This book presents an overview of the avant-garde photographic oeuvre of Shigeru Onishi from the 1950s. Whether depicting nudes, cityscapes, trees or interiors (or combinations of these realized through multiple exposures or photomontages), 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.”
Onishi was furthermore a mathematician and this knowledge underpinned his approach: “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.'” By an artist largely unknown to the international public during his lifetime, Mathematical Structures, made in collaboration with MEM, Tokyo, is the first comprehensive book presenting Onishi’s startingly original vision.
Shigeru Onishi is one of those photographers whose work boldly strikes me with the unease and anguish of an individual living through our times. – Tatsuo Fukushima