Yutaka Takanashi – Towards the City (including a short history of the “Provoke” era), Part 2

This is part two of of my essay “Yutaka Takanashi – Towards the City” for the “Yutaka Takanashi” exhibition catalogue, accompanying the show at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. 1

[Part 1 here]

The “Provoke” era

The economic upturn of the 1960s, which established Japan as the third-largest economic power on Earth, took its toll on Japanese society. Particularly in the major cities, the boom led to the decline of traditional structures which in turn left a feeling of uprooting and perspectivelessness among the younger generation.

Especially in the universities, a fundamental opposition developed against the new political, economic and cultural structures that had emerged in the post-war period. In 1968, the resistance manifested itself once again in student protests against the pending extension of the “ANPO” security pact and the Vietnam War.

The sense of alienation and rootlessness felt by the young generation found artistic expression above all in photography from the end of the 1960s.2

This phase of the upheaval was documented by Shomei Tomatsu in his photo book Oo! Shinjuku. A resident of the Shinjuku district, he zoned in on the public and private lives of the young generation and the student protests which began in Shinjuku.

Shomei Tomatsu: Oh! Shinjuku. Tokyo: Shaken, 1969

Shomei Tomatsu: Oh! Shinjuku. Tokyo: Shaken, 1969

 

Shomei Tomatsu: Untitled, from the series "Protest, Tokyo", 1969  ©Shomei Tomatsu

Shomei Tomatsu: Untitled, from the series “Protest, Tokyo”, 1969 ©Shomei Tomatsu

 

Shomei Tomatsu: Coca-Cola, Tokyo, 1969  ©Shomei Tomatsu

Shomei Tomatsu: Coca-Cola, Tokyo, 1969 ©Shomei Tomatsu

 

In the 1960s, Tomatsu had risen to become Japan’s leading photographer and, since his time at VIVO, was both mentor to and role model for the up-and-coming generation of young photographers. In 1968, Shomei Tomatsu took over the organisation of the first major retrospective exhibition of Japanese photography entitled “One Hundred Years of Photography: A Historical Exhibition of Japanese Photographic Expression”.3 Among others, Tomatsu engaged Koji Taki and Takuma Nakahira, the young editor of the Gendai no me (Modern Eye) magazine, to work on this exhibition. Under Tomatsu’s influence, Nakahira had begun to practise photography in the mid-1960s, learning the required techniques with the aid of Daido Moriyama.4 However, in the course of the preparations for the exhibition and the attendant discussions about the state of Japanese photography, Nakahira, Taki and others began to distance themselves from Shomei Tomatsu’s documentary yet symbolically charged approach to photography.5

The exhibition on the history of Japanese photography opened in June 1968; shortly afterwards, in October of the same year, the youth revolt culminated in the anti-war demonstrations, which involved severe clashes. November 1968 also saw the appearance of the first issue of photo magazine Provoke, with which photography established itself as the medium of artistic expression at the end of the 1960s.6 The work of the photographers involved in the magazine was so powerful that its aesthetic approach is still used to this day by Japanese and Western photographers, notable examples being the works of Osamu Kanemura and Antoine D’Agata.

Osamu Kanemura. Untitled #41, 1995 ©Osamu Kanemura

Osamu Kanemura. Untitled #41, 1995 ©Osamu Kanemura

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  1. Essay: “Towards the City” [French/English]. in: Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City and Toluca Éditions, Paris. Published on occasion of the exhibition Yutaka Takanashi, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, May 10 – July 29, 2012  up
  2. See also: Charles Merewether: “Disjunctive Modernity. The Practice of Artistic Experimentation in Postwar Japan”, in: Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art. Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950-1970, Los Angeles 2007, pp. 24-29.  up
  3. In this regard, a leading role was assumed by the Japan Professional Photographers Society. 1,500 photographic works were chosen out of some 500,000 submissions, and were exhibited in the Seibo Department Store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, in June 1968.  up
  4. Ibid. p. 56, and see Akihito Yasumi: “Journey to the Limits of Photography: The Heyday of Provoke 1964-1973”, in: Christoph Schifferli (editor): The Japanese Box, Paris/Göttingen 2001, p. 12.   up
  5. Ibid. p. 55.   up
  6. See. Charles Merewether: “Disjunctive Modernity. The Practice of Artistic Experimentation in Postwar Japan”, in: Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art. Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950-1970, Los Angeles 2007, pp. 24-29.   up

