Mathematical Structures.

Photographs by Shigeru Onishi. Text by Ryuichi Kaneko. Edited by Manfred Heiting.
Steidl, Gottingen, Germany, 2020. 224 pp., 195 illustrations, 9½x11¼".



Publisher's Description

Photography as painting as printing: the avant-garde vision of an unknown postwar Japanese master

This book presents an overview of the astounding photographic oeuvre of Shigeru Onishi (1928–94) from the 1950s. Whether depicting nudes, cityscapes, trees or interiors (or combinations of these realized through multiple exposures or photomontages), what is most striking about Onishi’s photos are his unorthodox printing methods: using a brush to coat the photographic paper with emulsion, fogging, discoloration with acetic acid, creating the effect that the fixing process was incomplete, and color correction by varying the temperature during development.

The painterly results show Onishi’s interest to be not conventional representation but, in his words, the visual “formation of ideas,” and bringing out “the flavors of the image as they change” by embracing all aspects of chance involved in the photographic process. “In truth,” he argues, “if your photograph consists only of planned elements, it is essentially identical to a drawing of a single equilateral triangle.”

Also a mathematician, Onishi approached his work in this light: “To know the conditions of the object’s formation?this is the purpose of my photography, which is founded on a desire to pursue metamathematic propositions such as ‘the possibility of existence’ and ‘the possibility of optional choice.’”

Mathematical Structures, made in collaboration with MEM, Tokyo, is the first comprehensive book to present Onishi’s startlingly original vision.


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