Wednesday, January 23, 2013

history: a short story of postwar photography

The post war history of photography begins with the emergence of photo-realism movement promoted by the magazine Camera. Ken Domon was the first photographer to break away from romantic convention and start studying the new conditions Japan found itself in. It was his camera that focused on the changes of common people's lives after the war. Soon other followed and the tendency to catch postwar distress as street children or war veterans became so popular that it was named beggar photography.

Domon Ken, Hiroshima, 1958
Fukushima Kikujiro, Homeless people in front
of the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima
, late 1940s.

Intense political confrontation over the revision of U.S. Japan Security Treaty (ANPO) delivered an electrifying stimulus to Japanese photographers who begun to explore new documentary styles that examines social conditions through photography. The most productive photographer of this period was probably Nagano Shigeichi, who made his name with a year-long series called Topical Photo Reportage, in which he studied different aspects of contemporary society.

Nagano Shigeichi, White collar workers at 5 P.M., 1959

In 1959 Narahara Ikko, Tomatsu Shomei, Hosoe Eikoh, Kawada Kikuji, Sato Akira and Tanno Akira formed a photographer's group called Vivo that changed the face of post war photography. They were called image generation and they believe in autonomous will of the photographer and the independence of the image from the storytelling. Vivo functioned as a cooperative office and the darkroom for the six photographers each perusing his own individual mode of expression.

Kawada Kikuji, The Japanese National Flag, from the series The Map, 1960-65

Hosoe Eiko, Ordeal by Roses, 1963
It was undoubtedly Tomatsu Shomei, who developed the richest personal realm of photography during this period. He produced several photographic series. Among others were Occupation (1959), Chewing Gum and Chocolate (1966), which exposed the influences of the US occupying forces and of American military and popular culture on Japanese society, two series of photographs – Protest, Tokyo (1969) and Eros, Tokyo (1969), which recorded turbulent youth cultural changes of the time, and Oh! Shinjuku (1969). 

Shomei Tomatsu, Prostitute, Nagoya, 1958
His most famous series though is Nagasaki 11:02 (1961) which was commissioned by the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs to document the effects of the A-bomb on the city of Nagasaki and on its inhabitants fifteen years after the horrific atomic bombing. The series is named after the photo of a watch that was dug up 0.7km from the epicenter of the explosion and which stopped at the exact moment the bomb fell: 11:02 a.m on the 9th of August 1945. His work was quite distinct from other photography of the aftermath. His photograph of bottle melted by the intense radiation of the bomb and close-up faces of the victims with keloid scars are very powerful and unsettling up to date.

Shomei Tomatsu, Hibakusha.
Tsyuo Kataoka, Nagasaki, 1961
Far from new developments, one photographer carried on his unique activities on the remote Japan Sea cost, beginning before the war and continuing into the postwar era. This photographer was Ueda Shoji.
Ueda Shoji, My wife in the dunes, 1950
In the late 1960s. Japanese photography was invigorated by the emergence of new artists. In November 1968, Taki Koji, Nakahira Takuma, Takanashi Yutaka, Okada Takahiko, and later Moriyama Daido established a small magazine entitled Provoke. Their photographs, fragmented images of filthy areas and forgotten back allies, completely demolished the established aestetics and grammar of photography. They were rough, blurred, and out-of-focus. Even though the life of the collective was short, its influence long lasting especially Moriyama Daido sharp physiological vision, which he himself called the eyes of a dog spawn many imitators.

Moriyama Daido, Shinjuku Station from Japan: A Photo Theatre 1968

Moriyama Daido, Stray dog, Misawa, 1971
Adapted from History of Japanese Photography

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