Posts Tagged ‘Japan history

13
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Ken Domon: Master of Japanese Realism’ at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, Rome

Exhibition dates: 27th May – 18th September 2016

 

Social Realism

I love most Japanese photography of the post-war period (1950s-1970s) and this artist’s work is no exception. What a absolute master of photography, not just of Japanese photography, he was.

Direct, focused, gritty, unflinching, the work of this initiator of social realist photography lays bare “the direct connection between the camera and the subject” in the most forthright way. While professing that the photographs are “an absolutely non-dramatic snapshot” (just like the Bechers professed that their gridded, ordered photographs were just about form and nothing else), this artist produced quality work that narrates a transcendent story of life in Japan. His images are music, and visions, from the heart of a nation. You only have to look at the photograph Gemella non vedente (1957, below) from the series Hiroshima to understand what I mean. There is just this feeling in your synapses about his pictures, as though you yourself were holding the camera …

In his portrait photographs there is quietness and contemplation; in his other work anger, sadness, joy, humour. A direct connection to reality is at the forefront of his understanding. This connection is miraculously (as in, something that apparently contravenes known laws governing the universe) transformed into other spaces and feelings – the twirling of umbrellas, the lizard on the head, the raised arms and white gloves of the traffic policeman (shot from a crouching position). While he is not an artist who creates change he certainly documents the results of change in a magnificent way. I love them all.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Museo dell’Ara Pacis for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Ken Domon. 'Allenamento degli allievi del corpo della Marina [Students of the Navy training]' 1936

 

Ken Domon
Allenamento degli allievi del corpo della Marina [Students of the Navy training]
1936
Yokosuka
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]' 1938

 

Ken Domon
Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]
1938
Azabu, Tokyo
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

For the first time ever outside Japan, an exhibition of work by Ken Domon (1909-90), recognized as a master of realism and one of the most important figures in the history of modern Japanese photography, is being held in Rome at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis. It features about 150 photographs taken in black and white as well as colour between the 1920s and the 1970s, which illustrate the author’s path towards social realism. From the first shots of the period before and during World War II, which display a vision linked to photojournalism and propaganda, through photography of the social sphere, the exhibit follows Ken Domon’s production up to the crucial work documenting the tragedy of Hiroshima, which the photographer undertook as though in response to a call and a humanitarian duty.

Regarded as an absolute master of Japanese photography and initiator of the realistic movement, Ken Domon marked a pivotal chapter in the history of post-war Japanese photography, laying the foundations for contemporary photographic production and remaining a constant point of reference for Japanese enthusiasts. According to Domon, “The fundamental gift of quality work lies in the direct connection between the camera and the subject.” The master’s aim was indeed always to capture a wholly realistic image devoid of drama. Against the background of the renewed spirit of the post-war period, he focused on society in general and everyday life: “I am immersed in the social reality of today but at the same time in the classical culture and traditions of Nara and Kyoto. This twofold involvement has the common denominator of a search for the point at which the two realities are linked to the destinies of people, the anger, sorrow and joy of the Japanese people.”

The realistic photograph, described as “an absolutely non-dramatic snapshot”, therefore plays the leading part in an exhibition thematically laid out to illustrate the master’s vast production, transversally encompassing the whole of Japanese culture. From the early work of a photojournalistic nature and at the service of pre-war propaganda and the cultural promotion of Japan overseas (Photojournalism and Pre-War Propaganda; The Post-War Period: Towards Social Realism) to a focus on recording everyday life and the city’s transformation and westernization with ever-greater attention to social themes. His social realism is expressed in particular through two series emblematic of this period, namely Hiroshima (1958), regarded by the Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe as the first great modern work of Japan, and The Children of Chikuhō, a series on poverty in the mining villages of southern Japan with a broad range of lively portraits of children encountered in the streets.

This is followed by Portraits, comprising photographs of famous figures in the worlds of art, literature, culture and science such as Yukio Mishima, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Tarō Okamoto and Yusaku Kamekura. The final section is devoted to his most important series, Pilgrimage to Ancient Temples, photographs of Buddhist sculptures, buildings and treasures as well as views of landscapes taken on journeys throughout Japan in search of the beauty of the sacred places of the past. Landscapes that conjure up the fascination of cultural diversity and the exotic.

