Thursday, July 12, 2018

Artist of the day, July 12: Shōmei Tōmatsu, Japanese photographer

Shōmei Tōmatsu (東松 照明), (1930 – 2012) was perhaps the most influential Japanese photographer of the post-war era.  His raw, grainy and impressionistic style signalled a dramatic break with the quiet formalism that had defined earlier photography.  Influencing the anti-establishment Provoke photography movement in Japan in the late 1960s, he is hailed as the stylistic mentor of artists such as Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki and Takuma Nakihara.

Born in the age of Japan's turbulent, self-questioning postwar years, Tomatsu began his career as a traditional photojournalist, but found himself drawn intuitively to the everyday.  As curator and critic John Szarkowski put it, he was intent on "the rediscovery and restatement, in contemporary terms, of a specific Japanese sensibility." 

Few photographers have looked so closely and penetratingly beneath the skin of a nation as Tomatsu did when he turned his camera on his homeland.  The results remain by turns startling, disturbing and complex, imbued with all the contradictions he felt about Japan, photography and himself.

Tomatsu's best-known photograph, Melted Bottle, Nagasaki, 1961, depicts a relic from the atomic bomb of 1945 in which the object has been mutated by the intense heat of the blast to resemble a grotesquely skinned animal, surreal and unsettling in its poetic poignancy.  The photograph is emblematic of his work as a whole in which he transformed the very idea of photography in Japan, pioneering extreme subjectivity and a visceral approach that elevated the grainy, the broken and the blurred above the formally beautiful.

Born in Nagoya in 1930, Tōmatsu studied economics at Aichi University, graduating in 1954. While still a student, he had his photographs published by the major Japanese photography magazines. He entered Iwanami and worked on the series Iwanami Shashin Bunko. Two years later, he left in order to freelance.

© 2018. All images are copyrighted © by Shōmei Tōmatsu or assignee. The use of any image from this site is prohibited unless prior written permission is obtained.

Mr Shōmei Tōmatsu

1945, Nagasaki, August 9th

1954, Children help push a trolly. Pottery town, Seto

1955, Reconstruction of post-war Japan

1955, Sisters, Tsukudajima, Tokyo

1957, Local Politicians

1957, Prostitute

1959, Untitled (Yokosuka), from the series “Chewing Gum and Chocolate”

1959, Untitled [Ishiki, Aichi], from the series "Floods and the Japanese"

1959, Untitled from the series "Memory of War", Toyokawa, Aichi

1959, Untitled, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate", Hokkaido,

1959, Untitled, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate"

1960, Iwakuni

1960, Tokyo

1960, Untitled Iwakuni

1961, Atomic Bomb Damage:
Wristwatch Stopped at 11-02, August 9, 1945, Nagasaki

1961, Bottle Melted and Deformed by Atomic Bomb Heat,
Radiation and Fire, Nagasaki

1961, Chindonya, Tokyo

1961, Christian with Keloidal Scars

1961, Eiko Oshima

1961, Hibakusha Fukuda Sumako, Nagasaki

1961, Hibakusha Tomitarō Shimotani, Nagasaki

1961, Nagasaki

1962, Hibakusha Senji Yamaguchi, Nagasaki

1963, Afghanistan

1963, Steel Helmet with Skull Bone Fused by Atomic Bomb, Nagasaki

1964, Takuma Nakahira

1966, Untitled (Yokosuka), from the series “Chewing Gum and Chocolate

1966, Untitled, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate"

1967, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate"

1967, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate" No. 25, Yokosuka, Kanagawa

1967, Untitled from the series "I am king"

1969, Blood and Rose, Tokyo

1969, Coca-Cola, Tokyo

1969, Kadena, Okinawa

1969, Oh Shinjuku

1969, Oh Shinjuku

1969, Protest, Tokyo

1969, Protest, Tokyo

1969, Untitled (Yomitan, Okinawa), from the series “Chewing Gum and Chocolate"

1969, Untitled, from Blood and Rose

1969, Untitled, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate", Okinawa

1969, Untitled, from the series "Eros", Tokyo

1969, Untitled, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate", Okinawa

1971, An Alibi 1, Tokyo

1971, Evident absence, Michiko Takahashi, Actress Tokyo

1971, Hateruma Island

1972, Untitled, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate", Okinawa

1973, Untitled [Miyako Island, Okinawa], from the series "The Pencil of the Sun"

1978, Untitled, from the series "Chewing Gum and Chocolate", Okinawa

1980, Untitled (Koza Okinawa)

1988-89, Plastics, Kujukuri Beach, Chiba

1994-98, An-My Lê Untitled, Hanoi

Oh! Shinjuku


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