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FUJIFILM SQUARE Photo History Museum Exhibition
Japan's First Wild Bird Photographer:
100 Years Ago Kenji Shimomura Captured an Image of a Kingfisher

  • Common Kingfisher. January 5, 1922. Saga city, Saga prefecture
    Photograph by Kenji Shimomura
    Collection the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology
    *The work on display is a reproduction

  • Riverside at Dusk. Early 1920s. Location unknown
    Photograph by Kenji Shimomura
    Collection the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology
    *The work on display is a reproduction

  • Teal. Date unknown. Shinhama, Chiba prefecture
    Photograph by Kenji Shimomura
    Collection the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology

  • Japanese Wagtail. Date and location unknown
    Photograph by Kenji Shimomura
    Collection the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology

  • Lidth's Jay at its Nest Cavity. April 1935. Amami Oshima, Kagoshima prefecture
    Photograph by Kenji Shimomura
    Collection the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology

  • Face of Tufted Puffin. 1934/1935. Paramushir Island, Northern Kuril Islands
    Photograph by Kenji Shimomura
    Collection the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology

The FUJIFILM SQUARE Photo History Museum is pleased to present an exhibition of works by Kenji Shimomura, Japan's first wild bird photographer. The exhibition will run from July 1 to September 30, 2020.

About a hundred years ago when Kenji Shimomura first successfully photographed wild birds, he also pioneered the photography of wild birds in their natural habitats in Japan. In the 1920s and 1930s when few people used photography to record wildlife, Shimomura toured the whole country from Northern Kuril Islands in the north to Amami Oshima and the Ogasawara Islands in the south to capture images of wildlife in their natural habitats, and of natural environments such as rural satoyama landscapes, remote islands, and wilderness areas that have now changed in striking ways.

Kenji Shimomura was born into an affluent family in Saga prefecture in 1903. In 1920, he enrolled in a preparatory course at the Faculty of Letters at Keio University, but ill health forced him to withdraw from the university the following year. Although he was reluctant to return home, that juncture became the springboard for his career in photography. Interested in wild birds since childhood, Shimomura embarked on a process of trial and error before successfully taking his first photograph of a wild bird in the garden of his home in 1922. The photograph of the common kingfisher perched on a tree branch is an item of historical interest and a milestone in the history of wild bird photography in Japan. Subsequently, Shimomura went on to photograph a succession of wild birds. Working under difficult conditions while using cumbersome equipment, Shimomura created photographs that are sometimes rich in poetic interest, but at other times, evoke the scientific gaze. With his encyclopedic knowledge of the habits of wild birds, Shimomura captured images of birds with sensitivity and a keen sense of esthetics, creating photographs that are the product of both superior photographic technique and a sense of artistry. In addition to photography, he also branched out into writing field guides to birds and travel journals and producing nature documentaries that popularized interest in wild birds and the natural environment. At the dawn of wild bird photography in Japan, his work influenced many among his contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. He also contributed much to ornithological research and development.

In collaboration with the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, this exhibition presents approximately sixty original prints by Shimomura currently held in the Institute's collection. After Shimomura passed away, his heirs donated more than ten thousand items to the Institute, which continues to conserve and research the photographic material in its possession. As the years passed, only a small number of people were familiar with Shimomura, but in 2018 the first comprehensive exhibition of his work in Tokyo attracted considerable response and became a topic of conversation in many quarters. For the exhibition at Fujifilm Square, we have rearranged Shimomura's work to present the appeal of his photographs from a fresh perspective. The numerous masterpieces created out of Shimomura's love of nature and his insatiable passion for capturing wild birds in the moment act as a reminder of the appeal of his work, extolling the beauty of an artistic expression that has now been lost and replaced with convenience and ease.

We hope you will enjoy the world of beautiful wild bird photography and the outstanding photographic technique of Kenji Shimomura, the first wild bird photographer in Japan.


Profile of the Photographer

Kenji Shimomura (1903-1967)
Kenji Shimomura was born in Mizugae-cho in Saga city, Saga prefecture in 1903. In 1920, he enrolled in a preparatory course at the Faculty of Letters at Keio University, but ill health forced him to withdraw from the university and return home the following year. In 1922, he took the photograph of a common kingfisher that is now regarded as the starting point for wild bird photography in Japan. In 1928, the Showa Emperor was presented with a copy of Shimomura's book of photographs of the species of crane at Arasaki in Kagoshima prefecture. From 1930 to 1939, Shimomura worked for the wildlife research office at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry touring all areas of Japan to photograph protected and rare species. In 1935, he won international acclaim when some of his photographs were shown at the International Exhibition of Nature Photography in Britain. In 1939, Shimomura switched to film-making and worked as director, producer and scriptwriter. He also authored several birdwatching journals and field guides to birds. In 1967, he was presented with the Special Award at the 22nd Mainichi Film Awards in appreciation of his contributions to nature documentaries and ornithology over many years. Kenji Shimomura passed away at age sixty-four on April 27, 1967. In 2018, the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology organized the first comprehensive exhibition of his work entitled — Shimomura Kenji seitan 115-shūnen100-nen mae ni kawasemi wo totta otoko shashinten (Photo exhibition on the 115th anniversary of the birth of Shimomura Kenji: The man who photographed a kingfisher 100 years ago) at the Yurakucho Asahi Gallery.


Title FUJIFILM SQUARE Photo History Museum Exhibition
Japan's First Wild Bird Photographer:
100 Years Ago Kenji Shimomura Captured an Image of a Kingfisher
Period July 1 — September 30, 2020
Open every day from 10:00 to 19:00
(closes at 16:00 on final day of exhibition; last entry ten minutes before closing)
Number of works approx. 60 works
Venue The Photo History Museum at FUJIFILM SQUARE (Tokyo Midtown West)
Admission Free
Organizer FUJIFILM Corporation
Special cooperation Yamashina Institute for Ornithology
Cooperation Wild Bird Society of Japan, Bird Photo Archives
Supervisor Yamashina Institute for Ornithology
Support Minato City Board of Education
Planning Photo Classic

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