Ken Domon’s work can be described as autobiographical, documentation that is private rather social, always selected on personal criteria that transform the shot into a moment of dialogue with the subject. His vision of the subject, be it a landscape, a sculpture, a person or an object, is a vehicle of the universal beauty seen through the lens, which does not omit the physical characteristics of the form captured. A multifaceted figure whose photography embraces the whole of Japanese culture before and after the war, Ken Domon is also the first photographer to have a personal museum devoted entirely to his vast work in his hometown of Sakata, inaugurated in 2003. Together with friends and other leading figures in the Japanese world of art, he initiated the cultural renewal that enabled Japan to emerge definitively from the defeat in war and led to the contemporary aesthetic that is still a point of reference for the entire world.

The show is part of a vast programme of events that will represent the cultural and technological world of Japan in Italy all through 2016: major exhibitions of art, productions from the great tradition of Noh and puppet theatre (bunraku), concerts, performances of modern and traditional dance, film festivals, exhibits of architecture, design, comics, literature, sport and so much else. The occasion is the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first treaty of friendship and trade between Italy and Japan, signed on 25 August 1866, which initiated diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Press release from the Museo dell’Ara Pacis

 

Ken Domon. 'Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]' 1938

 

Ken Domon
Esercitazioni delle crocerossine [Red Cross exercises]
1938
Azabu, Tokyo
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pesca all'ayu' 1936

 

Ken Domon
Pesca all’ayu
1936
Izu, Prefettura di Shizuoka
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Foto commemorativa della cerimonia di diploma del corpo della Marina [Commemorative photo of the Marine Corp graduation ceremony]' 1944

 

Ken Domon
Foto commemorativa della cerimonia di diploma del corpo della Marina [Commemorative photo of the Marine Corp graduation ceremony]
1944
Tsuchiura, Ibaragi
1047 x 747 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

The pre-war period

From photojournalism to propaganda photography

Domon began to work in photography in 1933 at the age of 24, carrying out the humble duties of an apprentice at Miyauchi Kōtarō’s studio in Ueno. Right from the start he won prizes and began to write for photography magazines and journals, publishing his first photo in Asahi Camera in August 1935. The 10th of October of the same year marked an important turning point in his career. He replied to an advertisement published by the Nippon Kōbō studio in Ginza, which was looking for a photo technician. Founded by Natori Yōnosuke (1910-1962) when he returned from his experience in Berlin at the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, the studio spread in Japan for the first time concepts such as editing and reporting and a new system of production based on the collaboration between photographer and graphic designer under the supervision of an art director, which led to the large-scale diffusion of photojournalism.

Domon began his first reportage for the magazine Nippon, published in English in order to promote Japanese culture abroad with a mix of information and propaganda. The first photographic reportage was on the traditional Shichigosan Festival on the occasion of the presentation of children in the Meiji Jingu shrine, realised with his model C Leica. This was followed by services that presented handicrafts, traditions, industrial and military progress and the progressive aspects of Japan, which in the 1930s had become increasingly nationalistic.

The war years and the bunraku puppet theatre

During the years of maximum Japanese expansion in the Pacific, immediately prior to the Second World War, even photography had to comply with the strict rules of military policy. Only few selected professional photographers could obtain photographic materials for assignments deemed to be “essential”, and naturally the “essential” photographic services were subject to the requirements of government propaganda, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Tourism Agency and the International Cultural Relations Company.

Thus many photographic publications were discontinued, with economic repercussions for photographers. In fact, Domon had difficulty maintaining a family of seven. He also had the added anxiety of the probable arrival of a “red card” that would have called him to arms and probably to the front in a group of photo-reporters. In response to this critical situation, Domon decided to retire from the public scene, dedicating himself to culture, in particular to Buddhist temples and the bunraku puppet theatre.

On the 8th of December, 1941 he was in the backstage of the Yotsubashi Bunraku Theatre in Osaka when he read the special edition of a newspaper announcing the declaration of war to the United States. It was not easy to gain the respect and collaboration of the master puppeteers – national living treasures such as Yoshida Bungorō, Yoshida Eiza and Kiritake Monjūrō – in the key moment of taking the shot with a camera that did not go unnoticed due to its size and long exposure times. However, by 1943 he had shot about 7,000 negatives, which were collected in the book entitled Bunraku published in 1972.

