21
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 29th January – 8th May 2016

 

I absolutely love Japanese photography from this period.

Subjective photographs with a gutsy pictorial language: rough, grainy, and blurred intimations of a postwar reality mated with “the search for a new Japanese identity.” An identity (pop!) art with a elemental, chthonic twist – containing a dark sensuality – producing images that pull no punches. Wonderful stuff.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Albertina for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is viewed as a one-of-a-kind agglomeration of post-war artistic efforts. In the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, the Albertina examines the complex genesis of this magazine and thereby presents a representative cross-section of photographic trends present in Japan between the 1960s and 1970s.

With around 200 objects, this showing unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. In light of the massive protest movements active in Japan during this period, their photographs arose at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These images thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and the renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition is a coproduction between Albertina, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Le Bal (Paris), and Art Institute of Chicago.

 

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki. 'Provoke 3' cover, 1969

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki
Provoke 3 cover
1969
© Nakahira Gen/Moriyama Daido/Takahiko Okada/Takanashi Yukata/Taki Koji

 

 

The three numbers of Provoke were printed in small editions of only one thousand copies each. Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi, Kōji Taki, and Takahiko Okada founded the magazine; Daidō Moriyama joined the group with the magazine’s second issue. While the first two numbers were dedicated to the subjects Summer 1968 and Eros, the last issue had no focal theme.

The photographers of Provoke worked spontaneously and dynamically, often without looking through the viewfinder of their small-format cameras. This made for a rough, grainy, and blurred (“are,” “bure,” “boke”) pictorial language influenced by Ed van der Elsken and William Klein. This language broke with traditional photography defined by sophisticated compositions, perfect tonal values, and the vintage print. The tonal quality of pictures reproduced through printing differed from that of traditional photographic prints, and the pictures were regarded as independent works in their own right. Contrary to the objectives of the traditional matter-of-fact documentary photography, they mirrored their authors’ subjective experience of Japan’s postwar reality. The manifesto in the first Provoke issue defined photography as an autonomous medium independent of spoken language and aimed at “provoking” thoughts and ideas. The title of the magazine Provoke: Provocative Materials for Thought expresses this intention. (Wall text)

 

Takuma Nakahira (1938-2015) | For a Language to Come

The photographer, theorist, and critic Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki were responsible for the discursive orientation of Provoke. Nakahira’s works rejected the rules of photojournalism and its claim of rendering facts in a generally valid, objective way. They were also critical of the visual mass media which increasingly pervaded the everyday life of Japan’s consumerist society. According to Nakahira, the media, having lost all relation to reality through the information explosion, were only concerned with presenting a virtual reality. Nakahira did not regard the photograph as an artist photographer’s means of expression but as a mere mechanical document of his subjective perception.

It is the relationship between photography and language which is central for Nakahira’s photography. This is not only evident in Provoke but also in his book For a Language to Come published in 1970. This volume assembles a non-linear and unhierarchical sequence of snapshots evoking imaginary, post-apocalyptic sceneries which not least reveal the photographer’s skepsis about the US consumerist culture spreading throughout Japan. (Wall text)

 

Three Waves of Protest Books

The protest books can be divided into three groups. From the 1960s, mainly collective publishing projects highlighted social unrest such as mass demonstrations and strikes organized by the trade unions against the ratification of the Security Treaty. The trade union publication Rope Ladder and Iron Helmet, for example, documents the occupation of a publishing house by its employees. The second wave saw primarily individual publications by various photographers such as Kazuo Kitai’s book Resistance. It depicts the students’ activities, and its rough and grainy pictorial language became important for Provoke. The third wave of protest books, generally designed by students and published from 1967 on, focused on violent street fights in Tokyo directed against the Vietnam War. The collectively produced volume Sanrizuka – The Hokusō Plateau on Fire. Document 1966-71 deals with the protests against the construction of the airport in Sanrizuka, in which students joined forces with the local farmers. (Wall text)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975 at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969' 1969

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu
Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969
1969
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna; permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate, courtesy | PRISKA PASQUER, Cologne

 

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu (1930-2012)

Shōmei Tōmatsu is seen as a key figure for Provoke. He photographed the sociopolitical changes in Japan from the 1950s on, depicting US military bases, the consequences of dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, and the student protests in a new, symbolic documentary style. The pictures’ subjective approach revolutionized traditional documentary and reportage photography, which strove to convey a comprehensible story and a clear social message. The strategies developed by Tōmatsu are to be found in the Provoke artists’ works in a pointed form.

