Kikuji Kawada is one of the Japanese pioneering photographers that I’ve been writing about over the past few weeks. Like his contemporaries in the VIVO group, which he founded with Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu and others, his pictures have come to represent the departure from formalism in post war Japan. Kawada is best known for his book ‘Chizu’ (The Map) which he published in 1965 on the 20th Anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Over the decades it has come to be seen as the greatest photo book of all time, a journey through the detritus of the war years – metal scraps, possessions left behind by kamakazi pilots, the remnants of fortifications, dead soldiers, Coca Cola ads, bottle caps, TV sets and ripped flags – an attempt by a young Japanese photographer to come to terms with his countrys recent past. As the great British photographer Martin Parr said about it:
No photobook has been more successful in combining graphic design with complex photographic narrative…[as its] various layers inside [are] peeled away like archaeological strata, the whole process of viewing the book becomes one of uncovering and contemplating the ramifications of recent Japanese history — especially the country’s tangled relationship with the United States… His photographs are a masterly amalgam of abstraction and realism, of the specific and the ineffable, woven into a tapestry that makes the act of reading them a process of re-creation in itself. In the central metaphor of the map, in the idea of the map as a series of interlocking trace marks, Kawada has conjured a brilliant simile for the photograph itself: scientific record, memory trace, cultural repository, puzzle and guide…
Kawada’s aesthetic has always been marked by his attraction to the physical properties of objects and in recent years his work has developed into a more layered, rich and colourful style yet till retaining his fascination in showing us how people and cities affect the way that an era happens. Here’s how he conceptual views his work as a photographer:
Within the rubble of the metropolis, negative and positive images are scattered about. To search for the secret of a hidden existence, one must use the remaining photographs as clues. The shadow of a photograph declares. The most important thing for me was to stand on the site. I witnessed Chernobyl and also the suicidal blazes in Tibet. The ultimate portrait was sublime for all. When beginning to search for the hidden vision from a photograph, one becomes intoxicated with the magic of the image, and you forget that the original power of the euphoria weakens like a legal narcotic. The enigma of a shadow changing shape. The negative and positive images are the lifeline meant to descend into a deep ocean of singular mystery. Words fall together with the marine snow. Images appear like a glass-like prawn. Trying to search for shining stars from phenomena. Before the stars fall, attempting to catch them together with a shadow. Electronic montages are a way to discover several random chances. Violence and crime, or when a dictator transforms his face, the negative and positive images whisper to us. A blurred photo and a fuzzy photo too, they inform us about the enigmatic fringes.