 

Ken Domon. 'Vigile urbano a Ginza 4-chōme [Traffic policeman in Ginza 4-chōme]' 1946

 

Ken Domon
Vigile urbano a Ginza 4-chōme [Traffic policeman in Ginza 4-chōme]
1946
Tokyo
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Donne a passeggio [Women walking]' 1950

 

Ken Domon
Donne a passeggio [Women walking]
1950
Sendai
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'L'attrice Yamaguchi Yoshiko [The actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi]' 1952

 

Ken Domon
L’attrice Yamaguchi Yoshiko [The actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi]
1952
535 x 748 mm.
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pescatrici di perle (ama san) [Pearl fisherwomen]' 1948

 

Ken Domon
Pescatrici di perle (ama san) [Pearl fisherwomen]
1948
457 x 559 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Sit-in studentesco a Tachikawa contro l'ampliamento della base americana [Student sit-in in Tachikawa against the expansion of US base]' 1955

 

Ken Domon
Sit-in studentesco a Tachikawa contro l’ampliamento della base americana [Student sit-in in Tachikawa against the expansion of US base]
1955
Tokyo
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

The postwar period

The affirmation of realism in photography

The tragic events related to the Second World War and to the defeat of Japan, marked by the atrocities of the atomic bomb, revealed the great deception of the war propaganda. Defeat led to the collapse of the imperial myth and state Shintoism, which had been the basis of military ideology.

If on the one hand, by the end of the 1940s there had been considerable intellectual rebirth leading to a rapid resumption of the diffusion of magazines, publications, exhibitions and artistic circles, on the other hand there was no language that seemed suitable for expressing such a tragic reality. There was a need to document a society undergoing profound change and in this sense Domon became the promoter of realistic photography, becoming a landmark for amateur photographers. He embraced the western trends that had taken over the city, but also the alleys and the poorest sectors of the population.

The high point of the realist tendency was reached around 1953, thanks to the exhibition, Photography Today: Japan and France, held in 1951 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, provided the opportunity to make comparisons with names such as Cartier Bresson, Brassai, Doisneau. Domon’s last word on realism appeared in the magazine Photo Art in 1957 with an article that debated the two fundamental concepts of photography: jijitsu, reality, and shinjitsu, truth.

 

Ken Domon. 'Bambini che fanno roteare gli ombrelli [Kids twirling umbrellas]' c. 1937

 

Ken Domon
Bambini che fanno roteare gli ombrelli [Kids twirling umbrellas]
c. 1937
Dalla serie Bambini (Kodomotachi)
From the series Children (Kodomotachi)
Ogōchimura
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Sorelline orfane, Rumie e Sayuri [Orphan sisters, Rumie and Sayuri]' 1959

 

Ken Domon
Sorelline orfane, Rumie e Sayuri [Orphan sisters, Rumie and Sayuri]
1959
Dalla serie I bambini di Chikuhō (Chikuhō no kodomotachi)
From the series Children of  Chikuhō
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Rumie' 1959

 

Ken Domon
Rumie
1959
Dalla serie I bambini di Chikuhō (Chikuhō no kodomotachi)
From the series Children of  Chikuhō
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Lucertola [Lizard]' 1955

 

Ken Domon
Lucertola [Lizard]
1955
Dalla serie I bambini di Kōtō (Kōtō no kodomotachi)
From the series Children of  Chikuhō
Tokyo
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pioggerella [Drizzle]' 1952 - 1954

 

Ken Domon
Pioggerella [Drizzle]
1952 – 1954
Dalla serie Bambini (Kodomotachi)
From the series Children (Kodomotachi)
Atami
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Children and miners’ villages

Domon adored children. His first services for Nippon were focused on the Shichigosan Festival and then on children fishing in Izu. But in 1952 he began to photographing children all over Japan, capturing the vitality of the streets and of the poorer neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Ginza, Shinbashi, Nagoya and Osaka and in particular in the Kōtō area where he lived. Probably due to the loss of his second child in 1946 in an accident, Domon moved increasingly toward a realist if not a socialist approach, which allowed him to deal with current themes in an indirect way through the innocent eyes of children.

Several books were dedicated to this theme: The Children of Kōtō (Kōtō no kodomotachi), whose publication was stopped by Domon himself, dissatisfied with his work in 1956; The Children of Chikuhō (Chikuhō no kodomotachi), published in January 1960, and its continuation which followed in November, The Father of Little Rumie is Dead (Rumie chan has otōsan ga shinda), which showed the miserable conditions of children in the villages of the mining area on the island of Kyūshū, and in particular the story of two orphan sisters, whose story moved Japan becoming a best seller. Lastly, the collection Children (Kodomotachi), published in 1976 by master of graphics and friend, Yūsaku Kamekura, and published by Nikkor Club, the amateur photographers’ association linked to Nikon and Domon.

