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“Recounting the History of Photographic Expression: On the Exhibition A Century of Japanese Photography by the Japan Professional Photographers Society”

Asahi Camera

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“Recounting the History of Photographic Expression: On the Exhibition <em>A Century of Japanese Photography</em> by the Japan Professional Photographers Society”
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“Recounting the History of Photographic Expression: On the Exhibition A Century of Japanese Photography by the Japan Professional Photographers Society”
Asahi Camera (June 1968): 222–28

Roundtable participants: Shomei Tomatsu, Masatoshi Naito, Koji Taki, Hisae Imai, Hirano Hisashi

Looking at History through the Eyes of Photographers

Asahi Camera: From June 1, which is Photography Day in Japan, until June 12, the Japan Professional Photographers Society will be holding a show at the Seibu department store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, to celebrate one hundred years of photography. This significant exhibition has generated quite a bit of excitement. All of you were directly involved with the preparation of the show, and you seem to have put a great amount of effort into collecting the pieces on display. Today I’d like you to speak about the contents of the show and share some of the behind-the-scenes stories that went into its preparation. Let’s start with planning for the show.

Tomatsu: The show originated from a November 1966 proposal by a committee of the Japan Professional Photographers Society to hold a show in 1967 that would emphasize photographic expression. In February 1967 we divided the work up within the Society’s inner circle—Hiroshi Hamaya was asked to be committee chair; Takashi Kijima took the role of director of general affairs, which included things like arranging the show’s location; and I was to compile the pictures. As photographers ourselves, we had never dealt with history. We felt our committee alone wouldn’t do the subject justice, so we called on several general members of the Society. It was decided that Keiichi Mejima, as well as Taki and Naito—both of whom are here today—and I would first form a curatorial committee to gather materials. In the first meeting of the curatorial committee that February, we set up a schedule and talked about how we’d go about collecting. We decided the first thing we needed to do was construct a chronological historical table. We called on Takeshi Ozawa, a lecturer in the photography department at Nihon University who was researching the history of photography, and through him we gradually began to understand what sorts of historical documents were out there. Meanwhile, we started voraciously consuming prewar photography magazines and books, thus building up a foundation of knowledge.

In the general meeting of the Society on April 23 we reported on our activities and received formal approval to hold the exhibition. From there the curatorial committee went to the research labs at FujiFilm’s Ashigara factory, where they have an archive of photography magazines. That ended the first stage of our activities. In the second stage, we set a curatorial office up on the fourth floor of the Namikiza in Ginza. We had a lot of work ahead of us, so we did a bunch of things to get ready to take things in—we hired someone to manage our office from day to day, we bought a steel locker to make doubly sure that we could keep safe all the valuable documents we were borrowing from people, and we bought a cabinet for organizing negatives. We borrowed 786 books and magazines from FujiFilm. The Yosuke Yamahata Collection at Iwanami Productions has several thousand items, but we brought all of them to our office and started the work of looking through them and deciding which we would copy. Mejima was busy with his own personal work at the time, so he recommended Hirano here to take over his role on our curatorial committee.

Asahi Camera: Does that mean that all of you temporarily put your own work as photographers on hold?

Tomatsu: We weren’t really able to do our own work. We started to feel like we were sacrificing ourselves to the project. Once August rolled around, we were concerned that since we were the only ones digging up material, we wouldn’t get a broad range of things, so we printed a request for “cooperation in collecting photos” and sent four thousand copies in every direction. As a result, people started sending materials from everywhere, and we learned where we had to go to get particular things. We started collecting gradually, and once we reached October, four of us committee members went out into the provinces to collect. Hirano and Naito went with Takeshi Ozawa to Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Saga, Kurume, Yamaguchi, Okayama, and Kochi, and Taki and I set out for Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Ashiya. All together, we brought back a large harvest of materials.

