Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book: Iwao Yamawaki

JTF (just the facts): Published in 1999 by Edition 7L at Steidl. Unpaginated, with 62 black and white plates, a short essay by Ingrid Sischy, and a biography. Slip covered in cardboard, with a partially transparent dust jacket. (Poor cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: The odds are pretty good that most collectors don't recognize the name of Japanese photographer Iwao Yamawaki. Yamawaki was an architect by training and profession who made up his mind that he wanted to study at the Bauhaus. So in 1930, he took a leave of absence from his job, packed up his wife, and moved to Dessau, where he took classes from Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Walter Peterhans and Kurt Kranz among others, and developed a strong interest in making photographs.

During the period from 1930 to about 1933, Yamawaki focused his camera on architectural studies (both interior and exterior), portraits, and still lifes, making straight images, dominated by contrasts of line and form, often taken from unexpected steep angles and viewpoints (reminiscent of Moholy-Nagy or Rodchenko). His work is perfectly representative of the theories being taught at the Bauhaus, emphasizing simple, sculptural forms. The pictures themselves are well composed, stylish and elegant, brimming with the confidence of modernism. After his time in Germany, Yamawaki returned to Japan and restarted his career as an architect, and while he continued his interest in the teachings of the Bauhaus, his work as a photographer came to an end. That said, his short career with a camera produced some superior images.
This monograph was made with attention to detail, with excellent reproductions on luxurious paper, exquisitely matched to the richness and refinement of the pictures.

Collector's POV: We were first introduced to Yamawaki's work last year, when several of his images came up at various auctions. (We know, we're a decade behind most of you.) While we didn't know much about the photographer, we were drawn to the prints we saw, given they were strong, vintage Bauhaus images, offered at reasonable prices. Going back into the auction records, very few Yamawaki images have come up for sale in the past few years, most selling in a range between $3000 and $7000. At retail, Howard Greenberg Gallery (here) appears to have a good selection of Yamawaki inventory on its website.

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