 

Ken Domon. 'Bagno presso il fiume davanti allo Hiroshima Dome [Bath at the river in front of the Hiroshima Dome]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Bagno presso il fiume davanti allo Hiroshima Dome [Bath at the river in front of the Hiroshima Dome]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'La morte di Keiji [The death of Keiji]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
La morte di Keiji [The death of Keiji]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Paziente in ospedale [Hospital patient]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Paziente in ospedale [Hospital patient]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Donna in cura per le lesioni da bomba atomica [Women being treated for injuries from atomic bomb]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Donna in cura per le lesioni da bomba atomica [Women being treated for injuries from atomic bomb]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Gemella non vedente [Blind twin (female)]' 1957

 

Ken Domon
Gemella non vedente [Blind twin (female)]
1957
Dalla serie Hiroshima
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Hiroshima

Published in March 1958, the year prior to the first brain hemorrhage to strike Domon Ken, the Hiroshima collection presents 180 photographs introduced by a short explanatory essay. The work, completed thirteen years after the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki, focused the attention of the world once again on the still open but almost forgotten wounds of Hiroshima, with a strong social impact.

The importance of this event in the life of the photographer is also evidenced by Domon’s recording in his notebook in the day and time of his arrival: July 23rd, 1957, 2.40 pm. From then until November he went there six times, for thirty-six days, producing more than 7,800 negatives, of which Hiroshima is only the synthesis. Domon realized that until then he had ignored and been afraid of what Hiroshima had actually meant. With his 35mm camera he revealed the places and people directly and indirectly affected by the atomic bomb, coldly recording with tears in his eyes the material damage, physical injuries, scars, deformations, and the plastic surgery and transplants undergone by the victims of the bomb, dedicating 14 pages at the beginning of the book to the progress made in the field of plastic surgery, which became a real photographic dossier.

The public shock that followed the publication of the dossier made him the object of harsh criticism that, however, failed to undermine his determination to represent reality. In an article published in the magazine Shinchō in 1977 the Nobel Prize winner Ōe Kenzaburō defined Hiroshima as the first work of modern art that dealt with the theme of the atomic bomb, talking about the living instead of the dead.

 

Ken Domon. 'Autoritratto [Self-portrait]' 1958

 

Ken Domon
Autoritratto [Self-portrait]
1958
Pubblicato sul numero di novembre della rivista Sankei Camera
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Shiga Naoya (scrittore/writer)' 1951

 

Ken Domon
Shiga Naoya (scrittore/writer)
1951
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Shiga Kiyoshi (medico ricercatore/medical researcher)' 1949

 

Ken Domon
Shiga Kiyoshi (medico ricercatore/medical researcher)
1949
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Takami Jun (scrittore/writer)' 1948

 

Ken Domon
Takami Jun (scrittore/writer)
1948
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Kuga Yoshiko (attrice/actress) and Ozu Yasujirō (regista/director)' 1958

 

Ken Domon
Kuga Yoshiko (attrice/actress) and Ozu Yasujirō (regista/director)
1958
457 x 560 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Ushi (Bue), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Ushi (Ox), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]' 1941-1943

 

Ken Domon
Ushi (Bue), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Ushi (Ox), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]
1941-1943
Murōji, Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Hitsuji (Pecora), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Hitsuji (Sheep), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]' 1941-1943

 

Ken Domon
Hitsuji (Pecora), dai dodici guardiani (jūnishinshō) del Murōji [Hitsuji (Sheep), one of the twelve guardians (jūnishinshō) of Muroji]
1941-1943
Murōji, Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Portraits (Fūbō)

In 1953 the publication of the Portraits (Fūbō) collection of photographs, which came out in paperback the following year, concluded fifteen years of work dedicated to the portrait that had begun with the first photograph in May 1936 portraying the writer Takeda Rintarō, continuing during the war and until the year in which the collection was published. Domon gathered in a single volume 83 portraits of friends and acquaintances, personalities from the world of entertainment, literature, theatre and politics, stressing in the introduction that they were “[…] people I respect and like and am close to […] The choice of people was surprisingly subjective and random and no claim to any strictly historical or cultural meaning can be made.”

