Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Japanese Post-War Photography

Eikoh Hosoe

After my recent post on Watanabe Katsumi, I’ve become fascinated with exploring Post-War Japanese photography futher.

Looking at the historical context of this movement, one can really begin to understand what it was they were seeking to capture or at least what inspired them. In the aftermath of World War II as Japan struggled to overcome its physical, emotional, and national scars, these photographers sought to create a new visual language and attempted to grapple with their country’s grave problems.

Aside from Watanabe Katsumi, standouts include Eikoh Hosoe, Shigeru Tamura, Kikuji Kawada, Daido Moriyama, and Shomei Tomatsu. Playing with abstract angles, focus, and in general a rougher approach to photography, these artists have created some really amazing stuff.

Last year, the SF MOMA, the largest holder of Japanese photography in the US, held it’s fantastic exhibit The Provoke ERA: Postwar Japanese Photography. Unfortunately, I was stuck in dreary in DC and missed the whole thing, but based on the sample photos it seemed to be quite the amazing collection. Senior curator of photography at the SF MOMA, Sandra Phillips, fairly much sums up my interest in this particular style and time period:

“I’m interested in it for two reasons: it has the archival memorializing street photography does, and it’s archival memorializing that’s taking place in one of the most critical periods of Japanese history—that time from1945 to roughly the late 1960s, when the American presence was felt first in a terrifying way, and then later in a very different way during the occupation. And all of that was experienced and taken in by these photographers. I think Daido Moriyama was seven or eight years old when they dropped the bomb. He was young, but he was of consciousness when that happened.”


                                                     Shomei Tomatsu

Masahisa Fukase

Kikuji Kawada

Eikoh Hosoe

                                               Nobuyoshi Araki


  1. Eugene, this post and photos are breathtaking! I can't believe that I've never seen these works before. It's amazing to see how trauma translates over to art. There is something so raw about these that makes them really powerful.

  2. I'm glad that I was able to share something new with you and I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Stay tuned, there are definetely some other amazing photographs that I have lined up in this blog.

  3. This is unbelivably.. weird..? something absolutely incredible! and at the same time, quiet scary.. Just thanks for posting them!

  4. No problem. Glad you enjoyed them in a mixed emotions sort of way haha.

  5. Nice post my friend, I'm digging around in this area of Japanese photography at the moment too, having been introduced to Moriyama Daido's work while studying at uni. I have to persuade the Japanese embassy on Friday to hire me on the basis that I love Japanese photography, so I'm gonna use some of this!

    I do wish that more of the photography that dominates the art market in the west today was like this, its so powerful and raw unlike this sterile, staged post-modern shit that is clinging on to photography's backside. Images like this dramatically change the way we see the ordinary environment. its deeply subjective and verging on fantastical. It's just a shame that the style came from something so terrible and tragic. One of my lecturer's used to say as kind of a joke -"we need another world war change the face of art." In some ways he's right...

    if ur interested, check me out at:

  6. Glad I was able to be of service in your quest for gainful employment. I hope everything worked out.

    As for the art, I couldn't agree more with you on the gritty oddities in these photos.

    BTW great photography. I like it a lot.