Kishin Shinoyama, 1940–2024
By Camilla Alvarez Chow
On January 4, renowned Japanese photographer Michinobu “Kishin”
away at the age of 83 from natural causes, according to a statement from his office.
Born in Tokyo in 1940, Shinoyama studied at the Nihon University College of Art while working for an advertising agency, before embarking on a freelance photography career in 1968. Two years later he gained widespread attention for his photographs of the acclaimed, though controversial, Japanese author Yukio Mishima; these were to be the last portraits taken of the novelist before his suicide in 1970.
Shinoyama would go on to establish an impressive oeuvre, capturing the era’s biggest stars—singer Momoe Yamaguchi, actress Rie Miyazawa, and Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo—for multiple magazine and album covers. Most famously, he immortalized John Lennon and his partner, the multimedia artist and singer Yoko Ono, on their album cover, Double Fantasy (1980). Their intimate kiss was captured only months before Lennon’s assassination.
His prolific photographic career also included nudes, and his 1991 photo books of Japanese actresses Rie Miyazawa and Kanako Higuchi, titled Santa Fe and Water fruit: Kishin Shinoyama + Kanako Higuchi Accidents 1 respectively, became cultural phenomenons. However, his nudes incited controversy in 2010 when a Tokyo court demanded Shinoyama to pay a fine of JPY 300,000 (USD 2,000) for “public indecency” over photos of a naked woman in a Tokyo cemetery for his photo book 20XX TOKYO (2009). Shinoyama later said: “I have been taking nude photos outdoors since the 1960s. But (whether the act is considered an offense or not) is determined by the mood of the time. It cannot be helped.”
Shinoyama also found inspiration in other areas of Japanese life, from the all-female musical theater troupe Takarazuka Revue to ballet dancers and sumo wrestlers, as well as notable architecture and cityscapes. In 2011, after Japan was struck by a major earthquake and a tsunami that led to a nuclear disaster in its northeastern region, Shinoyama photographed victims devastated by the event. When asked what his next project would entail, he declared, “I don't know. Ask that moment in time.”
A touring exhibition titled “THE PEOPLE by KISHIN” was held at locations across Japan between 2012 and 2019, attracting over a million visitors, while in 2021 a large-scale survey of his works titled “A New Fine Day – Kishin Shinoyama” was held at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum.
Shinoyama is survived by his wife, the retired Okinawan singer Saori Minami, and their children, including the actor Akinobu Shinoyama.