It seems that the initial choice of the faces to be included in the collection was made by Domon with a list written in ink on a sliding door on the second floor of his house in 1948. This list was subjected to the comments and opinions of friends and publishers who went to his house and subsequently underwent substitutions and changes. Through familiar faces and less well-known personalities, Domon bears witness to a crucial era in Japan, one of great writers such as Mishima, Kawabata and Tanizaki, of actors and directors of the caliber of Mifune and Ozu, of great artists who were often his friends and gave rise to a new important artistic trends in the country, such as the sculptor Noguchi, the graph artist Kamekura, the founder of the Ikebana School, Sōgetsu Teshigahara, or painters like Fujita, Umehara, Okamoto. Each picture is accompanied by the name of the subject, their occupation and the date it was taken. There are also short texts describing the relationship between Domon and the person depicted, in addition to the atmosphere created during the shooting.

Sometimes subjects were exasperated by the professional stubbornness of Domon, as is clear in the portrait of Umehara that reveals an air of irritation close to intolerance. Outrightness and instantaneousness, which were always Domon’s objectives, became easier to achieve thanks to technological developments. He passed from a camera assembled for cabinet card portraits – with a dry plate and flash that worked with magnesium powder, used before the war – to a small Leica in the post-war period.

 

Ken Domon. 'Ōnodera, campana e ciliegi [Onodera, bell and cherry trees]' 1977

 

Ken Domon
Ōnodera, campana e ciliegi [Onodera, bell and cherry trees]
1977
Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Pagoda del Murōji con la neve [Pagoda Muroji with snow]' 1978

 

Ken Domon
Pagoda del Murōji con la neve [Pagoda Muroji with snow]
1978
Nara
535 x 748 mm
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

Ken Domon. 'Buddha Shaka ligneo a figura intera presso il Mirokudō del Murōji [Buddha Shaka wooden full-length at the Mirokudō Muroji]' c. 1943

 

Ken Domon
Buddha Shaka ligneo a figura intera presso il Mirokudō del Murōji [Buddha Shaka wooden full-length at the Mirokudō Muroji]
c. 1943
Nara
457 x 560 mm.
Ken Domon Museum of Photography

 

 

Pilgrimage to the ancient temples (Kojijunrei)

Murōji

The Murōji temple, small and immersed in the greenery of the Nara mountains, was for Domon the first stage of a “pilgrimage to the ancient temples”, a sort of journey of the soul that accompanied him throughout his life and from which came the encyclopaedic work Kojijunrei (Pilgrimage to the Ancient Temples). It all began in 1939 with a simple excursion, suggested by friend and art historian Mizusawa Sumio (1905-1975): an experience that changed his life. In the first year alone he returned more than forty times and on many more occasions over the course of the following years.

At first Domon focused his photographic work on buildings, from the five-story pagoda – the smallest in Japan – to the architectural details, focusing on the sculptures inside, but also on the imposing profile of the Miroku Buddha of Ōnodera, excavated on the rocky wall facing the river along the road that leads to Murōji. Later he concentrated on wooden statues (kōninbutsu) of the Heian era (794-1185) inside the temple and starting with wide, overall shots he then moved on to capture the most minute details of the wood, so as to emphasize the folds and hems of the vestments and the gestures of the hands and eyes. His favourite statue was of Buddha Shaka, enthroned Mirokudō, who with his “beautiful and compassionate face” was, he claimed, the “most beautiful man on earth.”

For this particular job he used a basic Konishiroku (now Konika) camera made of wood, especially suitable for cabinet card portraits that he had purchased in 1941, but also an Eyemo with a tripod, often carried by his assistants. Evidence of Domon’s numerous pilgrimages and countless photographs can be found in the 1954 Murōji collection. The expanded, definitive edition of this work, Nyonin Takano Murōji, was published in 1978 and includes photographs taken subsequently with the new post-war techniques.

 

Pilgrimage to the ancient temples (Kojijunrei)

Around the temples

The thousands of shots that Domon took in 39 temples from 1939 to the seventies made up the Pilgrimage to the Ancient Temples (Kojijunrei), the masterpiece of his career for which, even today, he is known worldwide. It consists of five volumes published over a number of years (the first in 1963, the second in 1965, the third in 1968, the fourth in 1971 and the fifth in 1975) which put together 462 colour pictures and 325 photogravures of temples and statues built between the seventh and the sixteenth century, following a subjective criterion and not expecting such large proportions. It is first and foremost a work that documents the beauty of architecture, sculpture, gardens and landscapes around the temples and shrines selected by Domon. And yet it is also a testimony of the progression of photographic technique in those years, such as the transition to colour film of 1958, and of Domon’s health problems that influenced his choices.

