Radical Japanese Photography From the 1960s and ’70s

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Early photography in Japan focused on commercial endeavors and represented a Western image of traditional Asian culture. Pioneering photographers like Tamamura Kōzaburō and Ogawa Kazumasa created a shift in artistic representation during the modernized Meiji period (late 19th to early 20th centuries). But the late 1960s through the 1970s saw a radical change in Japanese photography that created a new visual language, laying the groundwork for the country’s contemporary art scene. Luminaries including Ishiuchi Miyako, Daidō Moriyama, Jirō Takamatsu, and Shōmei Tōmatsu focused on experimental and conceptual imagery. Social and political unrest drew the eye, as seen in the photos of student protestors by Kōji Taki, as well as Shōmei Tōmatsu’s images of life surrounding the American military bases on Okinawa. Japan Society’s For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979 is the first major exhibition devoted to this vital chapter in the country’s cultural history. The show closes Sunday, January 10.

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Toshio Matsumoto (b. 1932) For the Damaged Right Eye 1968 Originally three 16mm color films; transferred to DVD as a single-channel video; original soundtrack mixed by Kuniharu Akiyama (1929-1996), 12 minutes, 9 seconds Collection of Toshio Matsumoto

“A watershed of avant-garde filmmaking in Japan, artist Toshio Matsumoto’s For the Damaged Right Eye is a cinematic mosaic featuring three superimposed documentary reels of a transvestite’s daily life, Tokyo’s streets at night, and student protests, set to a soundtrack of ‘found sounds,’ including popular songs, radio broadcasts, and protesters’ chants.”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Shigeo Gochō (1946-1983) From Familiar Street Scenes 1978-1980 Chromogenic prints, edition of 10, printed 1981 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by Geoffrey and Barbara Koslov, 2014.688 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by Joan Morgenstern, 2014.687 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, 2014.686

“In contrast to the simply composed, small black-and-white portraits from Self and Others (1975-1977), Shigeo Gochō’s Familiar Street Scenes series captures the bustle, flow, color, and patterns of busy downtown Tokyo in large, bold prints. Accentuating Gochō’s stunted height due to a degenerative bone disease, the diminished distance between the photographer and his street-going subjects also gave rise to confrontational, if fleeting, interactions, as expressed in the apprehensive, inquisitive, and sometimes admonishing gazes revealed in the images.”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Miyako Ishiuchi (b. 1947) From Apartment 1977-78 Gelatin silver prints, printed 1978 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund, 2014.704-.707

“In the 1970s, artist Miyako Ishiuchi returned to her dark, gritty hometown of Yokosuka to create a deeply personal series of photographs, working in a radically large scale in contrast to other photographers in Japan during the decade. Apartment (1978) scrutinizes the close quarters in cramped, crumbling postwar apartment complexes, similar to the single-room space where Ishiuchi herself grew up with her family of four.”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Daidō Moriyama (b. 1938) Asahi kamera/Asahi Camera January 1969, June 1969, August 1969, December 1969 Magazine issues Taka Ishii Gallery

“In the June issue [of Asahi Camera magazine], Moriyama contributed the photo-essay ‘Accident,’ featuring his close-up shots of a ‘Don’t-Drink-and-Drive’ poster made by Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department, [inspired by Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster pictures about the media’s portrayal of catastrophe].”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Takuma Nakahira (1938-2015) Untitled 1968-73 Gelatin silver prints, edition 1/10, printed 2014 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase founded by Anne Wilkes Tucker in honor of Yasufumi Nakamori, 2014.665 The Museum of Fine arts, Houston, museum purchase founded by the Francis L. Lederer Foundation, courtesy of Sharon Lederer, 2014.667, 2014.664, 2014.669

“Dystopic scenes of everyday life in 1960s Tokyo form the core of writer and critic Takuma Nakahira’s landmark photobook For a Language to come (1970). They exemplify the are-bure-boke (‘grainy, blurry, out-of-focus’) aesthetic that Takuma and his peers developed while affiliated with the short-lived but extremely influential photography journal Provoke (1968-69). Tilted and often shot toward a light source, Nakahira’s photographs of this era represent a radical break with the polished modernist sensibility of art photography in Japan earlier decades.”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Shōmei Tōmatsu (1930-2012) Protest 1 Gelatin silver print, printed 1980 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the S.I. Morris Photography Endowment and Morris Weiner, 2011.765 Three inkjet prints, printed 2014 Collection of Yasuko Tōmatsu

“Having abandoned traditional documentary photography in favor of a more expressive and creative use of the camera, around 1960 Shōmei Tōmatsu began revealing Tokyo as a city in constant flux. His new approach is epitomized by a group of photographs shot between 1963 and 1969 in the Shinjuku ward of downtown Tokyo.”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Keiji Uematsu (b. 1947) Horizontal Position Vertical Position Right Angle Position 1973 Gelatin silver print diptychs, printed 2003 Collection of the artist, courtesy of Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo

During the installation of his 1971 sculptural work Cutting at the Kyoto Independent Exhibition (Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 1973), the artist Keiji Uematsu transformed his own body into an object in a tense and interactive relationship with gravity. The set of three photographic diptychs exhibited here documents this impromptu ‘performance.'”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Nobuo Yamanaka (1948-1982) Manhattan in Pinhole (Nos. 1, 7, 14, 15, 17, 21, and 31) 1980 Chromogenic print The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

“With its images of iconic architecture and street sights, Nobuo Yamanaka’s Manhattan in Pinhole series (1980) is one of trilogy that sought to capture the light case by the same sun in three different locations around the world using a specially designed, handheld pinhole camera. ”

Courtesy of Japan Society, published with permission

Shigeo Gochō (1946-1983) From Self and Others 1975-1977 Gelatin silver prints, printed 1992 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, 2014.689-.690 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by Judy Nyquist, 2014.691 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation and the Mary Kathryn Lynch Kurtz Charitable Lead Trust Fund, 2014.692 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation and the Mary Kathryn Lynch Kurtz Charitable Lead Trust Fund, 2014.693

“The images from Gochō’s photobook Self and Others were shot primarily in the suburbs, using a stripped-down snapshot style (known in Japan as konpora) that reflected global trends in contemporary photography. Many of the subjects are pairs facing the camera, centered in the frame, and situated at some distance. Whether photographing friends or strangers, Gochō’s connection to his subjects oscillates between comfort and discomfort, familiarity and distrust, prompting the question, is the photographer or his subject the self-or the other-referenced in the title?”