Expanding on the legacies of Japanese photography greats like Nobuyoshi Araki and Shōmei Tōmatsu, explore the exhibition ushering in the country’s creative new blood
Distancing itself from the traditional post-war imagery of an era defined by Japanese avant-garde photography magazine Provoke, New Japanese Photography is an exhibition that sets out to challenge its audience. A clear transition can be seen from the “Are, Bure, Boke” – meaning rough, blurred and out of focus – style that emerged from Japan during the late 60s in the works of Nobuyoshi Araki and Shōmei Tōmatsu. Instead, what we are presented with are spacially aware, dynamic photographs that intertwine across a number of media platforms. Curated by SPACE CADET and STAY ALONE – two independent organizations at the forefront of Japan’s contemporary photography scene – this is an exhibition that showcases work from a variety of current and emerging artists, all keen to make their mark on the West.
New Japanese Photography places a heavy emphasis upon development and progression, “the great photographers of the past didn’t try to follow the style of their predecessors but rather they tried to renew it and sometimes even rebelled against them,” notes curators Masayoshi Suzuki and Yukihito Kono, “We can’t simply repeat the past, thus we believe that embracing new ideas is very important.” This renewal is depicted in many ways throughout the exhibition; while featured artist Naohiro Utagawademonstrates this concept through the use of juxtapositional imagery, the likes of Mai Narita and Yuji Hamada combine off-the-hip photography with traditional japanese subject matter. We caught up with exhibition curators Suzuki (founder of SPACE CADET) and Kono (photographer and co-founder of STAY ALONE) who gave us an insight into the changing world of Japanese photography and what they hoped to achieve from the exhibition.
Why was it important to show this new breed of Japanese photographers and their work?
We felt strongly that lots of people in Europe still expect “Japanese photography” to be black and white with strong, contrasting images; the style of iconic photographers from sixties or seventies such as Moriyama, Tomatsu or Araki, even in 2014. We think that's just like saying the British listen to The Beatles and therefore you feel like you know what British music is like.
Something new and interesting is happening now. This gap appears because even though you have opportunities to see emerging Japanese photographers in Europe, it is difficult to know what is actually happening in Japan as a whole by simply seeing just one or two photographers work.