Paul Wolff’s Leica Photo Exhibitions in Japan

Oct 28, 2016  By Ed Schwartzreich

Last year, as the finishing touches were being made on the Dr. Paul Wolff Bibliography, I became aware of an exhibition catalogue from a December 2008 photo salon at the JCII (Japan Camera Industry Institute) Museum in Tokyo. This salon was entitled “1930’s Leica Photographs”.  It ran for 3 weeks and featured photographs by Dr. Wolff, as well as images from two well-known Japanese photographers of that period, Ihei Kimura and Ken Domon.  I attempted to find the exhibition catalogue on line to examine it or to buy it for the bibliography, but to no avail.

Quite recently I was sleuthing again for this catalogue, and felt I had determined, based on my perhaps dubious abilities in using translation engines, that JCII still had its catalogue back-issues in stock in their in-house store.   With the help of Tom and Tuulikki Abrahamsson, one of their friends, Kaeru Nakayama, was kind enough to visit the museum and obtain that catalogue for me.  It contains 53 images by Dr. Wolff, and a smaller number by the other two photographers.   The Wolff photographs derive from a particular 1935 Japanese photo exhibition, but the catalogue’s text also says something about Dr. Wolff’s relationship with 1930’s Japan.

Recall that the 1930’s were a time of near world-wide fascination  with the new 35mm cameras from Leitz and Zeiss, and that Japan developed both a Leica-mania, and also a Dr. Paul Wolff mania to accompany it.  The latter happened because both the Japanese Leitz agency Schmidt-Shōten and the newspaper  Asahi Shimbun were aware of the sensation Dr. Wolff ’s Meine Erfahrungen exhibitions had made in Germany, England, and the U.S., and were eager to sponsor his images in Japan.   In fact, in 1935 both entities opened Dr. Wolff exhibitions only 9 days apart, and Asahi Shimbun provided coverage of Dr. Wolff in its Asahi Camera magazine the same year and the year following, using some of the same images as in its show.  In earlier research, I discovered that Asahi appears to have purchased exclusive Japanese rights to Dr. Wolff’s images during the period.   And the Schmidt agency published one of Dr. Wolff ’s books in Japanese, and since Leitz’s agents in other countries were known for selling his books in their  catalogues, it is reasonably likely that Schmidt was a sponsor of Dr. Wolff ’s books in Japan, if not the sole agent.

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