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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Ibid. p. 55. up
- 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