Tōmatsu also supported the Provoke photographers as an exhibition organizer and editor. Together with Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki, he prepared the first major exhibition of Japanese photography in 1968, which was to stimulate the founders of the magazine to explore the medium. Tōmatsu and Nakahira edited the photo galleries I am a King in the magazine Gendai no me (The Contemporary Eye), which for the first time assembled works by the photographers who would form the Provoke group. (Wall text)

 

Eikoh Hosoe. '"Kamaitachi" #31' 1968

 

Eikoh Hosoe
“Kamaitachi” #31
1968
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna – permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Eikoh Hosoe/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Performance

Pictures taken in the context of performances breach the boundary between photographic documentation and live action and emphasize performative aspects of the medium like the brief act of pictorial production and the materiality of the picture. For his series Kamaitachi, Eikō Hosoe portrayed the butoh and performance artist Tatsumi Hijikata from 1965 on. The performer incorporated the demon Kamaitachi in scenes specifically staged for the camera, visualizing the photographer’s memories of World War II. As Hosoe used his camera in a very dynamic way, the shooting may be seen as a happening involving two artists.

Competing with Provoke, Nobuyoshi Araki produced a number of Xerox photography books from 1970 on. Araki and his assistants xeroxed photographs and sent the copies bound between black covers to colleagues and friends. The production process resembling a happening, the use of technically inadequate means, and the preference of copies over the original defied classical photography in ways to be found in the Provoke magazines.

Also inspired by Provoke, Jirō Takamatsu turned to conceptual photography. For Photograph of Photograph he employed a photographer to take pictures of pictures from his family albums. The snapshot-like pictorial language manifesting itself in reflections and random image sections defamiliarizes the album pictures. Like in Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident, processes connected with the production of prints become a visible element of work that questions the supposed factuality of the medium. (Wall text)

 

Anonym (Bild 1) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 1)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

Protest

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Japan was shaken by massive, partly violent waves of protests. The key event was the ratification of the Security Treaty between Japan and the United States in 1960. Japan’s role as a military base for the war against Vietnam, the construction of Narita Airport in Sanrizuka, and the neoliberal activities of big concerns also led to protests. The years between 1960 and 1975 saw the publication of about eighty publications on the protests and the assessment of Japan’s recent history, particularly the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, connected with it.

Published by artist photographers, student associations, trade unions, and professional photo journalists, the protest books were produced in different ways. They were aimed at spreading information and mobilizing people for further protests. The strategies of subversive self-representation were characterized by an innovative design: appeal-like combinations of texts and images, suggestive sequences, dynamic croppings, and an interplay of inferior materials and sophisticated layouts.

Though the members of Provoke, excepting Moriyama, were active politically, they held the opinion that the possibilities of protest photography had been exhausted and that it could not bring about political change. Nevertheless, Provoke followed the models developed by it. The most striking feature next to layout and printing techniques is the protest photographers’ abstract and blurry aesthetic resulting from technical shortcomings. (Wall text)

 

Anonym (Bild 2) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 2)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

“The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is regarded as a highlight of post-war photography. The Albertina, in the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, is taking a close look at this publication’s creators and its long genesis. The presentation encompasses a representative cross-section of Japanese photographic trends during the 1960s and 1970s. With around 200 objects, the exhibition Provoke unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers – including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shōmei Tōmatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. Before the backdrop of the massive protest activities in Japan during this period, they created their images out of an awareness of being at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These works thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and a renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition places Provoke in a historical context, focussing on the dialogue between the group’s photography in particular and contemporary protest photography and performance art in general.

