Over the last few months I have discovered Japanese photography and am utterly in awe of the work of its avant garde pioneers, photographers such as Shomei Tomatsu, Eikoh Hosoe, Daido Moriyama and Ikko Narahara.
Shomei Tomatsu is arguably the greatest and most influential of them all, his work a wonderful example of free form photography with its odd camera angles, strange cropping and framing that grabs you, asks you questions, scratches under the surface of its subject and uncovers layers of meaning; the personal, cultural, political and historical.
Tomatsu began his career as a self taught photo – journalist taking pictures of the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the 1950’s he was capturing the Western colonisation of Japan and the cultural wars that grew out of American military occupation. On the release of his book ‘The Pencil of the Sun’ in 1975 he wrote:
It was as if America seeped though the gaps in the wire fences surrounding the bases and, in time, soaked the entire country.
Tomatsu later remarked that he saw the youthful rebellion of that time ‘through the eyes of a stray dog’ an image that could describe the incredible pictures of Daido Moriyama whose street photography has left an indelible mark on contemporary photography.
Tomatsu is now seen as the stylistic mentor of the Japanese avant – garde whose stylistic approach to picture making pioneered extreme subjectivity and a visceral approach that looked at everything anew and elevated the grainy, the broken, the blurred above the formal aesthetic of the past. We owe him much.