Up now at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography:
Photographs that stirred up debate 1966-1974
One of the top three exhibitions I’ve personally viewed over the past decade at this museum, 1968 showcases an extensive part of the museum’s collection of prints and publications from the eight years stated in the subtitle of the show. The prints, often showing signs of physical age and in the case of the section on the student riots of 1968, mutilation by history, work as a veritable who’s who of this most popular period of Japanese photo history. If you’ve got interest in the Provoke era, don’t miss it.
The museum’s website states that:
This exhibition traces how the framework of what we understand as photography in Japan was being transformed, and was trying to transform society, in the years 1966 to 1974, with 1968 the critical focus. What is photography? What is Japan? What is modern? Raising questions on all these fronts, it searches for a way forward.
Perhaps it’s the translation, but “a way forward” from 2013 isn’t quite the point of a show like this, indeed, it’s much, much more about looking back, or at least being able to put together how things got to the way they are.
In terms of aesthetics, I couldn’t help but note that my digital Ricoh, like most digital capture devices, has an “Art Mode” with which anyone can easily create a high-contrast Moriyama-y snap that shares the look of the pictures on display. The pictures in the show are evidence of an approach to craft (or anti-craft) that was born in part as a reaction against notions of Proper Photography- a “look” that has been consumed by camera companies and software engineers who have transformed it into a marketable algorithm to load up digital cameras with. It’s worth pointing our that no manufacturer, film or digital, has yet been able to make a filter for embedding actual insight, sensitivity, or profundity into ones’ pictures. That’s the hard part. The enjoyable, hard, part.
Via the museum’s website you can download a PDF of the flyer for the show, as well as a full list of work shown, in English. The accompanying exhibition photobook/catalog is quite satisfyingly well done with a generous selection of reproductions from the exhibition, with essays and photographer bios in English as well as Japanese. It will be an excellent reference for anyone interested in this period of Japanese photography.
FACT: the Tokyo Metro Photo Museum of Photography: 東京都写真美術館, Tokyo-to Shashin Bijutsukan is romanized as “Syabi” but pronounced “Sha-bi”. This truncation comes from the core of the institution’s title: 東京都写真美術館, with “Sya-bi” being the first half of the word photograph (写真, SHA-shin) and the first kanji of Art Museum (美術館, BI-jutsu-kan).
It’s also interesting that the combination of these two Kanji mean “Reflect Beauty” when translated in the most literal way possible.