The free time still abounds, and so here is another exploration of Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s. This one will be in three parts (please don’t be confused!) and will throw some other media into the mix. Part one will be about the photographer Eikoh Hosoe. Part two, the writer Yukio Mishima. And part three, butoh, a shocking genre of Japanese dance.
I’ve been aware of Mishima and butoh for a while, but have only come to explore and appreciate Hosoe very recently.
Hosoe’s style is more legible compared to that of the PROVOKE photographers. You’re not left wondering exactly what it is you’re looking at. For example, Man and Woman, the work on display in Japanese Photobooks, is just that, pictures, often nudes, of men and women unobscured by camera movement or missed focus. Hosoe’s provocative punch is delivered in a different way, with extreme subject juxtapositions , intensely stark close-up portraiture, and models arranged in a “here it is” fashion. The photos don’t require a “hard looking” like many of Moriyama’s do. You can grasp right away what the strange thing is that you’re looking at.
Hosoe is often grouped together with the PROVOKE era photographers. He did not contribute directly to the magazines and he never takes his photography to the same extremes as Nakahira and company. On the other hand, his work really broke the ground upon which PROVOKE would be built, or unbuilt if you prefer. Hosoe drew a lot of criticism from his contemporaries. Ken Domon, an established photographer planted very firmly in the soil of conventional photojournalism, criticized Man and Woman saying, “it is different from a bowl of ramen. It doesn’t give you that momentary feeling of filling your belly.”
In addition to ruffling the photographic establishment’s feathers, he served as a mentor to Daido Moriyama, who worked under him as an assistant. Though Moriyama related more to the work of Hosoe’s contemporary Shomei Tomatsu, his time with Hosoe couldn’t have failed to leave its mark.
In the next two parts I’ll discuss two of Hosoe’s works in-depth and provide a bit of cultural background. Next time I’ll cover Ordeal by Roses and its model, the writer Yukio Mishima. After that we’ll get into Butoh and Hosoe’s Kamaitachi. In the meantime, check out some of my other favorite Hosoe, Hana Dorobou (photographs of handmade dolls) and Man and Woman (the nudes I mentioned earlier).