In December 1959 he suffered a brain haemorrhage that paralysed the right part of his body, thus making it impossible to hold the camera, even after a long period of rehabilitation. Therefore, he resolved to use a tripod. He suffered a second haemorrhage on the June 22nd, 1968, which this time confined him to a wheelchair. And even with this umpteenth misfortune he did not stop taking photographs. With the help of assistants and by moving his point of view further down, he continued to work. He had a third haemorrhage in 1979, followed by a long stay in hospital and his death on the September 15th, 1990.

 

 

Museo dell’Ara Pacis
Lungotevere in Augusta, Rome

Opening hours:
Daily 9.30 am –  19.30 pm

Museo dell’Ara Pacis website

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12
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th March – 25th August 2013

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According to the press release, “Hamaya focused inward toward rural life on the back coast of Japan, [while] Yamamoto found inspiration in the art of European Surrealists,” the two artists responding differently to upheaval in their country in two different ways.  While Yamamoto is more obviously influenced by the Surrealists, almost becoming the Japanese version of Man Ray, for me Hamaya’s photographs are equally if more subtly influenced by the cultural movement. Observe Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture (1955, below). I relate this image to the atomisation of bodies during the conflagration of Hiroshima, however subconsciously the artist is expressing this feeling. Similarly, the faceless humans in Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture (1955, below), blind musicians, disembodied man in a raincoat or poet thinking the void all have an essential quality, that of a disturbing psychological undertow which juxtaposes two more or less distant realities – reality and dream – to form images of great emotional and poetic power.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog on Google

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Japan’s Black Coast

“Knowledge of the back coast, along the Sea of Japan, is somewhat vague to those not living there, and in the minds of most people it is a country obscured by snow. In Japan, the back coast is where the old era still lingers on… The supporting industries of this back coast are primitive – agriculture, forestry, and fishing. The work involved is backbreaking physical labor. A narrow land, a heavy population, and climatic drawbacks invite a vicious circle of poverty. The basic Japanese foods are fish and rice. And they are obtained by these people only through hard labor.”

Hiroshi Hamaya, Ura Nihon (Japan’s Back Coast), 1957
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A Chronicle of Grief and Anger

In 1959 the proposed ten-year renewal of the United States-Japan Security Treaty of 1952 meant the continuation of the presence of U.S. troops and the persistence of U.S. political and cultural influence. When Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, with the aid of the police, forced the Japanese parliament to ratify the treaty in May 1960, the public upheaval was immense. Hamaya, a pacifist living outside Tokyo, entered the fray with his camera, chronicling the demonstrations. His pictures were published both individually and in the form of a quickly assembled paperback under the title Ikari to kanashimi no kiroku (A Chronicle of Grief and Anger).
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Portraiture

Japanese society had a pronounced respect for artists, authors, craftsmen, and scholars. As a freelance photographer, Hamaya was often enlisted to make portraits of them for publication. He compiled a selection of these portraits made since the 1940s for the 1983 book Japanese Scholars and Artists, which included the renowned poet, art historian, and calligrapher Yaichi Aizu. Hamaya also produced a series of genre studies that featured his wife, Asa Hamaya, who was a skilled master of the tea ceremony. After her death in 1985 Hamaya prepared a memorial to her in the form of a portfolio of prints, titled Calendar Days of Asa Hamaya, following the earlier ukiyo-e tradition of woodblock series such as bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women).
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Observing Nature

“I spent three years and four months on an extended walking tour to observe nature in Japan, from the drifting ice packs off the Shiretoko Peninsula to the coral reefs of Okinawa … Nature breathed, sometimes deeply and sometimes violently, with the climatic changes of the seasons, and with the changing face of daily weather, humidity, seasonal winds, and typhoons. In particular, the distribution of plants from the subarctic to the subtropical zones, and of lichen and mosses, was both complex and varied… I came to realize that natural features in Japan, like the nature of its people, were extremely diversified and complex. I intended to investigate this conclusion with my own eyes.”

