Shigeru Onishi

"To know the conditions of the object's formation - this is the purpose of my photography […] As a means to achieve this, I believe it is crucial to form images of things rid of all constraints, such as spaces under mathematical conditions or physical time and space."

- Shigeru Onishi

Shigeru Onishi (1928-1994) - photographer and sometime mathematician, painter, poet, philosopher, filmmaker, businessman and diviner - was a Renaissance man of Japan's post-war period, whose polymath tendencies contributed to the fertile cross-pollination of his creative vision. Onishi's early studies of topology and meta-mathematics informed his photographic method, and whilst his esoteric rationale may still be little understood, his photography is now recognized for its bold, experimental aesthetic.


Onishi used an imaginative and irregular range of techniques in his attempts to disorientate his subjects from their context; intentional discoloration using ascetic acid, irregularly timed montages, unusual paper development, multiple exposures, the use of brushes and unorthodox chemical baths are amongst the tools he pioneered in his photography. Whilst the range of subjects Onishi turned his lens upon was equally diverse - nudes, cityscapes, portraits, plants, and domestic scenes - Onishi's distinctive layered approach is clear throughout his varied treatment and choice of material.


Onishi came to the attention of the photography world following the success of his 1955 solo exhibition. He later began to practice abstract ink painting as a form of avant-garde calligraphy, and photographs he took of these works are held by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In Japan, he worked with the internationally renowned Gutai group, contributing to their famous journal, and continued to expound his topology-based theory of art with the help of the influential French critic and collector Michel Tapié. Onishi turned away from photography after a brief period of creative ferment, but his unique work from the 1950s illustrates an imaginative and determined intellect at work.