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VIVO: Eikoh Hosoe, Kikuji Kawada, Ikko Narahara, Akira Sato, Akira Tanno and Shomei Tomatsu
7 December 2017 - 14 January 2018
IBASHO proudly presents the exhibition VIVO, a group show with work by the founders of the renowned Japanese photographer’s collective VIVO, Eikoh Hosoe, Kikuji Kawada, Ikko Narahara, Akira Sato, Akira Tanno and Shomei Tomatsu. Although VIVO was active only from 1959 until 1961, it culminated a movement in postwar Japanese photography called ‘the image school’ with roots dating back to the early 1950s and anticipated and profoundly influenced Japanese photographic style of the 1960s and 1970s.
The VIVO photographers forged a discourse on the fundamental questions of photography as praxis—its relationship to social and political revolution, its ambiguous function as both documentary evidence and art, and its structural dialectic between subjective and objective realism. Drawing on the prewar history in Japan of both photojournalism and surrealist art photography, and inspired by contemporary American and European photography, VIVO arose in response to the existential and radical ideas that shaped Japan’s postwar intellectual and cultural vanguard.
The VIVO artists all were born in the 1930s and raised under Japan’s imperialist regime, and came of age amid war, defeat, and devastation. They emerged in the mid-1950s as youths who, disappointed in institutionalised politics and resisting the postwar Americanisation, were dedicated to the possibility of art to transform Japan’s socially entrenched statism. Most of all, their subject was postwar Japan—its modernity, its identity, and its wartime past, which was silenced but not gone.
What distinguishes their work from that of the earlier generation of documentary photographers is their obsession with how to describe immediate experience: their images are not comments on experience, but experience itself. The VIVO artists aimed to express, rather than merely document, the visual and existential discord that pervaded everyday life. They accomplished this through their clear concepts, a meticulous sense of composition and framing, coupled with a heavy emphasis on the symbolic.
SHOMEI TOMATSU (1930-2012) is the most widely known member of VIVO. He was also very active in the theoretical discussions around the function of photography that took place in 1960. He developed the richest personal realm of photography during the period of ‘the image school’. After becoming an independent photographer in 1956, he produced several series, taken with a critical eye, of people living in the postwar society of small towns. Tomatsu’s critical spirit was combined with a stronger symbolic expression in his series ‘Occupation’, in which he pointed his camera at American military bases and their surrounding towns. In 1961 Tomatsu began a paramount series of photographs of Nagasaki. His work was quite distinct from stereotyped photography of the aftermath of the bomb, implying an ambitious approach that involved layering images. His photographic activity, including his series Oh! Shinjuku (1969) and I am a King (1972) from which works are exhibited at IBASHO, continued to exercise a definitive influence on the younger generation of photographers that emerged in the 1960s and after.
IKKO NARAHARA (1931) was the first photographer of this younger ‘image school’ generation who received much attention for his very first project as a photographer Human Land in a Tokyo gallery in 1956. Narahara’s sharp images, informed by a lucid consciousness of issues, had a strong impact on young photographers and critics, evoking a wide circle of response. Narahara’s work received such attention because it was the result of a clear intention to create a ‘personal document’. For him the pursuit of realism was ‘a process of laying bare the inner form by thoroughly depicting the exterior.’ Narahara’s work is distinguished by a sensibility that might be called otherworldly, severed from the emotionalism and damp climate of Japan. From 1962 Narahara spent three years in Europe where he created Where Time has Stopped, continuing his inquiry into ‘the sense of artificial construction that was distinctly at odds with the naturalist spirit of the Japanese’. He spent the years from 1970 to 1974 in the US, resulting in a collection entitled Where Time has Vanished. Works from these periods abroad can be seen at IBASHO.
KIKUJI KAWADA’s (1933) work contained an even stronger antinaturalist orientation than Narahara’s images. Kawada’s photographs were coloured by a grotesque aesthetic sense and a fantastic obsession with tactility. Beginning with a November 1961 one-man show entitled The Map at the Fuji Photo Salon, Kawada produced a series of work in which he captured on high-contrast monochrome film scenes of places that were suffused with the memory of absolute violence, including the atomic-bomb dome in Hiroshima, the ruins World War II fortifications, and a crumpled Japanese flag. This orientation toward pitch-black, minute, and monomaniacal images carried through Kawada’s later work, including Sacre Atavism, 1971, Cosmos of the Dream King, 1979 and his long-lasting major work, The Last Cosmology from which work is shown in the VIVO exhibition. The Last Cosmology series was captured between 1980 and 2000. Originally published in parts in the 1980s, it was compiled into a publication and solo exhibition in 1995. The series seemingly ties together the dramas of the skies with the end of two historical eras on earth: the ‘Showa’ era with the death of the Emperor in Japan and the 20th century.
EIKOH HOSOE (1933) began as a student photographer and garnered attention for his rough, direct treatment of sexuality in his solo show Man and Woman (1960). Hosoe’s series, Embrace (1969-70) can be seen as the successor of Man and Woman as it depicts abstract, almost transparent male and female nudes, intended to symbolise the possibility of a dialogue between man and woman.
Hosoe’s photography is often linked with his artist acquaintances. His seminal series Ordeal by Roses was for example created in 1963 with the famous writer Yukio Mishima as a model, and the series Man and Woman and Kamaitachi (1969) were created with the founder of the experimental Butoh dance, Tatsumi Hijikata as the model. For the series Simmon: A Private Landscape (1971) Hosoe collaborated with Simon Yotsuya an artist and Situation Theater actor who eventually came to prominence for his dolls, which have been exhibited around the world.
Works from all the mentioned series are on exhibition at IBASHO.
AKIRA SATO (1930-2002) experimented with exploring deep psychology using the techniques of fashion photography, in which area he made his living. He is widely acclaimed for his iconic, graphic and experimental photographs of women in a series of images entitled Cyclopean Eye, published in Camera Mainichi in 1962 and his seminal book, entitled Women (1971), is an enigmatic collection of portraits subtly meshed with fashion. Both series are represented in the exhibition.
AKIRA TANNO (1925-2017) developed a technique for photographing the dynamism of stage performance in his best known series called Circus (1956-57), which combined documentary photography with lyrical expression. The series, shown at IBASHO, was shot in a short period of time towards the end of the 1950s. Within his long career it is of particular significance, representing the link between pre-war and post-war photography. So freely distinct from the major photographic movement of the time, the very personal and retrospective imagery helps us to see another aspect of post-war history.