Yutaka Takanashi – Towards the City (including a short history of the “Provoke” era), Part I

In the past years I have been involved in introducing the photographic work of Yutaka Takanashi to the West. In 2009 I wrote an essay on Yutaka Takanashi:”Takanashi’s Magnetic Storm” for the first Western monograph on the artist: “Yutaka Takanashi. Photography 1965-74″.

Last year the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson held the first Yutaka Takanashi museum exhibition outside Japan. On this occasion I contributed an essay “Towards the City” to the catalogue to the show.1  In this text I wrote about Takanashi’s series Toshi-e as well as about his subsequent series Machi (Town) and the (unpublished) series on bars in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
And since  Yutaka Takanashi was the co-founder of the legendary Provoke group I added a short history of the Provoke era.2

Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City & Toluca Éditions, Paris

Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City & Toluca Éditions, Paris

 

Tokyo

The metropolis of Tokyo is the central theme of 20th century Japanese photography – from the artistic elevation of the city in pictorial images in the early days of the century to the dynamic representation of architecture and urban life based on the “new photography” (a literal translation of the Japanese “shinko shashin”) to the photographic documentation of destruction and reconstruction in the post-war period. In all of its facets, the city of Tokyo reflects the radical change that Japan underwent on its way to becoming an industrial society; it is a breeding ground for social change that also symbolises the collision of tradition and modernity.

Masao Horino: The Character of Greater Tokyo. Art Direction: Takao Itagaki, Chuokoron magazine, Chuokoron-sha October, 1931

Masao Horino: The Character of Greater Tokyo. Art Direction: Takao Itagaki, Chuokoron magazine, Chuokoron-sha October, 1931

 

Tokyo and its people are also the central theme in the work of Yutaka Takanashi, whose first significant series on the metropolis – Tokyo-jin (“People in Tokyo”) – was presented in Camera Mainichi magazine in 1966. By this time, Yutaka Takanashi had already made a name for himself as a professional photographer. After completing his studies in Photography at Nihon University and his exams at Kuwasa Design School, he worked as a commercial photographer at Nippon Design Center, one of Japan’s leading advertising agencies. In 1964 and 1965, he received an award from Tokyo Art Directors Club ADC for his advertising photography; in 1965, he was also presented with the Newcomer Award from Japan Photo Critics Association for his series of studio portraits entitled Otsukaresama.

Yutaka Takanashi: West Exit Square, Shinjuku Station, Shinjuku-ku, from the series "Tokyo-jin", 1965

Yutaka Takanashi: West Exit Square, Shinjuku Station, Shinjuku-ku, from the series “Tokyo-jin”, 1965

 

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  1. Essay: “Towards the City” [French/English]. in: Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City and Toluca Éditions, Paris.  Published on occasion of the exhibition Yutaka Takanashi, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, May 10 – July 29, 2012  up
  2. A detailed description of the history of the Provoke era isn’t available outside Japan yet…  up

After Fukushima

On March 11, 2011 the photographer Koichiro Tezuka was in a helicopter on the way back from Aomori prefecture, North Japan, to Tokyo. While in the air a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the Pacific coast of Tôhoku. It was almost probably the strongest earthquake since 1.000 years. The earthquake caused surprisingly minor damage considering the magnitude of the quake.

Koichiro Tezuka immediately began to photograph the earthquake damages, but soon they had to do a stopover at Sendai Airport, Miyagi Prefecture for to refuel the helicopter. But the airport, located very close to the sea was closed due to the earthquake.

Koichiro Tezuka, Natori, March 11, 2011
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