Photography is examined as a document of – and/or a call to – protest against injustice: the period around 1960 saw numerous books published in connection with the first great wave of protests in Japan against renewal of the alliance with the USA. A few of them document the demonstrations themselves, while others deal with related themes – above all with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The years during which Provoke was published saw these protests, which were staged employing great creativity, give rise to a captivating visual world of resistance to the illegal actions of large corporations and the despotism of the neoliberal Japanese state.

As the 1960s wore on, the protest movements intensified, leading to a flood of photo volumes and prints. The makers of Provoke – critic Kōji Taki, author Takuma Nakahira, critic and photographer Takuma Nakahira, and photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Daidō Moriyama – were of the opinion that journalistic photography had exhausted itself and that it was impossible to effect long-term change through direct political action. But even so, in their texts and their photos, they oriented themselves on the aesthetic strategies to which Japan’s protest photography had given rise: their works feature strikingly innovative graphic design that employs image sequences, pithy text/image combinations, dynamic outtakes, and the interplay of specifically chosen cheap materials (rough paper, low-resolution printing) with fold-outs and unusual formats.

The exhibition concludes by examining the Japanese photography of its chosen period as a variant of performance art and/or as documentation of live actions: Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, and Nobuyoshi Araki are among those photographers who, around 1970, developed great interest in portraying darkroom work or other processes connected to the production of photographic prints as visible and active components of photographic creativity. They were preceded in their efforts by dance performers such as Tatsumi Hijikata, who worked with filmmakers and photographers, as well as by groups like the Hi-Red Center, which blurred the distinctions between photographic documentation and live actions in which photography and other media played a role.

But such influences worked both ways: directly inspired by the activities of the photographers of Provoke, Hi-Red Center member Jiro Takamatsu and Koji Enokura turned to photographic conceptual art in the early 1970s.”

Press release from the Albertina

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964' 1964

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu
Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate – INTERFACE

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'The Beatles' 1965

 

Yutaka Takanashi
The Beatles
1965
From the series Tokyoites
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna
© Takanashi Yutaka

 

 

Yutaka Takanashi (b. 1935) | Towards the City

From the mid-1960s, Yutaka Takanashi focused on the urban change of the metropolis. Tokyo’s massive expansion, the modernization of its infrastructure, and its ruthless industrialization were captured in spontaneous pictures often shot from a driving car. Unlike his Provoke colleagues’ works, Takanashi’s photographs are easier to read, less pessimistic, and show a stronger affinity to classical documentary photography. He composed all his pictures by looking through the viewfinder.

In close collaboration with the book designer Kōhei Sugiura, Takanashi published the artist book Toshi e (Towards the City). Embedded in a cardboard box, its two volumes comprise a number of different, partly overlapping work groups: while the smaller one, titled Tokyo-jin (Tokyoites) contains pictures of the city’s inhabitants from 1966, the larger one explores Tokyo’s new topography, documenting its outlying districts. Shot in the Provoke era, the pictures’ blurriness and apparent exposure mistakes testify to the group’s influence. (Wall text)

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi
Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi
Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka / Taka Ishii Gallery
© Keio University Art Center / Courtesy of Butoh Laboratory Japan

 

Daidō Moriyama. 'Untitled' from the series 'Akushidento (Accident)' 1969

 

Daidō Moriyama
Untitled, from the series Akushidento (Accident)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Daidō Moriyama / Shadai Gallery, Tokyo Polytechnic University

 

 

Daidō Moriyama (geb. 1938) | Accident

Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident interlinks sociopolitical subjects, references to Western art, and media-analytical considerations. Against the background of Japan’s strengthening consumerist culture, Moriyama, inspired by Andy Warhol’s pop art pictures, relied on everyday mass media. Next to demonstrations and pop culture motifs, Moriyama, alluding to Warhol’s work Silver Car Crash of 1963, photographed police posters that campaigned for safe driving with deterrent pictures of car accidents. Reflections on the material and blurs resulting from the pictures’ enlargement emphasize the reproduction process. Moriyama questions the illusionary nature of photography and underlines their material quality. Regarding contents, the series investigates the conflict between the US consumerist culture’s attraction and the quest for a Japanese identity. (Wall text)

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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