Hiroshi Hamaya, My Fifty Years of Photography, 1982

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'The Village up on a Cay, Aomori Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
The Village up on a Cay, Aomori Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'The United States-Japan Security Treaty Protest, Tokyo, May 20, 1960' 1960

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
The United States-Japan Security Treaty Protest, Tokyo, May 20, 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'New Year's Ritual, Niigata Prefecture' 1940-1946

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
New Year’s Ritual, Niigata Prefecture
1940-1946
Gelatin silver print
30.6 x 20.2 cm
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print
42.1 x 28 cm
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print print
29.5 x 19.7 cm (11 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Blind Musicians, Niigata Prefecture' 1956

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Blind Musicians, Niigata Prefecture
1956
Gelatin silver print print
30.1 x 20 cm (11 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Man in a Traditional Minobashi Raincoat, Niigata Prefecture' 1956

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Man in a Traditional Minobashi Raincoat, Niigata Prefecture
1956
Gelatin silver print print
30.6 x 19.8 cm (12 1/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Yaichi Aizu, Poet, Calligrapher, and Japanese Art Critic' 1947

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Yaichi Aizu, Poet, Calligrapher, and Japanese Art Critic
1947
Gelatin silver print print
24 x 16 cm (9 7/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
Estate of Hiroshi Hamaya, Oiso, Japan

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The Taishō era (1912-1926) was a brief but dynamic period in Japan’s history that ushered in a modern state with increased industrialization, shifting political parties, radical fashions, and liberal thinking in many areas. However, this era of heightened experimentation ended with the arrival of an international depression, the promotion of ultranationalism, and the country’s entry into what would become the Greater East Asia War.

Reflecting both sides of this dramatic transition, two disparate representations of modern Japan will be displayed together in Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto, on view March 26 – August 25, 2013, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. Curated by Judith Keller, senior curator of photographs, and Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs, the exhibition includes photographs from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, the Toyko Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the estate of Hiroshi Hamaya, the Nagoya City Art Museum, and other public and private lenders.

Born during the Taishō era, photographers Hiroshi Hamaya (1915-1999) and Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1987) responded to Japan’s rapidly-changing sociopolitical climate in very different ways. While Hamaya focused inward toward rural life on the back coast of Japan, Yamamoto found inspiration in the art of European Surrealists. As the ebb and flow of Japan’s political, economic, and social structures persisted across the 20th century, Hamaya and Yamamoto continued to pursue divergent paths, thus embodying both sides of modern Japanese life: the traditional and the Western, the rural and the urban, the oriental and the occidental.

“Much is known about the Surrealists living and working in Europe, as well as the celebrated documentary tradition of 20th-century photography, but the Japanese artists who embraced these movements remain relatively unknown in the West,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This exhibition illuminates the extraordinary work of two artists who responded to upheaval in their country in two different, but equally powerful ways.”

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Hiroshi Hamaya

The son of a detective, Hamaya grew up in Tokyo’s Ueno neighborhood during the rise and decline of the Taishō era. After attending Kanto Junior College, he began his photographic career by taking aerial images for the Practical Aeronautical Institute. He later photographed downtown Tokyo from street level, and provided images of daily city life and local events to a number of magazines. In 1939, an assignment that took him to Ura Nihon, or the rural back coast of the Sea of Japan, changed his view of photography and society.

Known for its unforgiving winter snowstorms and the difficult lives of its impoverished inhabitants, Ura Nihon was a mystery to most of Japan and the world. Moved by the customs and lifestyles of a much older era, Hamaya shifted from journalism toward a more humanistic and ethnographic approach to photography, capturing the everyday life of the region’s residents. This included documenting laborers in fields and at sea, as fish and rice were the primary sources of nourishment throughout the year.

From 1940 to 1955 Hamaya pursued a long-term personal interest in the region of Echigo (now known as Niigata Prefecture). He recorded the people, traditions, and landscape of a district that was, at the time, Japan’s chief rice-producing region in spite of a four-month long snow season. Among his many subjects, Hamaya focused on the winter in Kuwatoridani, a small agricultural village that practiced elaborate, long-standing New Year’s Eve rituals. In New Year’s Ritual, Niigata Prefecture (1940-46), boys in the village are seated with their hands clasped and their eyes closed in prayer. The close-up of the boys’ faces in deep concentration emphasizes the respect for customs of the region.

In late 1959, the proposed ten-year renewal of the United States-Japan Security Treaty of 1952 raised doubts about Japan’s sovereignty and its future prosperity. When Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, with the aid of police, forced the Japanese parliament to ratify the treaty in May 1960, the political upheaval was immense. While Hamaya was a pacifist, he felt obligated to return to his journalistic roots and entered the fray with his camera. He chronicled the demonstrations day by day, sometimes hour by hour.

