many photographic and art exhibitions. In 1928 he became a member of the Japan Photographic Society, a leading but somewhat conservative Art Photography club.
Born into a wealthy family, Nojima was a gentleman amateur photographer and, unlike Nakayama, did not travel outside Asia. He did, however, maintain close friendships with some of the most significant contemporary Japanese artists and participated actively in the vibrant artistic and intellectual life of the 1920s and 30s.
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