Before long, just the four of us were no longer able to handle all the material, so we brought a few new members onto the curatorial committee: Hisae Imai, who is here now, was the first, and then Shigeharu Kawakami, Tsuneo Suzuki, Norihiko Matsumoto, Takuya Tsukahara, Takuma Nakahira, and Ichiro Morita. Seiryu Inoue chose some people in the Kansai region, too. At that point we developed a plan for how we would edit the show, and we restarted our work, entrusting certain people with particular curatorial responsibilities.

In this way we finished collecting in the provinces last year, and collecting in Tokyo this January. At the end of February we rented a Japanese-style inn in Tsukiji, and the members of the curatorial committee holed up there and put the show together over the course of two days. Then again in mid-April we made some adjustments during a series of all-night meetings, thus more or less finishing the curatorial process. Meanwhile, the number of reprints the Society had made reached thirty-five thousand. Including those, it seems likely that the total number of photographs that we looked at was probably over half a million. We could only display 1,550 pieces at the exhibition site, including both originals and reprints, and we divided those into twenty-one sections.

On Photographic Expression

Asahi Camera: The phrase photographic expression is somewhat difficult to understand.

Tomatsu: When you connect the words photography and history, many people assume you will be telling Japanese history through photography, but that isn’t what we mean. Our society consists of a group of professional photographers. We wanted to look back from our current vantage point at the people who came before us and our current work—we wanted to understand the work of our predecessors. Back then they had expressive intent, right? Or maybe they didn’t. That’s why we settled on the wording photographic expression.

That was the big issue for us when preparing this exhibition. Was there expression or not? It isn’t always easy to say, but the curatorial committee hoped that we could get the people visiting the exhibition to understand that point. Now that I’m talking about this, it’s like I’m revealing everything that went into show. [laughs]

Asahi Camera: Did you choose people to be committee members based on their specific interest in history?

Tomatsu: Not necessarily. It would be hard to choose only the history lovers out of the members of the Society. What was more important to us was whether or not someone would be willing to work hard on this project. [laughs]

Imai: I find myself at a loss over the question of whether we were interested in history. I mean, when we look at photographers, can we find any who like history and started taking pictures as a result of that? I doubt anyone has ever picked up photography for such a reason. Nonetheless, the pieces in this exhibition were chosen due to their relevance to photographic expression. And here I often found myself at a loss. In the section that I was in charge of—the one about professional photography studios—there were all these amazing people doing things before I was even born. That alone made it hard for me to know what to do.

Tomatsu: Even so, there was a feeling among all the committee members that by moving through the hundred-year history of Japanese photographers, we could step into the future. When we talk about history, it seems so stiff and hard to get into, but when we look at the ways people express themselves through photographs, we are being extremely concrete. For example, in the photographs in “Beginnings” and “The First Flowering,” we see people wearing traditional chonmage hairdos and swords while holding pistols in their hands. When we talk about those pictures in terms of history, they aren’t very interesting, but as commemorative photographs or studio portraits, there is something really intriguing about them.

Photography as a Field for Chemists

Asahi Camera: We talk about the twenty-one sections in a separate part of this article, but the main flow goes something like this—beginnings, the first flowering, professional photography studios, art photography, the second flowering, and the Pacific War, doesn’t it?

Tomatsu: Yes, and the people gathered here today are the people who made that flow—namely, the main members of the curatorial committee.

Asahi Camera: The photograph Samurai in “Beginnings” is something you found, Mr. Naito?

Naito: That was a dry-plate image sent to us from the provinces. According to some records, there were some daguerreotypes made by Japanese photographers, but we haven’t been able to find any yet.

Asahi Camera: They say there are four in Japan.

