Rising to prominence: Tracing Japan’s shift to contemporary photography

Yasufumi Nakamori talks about photography in Japan between 1968 and 1970

Saadia Qamar January 10, 2017
Aerial View of Expo’70 in Osaka, Japan

KARACHI: Japan was a closed society where no images could be taken and this remained so for 350 years until the Russian-Japan War took place in 1904 and the first images started being captured of the war by the Japanese Army.

This was stated by Yasufumi Nakamori while addressing the students of Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) during a talk Monday afternoon. Nakamori, based in the United States (US) as an art museum curator, hails from Japan.

Holding a PhD in photography from Cornell University, Nakamori is currently the curator and department head of photography and new media at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in the US.

In his talk, he traced the crucial shift from kindai (the modern) to gendai (the contemporary) in the history of Japanese photography that took place approximately from 1968 to 1970, and the changes in expressions and methodologies that accompanied the shift

He positioned the year of 1968 as "year zero" to mark it as the starting point of contemporary Japanese photography.

"In 1968 we saw modern photography and then by 1970 there was a shift where contemporary photography had started taking its roots in Japan," said Nakamori, while presenting his slides to the IVS students.

While showing images via slides, Nakamori showed how at one time, in 1968, massive anti-establishment protests and movements were taking place in Japan while in the same year, artists who had turned into photographers were capturing images in the global city of Tokyo. He gave an example of Shomei Tomatsu who is believed to be one of the most influential Japanese photographers of the post-War era.

"There was a big dichotomy in place during that time in Japan where Expo '70, Asia's first world's fair, was planned to open in March in Osaka while hundreds of student protests were happening on the other end," he said.

There were two ways of exhibiting your images in Japan. Either you got them published in a camera mag or you created an independent photo book, said Nakamori. Hence, he said, there came a point in time when there was no distinction between the art world and the photography world.

Remembering established photographers such as Daido Moriyama who, in 1969, took a revolutionary image of the time, to students [at the time] of photography such as Kazuo Kitai who captured images during his time of captivity in the barricades.

Tomatsu Shomei’s Lock out all campus of the University, 1969

Recalling the times of war, Nakamori showed the work of another Japanese photographer, Yosuke Yamahata. "He [Yamahata] captured the destruction of the city of Nagasaki and its people by World War II," said Nakamori.

Photography picked up pace with time in Japan and also had more input from other art forms like painting and sculpting, he said, mentioning magazines such as Ken and Provoke that created a strong impact in the society during that time.

"I chose photography as my specialisation because I grew up in Japan at a time when photography was developing and reaching its maturity," Nakamori later told The Express Tribune when questioned as to why he chose to take up photography as his field of specialisation.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2017.



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