“These demonstrations profoundly affected Hamaya, causing him, in the 1960s, to turn from the social landscape to an investigation of nature,” explains Judith Keller. “His disillusionment with Japan’s political apparatus provoked a rejection of the human subject. Much of the work he created in his late career depicts the volcanoes, seas, mountains, forests, and other natural wonders of Japan and other small island nations.”

Hamaya’s career also included portraiture of noted artists and scholars. As a freelance photographer, he was often enlisted to make portraits of well-known men and women, and in 1983 published Japanese Scholars and Artists, a book that included prominent novelist Junichiro Tanizaki, woodcut artist Shiko Manakata, literary critic Kenichi Yoshida, and renowned poet, art historian, and calligrapher Yaichi Aizu. He also documented the daily life of his beloved wife, Asa, and upon her death in 1985 created a portfolio of these sensitive photographs, Calendar Days of Asa Hamaya.

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Kansuke Yamamoto

Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1987) learned about photography from his father, an amateur pictorialist photographer and owner of the first photo supply store in the city of Nagoya. His interest in photography developed at a time when two movements based on experimentation and new modes of expression—Shinkō Shashin (New Photography) and Zen’ei Shashin (avant-garde photography) – were dominant. However, it was Surrealism – particularly Surrealist artists and writers such as René Magritte, Paul Éluard, Yves Tanguy, and Man Ray that appears to have made the most profound impact on his work.

Yamamoto was an influential figure in the avant-garde photography movement in Japan in the 1930s, helping to establish the group Nagoya Foto Avant-Garde by the end of that decade. In 1938 he created a journal, Yoru no Funsui (The Night’s Fountain), which promoted Surrealist poems, literature, ideas, and art in Japanese.

His first photographs date to the early 1930s and reveal an interest in myriad techniques and subjects, including abstract architectural studies, still life, and collage. From the outset, he created work suffused with mystery, provocation, and humor. He often utilized photography as a means to address controversial issues or express avant-garde ideas. For example, in Buddhist Temple’s Birdcage (1940), the telephone enclosed in the cage is possibly a metaphor for the control exercised by the Japanese government during the Showa Era (1926-1989), a theme that reappears in work produced throughout his career. The experience of being interrogated by the Tokkō (Thought Police) in 1939 for his journal, Yoru no Funsui, and its potentially subversive content made a profound impact on Yamamoto, but never deterred his avant-garde spirit.

Yamamoto remained part of the artistic vanguard in Japan during the 1940s and 1950s. He was a member of VOU, a club founded by poet Katue Kitasono that organized exhibitions and published a journal promoting visual “plastic” poetry, photography, literature, and other arts. In 1947 Yamamoto founded VIVI, a collective in Nagoya that allowed further dissemination and promotion of avant-garde ideologies. Yamamoto continued to produce innovative work during this period, experimenting with color photography, combination printing, photograms, and sculpture.

“At the end of his career in the 1970s, Yamamoto maintained his ardent nonconformist spirit, employing art as a means of criticism, dialogue, and rebellion,” explains Amanda Maddox. “He never failed to generate provocative imagery in an effort to represent his convictions concerning war, liberty, and avant-garde ideologies.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'My Thin-aired Room' 1956

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
My Thin-aired Room
1956
Gelatin silver print print
34.9 x 42.9 cm (13 3/4 x 16 7/8 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Rose and Shovel' 1956

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Rose and Shovel
1956
Gelatin silver print print
31.9 x 34.9 cm (12 9/16 x 13 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'A Forgotten Person' 1958

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
A Forgotten Person
1958
Chromogenic print
46.2 x 33 cm (18 3/16 x 13 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Stapled Flesh' 1949

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Stapled Flesh
1949
Gelatin silver print print
31.1 x 24.8 cm (12 1/4 x 9 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
From the Collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Buddhist Temple's Bird Cage' 1940

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Buddhist Temple’s Bird Cage
1940
Gelatin silver print
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Butterfly' 1970

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Butterfly
1970
Gelatin silver print print
16.4 x 11.4 cm (6 7/16 x 4 1/2 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'A Chronicle of Drifting' 1949

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
A Chronicle of Drifting
1949
Collage print
30 x 24.8 cm (11 13/16 x 9 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 9 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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