At this year’s PhotoIreland Festival, a very special featured exhibition is held at Alliance Francaise in Dublin from July 3 to September 15. Kimura Ihei, one of the most celebrated Japanese photographers of the twentieth century and name giver to the most significant prize for photography in Japan, travelled to Europe in the 1950s in order to shoot photographs for magazines. As an admirer of Henri Cartier Bresson, his path unavoidably also led him to Paris, where he captured the city in photographs that were to become the collection that is shown in Dublin today, the Kimura Ihei shashinshū: Pari, or Kimura Ihei: Paris, 1954-1955. These photos, which were taken in color – quite progressive at that time – were not published until the year of his death, 1974, and remained unknown to most people outside Japan until 2004, when they were exhibited at the Recontres d’Ales Festival. The present exhibition at Alliance Francaise, shows a newly edited version of the collection, and includes also prior unpublished photos.
Kimura is most famous for the portrayal of his city of origin, Tōkyō, in the early 1930s. Already he was said to be one of the photographers who captured the city’s spirit most skilfully, and that is what he also did in Paris twenty years later. Naturally, the collection does not lack the inevitable photo of the Eiffel Tower and the timeless Parisian female beauty, but Kimura primarily catches a glimpse at the backstreets of Paris, at the everyday life of the inhabitants of the metropolis: the elderly, fading beauties chatting at a café or the stray cats, faces that tell stories beyond Champs-Élysées. He captures not only the look of Paris, but the atmosphere, and he also captures something timeless that makes the photographs seem not outdated even now, over sixty years after they were taken. Kimura’s collection is not merely the millionth beautiful photo collection of the city that is one of the most frequently photographed places in the world, it is more than just that and that is what makes the exhibition so incredibly interesting.