Naito: As far as I know, those were all taken by foreign photographers who came to Japan. It is certain that three were taken in Hakodate by [Eliphalet] Brown, a photographer who came on Matthew Perry’s Black Ships (cf. “Japan’s Oldest Daguerreotype” in Asahi Camera 6 [1967]). Another is at Gyokusen-ji Temple in Shimoda. We have records that Komin Kawamoto and Shimazu Nariakira studied daguerreotypes, but there aren’t any extant photographs taken by them. Komin Kawamoto also experimented with beer brewing. He was one of the foremost experts on chemistry at the time. Shozan Sakuma and Keisuke Odori were also interested in photography. Yet for them, photography was merely a field of chemistry. So in their work, in terms of photographic expression, there really wasn’t any ideology at work—they just took pictures and thought, “The experiment was a success.” It was with people who had a special interest in photography itself that something we might properly term photographic expression began to emerge. The usual examples are Renjo Shimooka and Hikoma Ueno. Photography reached Japan during the Tenpo era [1830–44], but the first actual photographs were taken in the Kaei [1848–54] and Ansei eras [1854–60]. After that, people like Renjo Shimooka and Hikoma Ueno appeared, and around the Bunkyu era [1861–64] the first professional photography studios opened. The real flowering started after the Meiji era began [in 1868].

Asahi Camera: Can you tell us about the photo Cat in Sakhalin?

Naito: We don’t know for sure the name of the photographer or when it was taken, but it seems like it was toward the end of the Meiji era [which ended in 1912]. It came from an album that also had photos of fur seals and other kinds of seals, so it seems to have been a collection of animal pictures. They were gelatin silver printing-out paper images pasted in an album.

Asahi Camera: How about Edo Castle Abandoned at the End of the Edo Period by Matsusaburo Yokoyama?

Naito: That’s an albumen print taken in 1871. During what we call the first flowering, after people lost interest in wet-plate photography, various photographers and other independent folks studying photography for various projects, as well as people dispatched by the old provincial governments to study at chemistry research centers, all came back home. After the Meiji Restoration swept away the old provincial government structure, those people began to open photography studios, and, in general, those with an interest in photography started turning their gaze on all sorts of things.

There are dozens of photos of Edo Castle by Matsusaburo Yokoyama, but he didn’t simply take the shots mechanically—he experimented with expression by putting people in them and so on. He was influenced by Western-style painting and tried to colorize his photographs to make them look like naturalistic Western paintings. He also experimented with the developing and printing processes. Exposures took a long time during the wet-plate era, but he tried various different approaches by doing things like photographing balloons rising into the air.

Asahi Camera: How did you look for such things?

Naito: I found them by chance at the Tokyo National Museum. During the Battle of Hakodate, the Hagi Rebellion, and the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, Hikoma Ueno and his students followed the military units as their official photographers and took a number of photographs as records. Interestingly, I heard that Hikoma Ueno took some photographs of the planet Venus in 1874. We haven’t found them, but there are records of this. Even back in those days, photographers were turning their eyes toward outer space. It was a time when people were taking pictures of just about everything.

The Rediscovery of Hokkaido

Asahi Camera: Mr. Naito, you paid special attention to Hokkaido. Can you say something about that?

Naito: Hakodate was certainly influenced by the Russians, but I think that at the dawn of Japanese photography, the places that played an important role were ultimately places that were doing their own thing, such as Kyushu, where Hikoma Ueno was, and Yokohama, where Renjo Shimooka was. According to some information, Kikichi Kizu opened a studio in Hakodate, Hokkaido, around 1864, and in the section “The First Flowering” we look at the influx of photography in Japan through the three gateways of Nagasaki, Shimoda, and Hakodate. When I say gateway, the nuance of the word might be slightly off, but one has to pay attention to Hokkaido because the students of the very first pioneers of photography in Japan—and various others influenced by them—were all active there. In this exhibition we have a panel dedicated to Renjo Shimooka, his students, and others connected with him. Matsusaburo Yokoyama was one of Renjo’s students, but compared to the others, his photographs are among the most unusual. He would direct workers of various kinds—have them do things like wear hanten or carry sets of scales—in studios and in front of buildings, as if trying to capture local customs through his portraits. In his early years Hikoma Ueno also directed his subjects in extremely interesting ways while photographing them in his studio.

Also in Hokkaido was the photographer Kenzo Tamoto, who had only one leg. According to history he was born in the Kii area; toward the end of the Edo period [1603–1867] he went to Nagasaki, and then Hakodate. There he got entangled with a lizardfish, and his leg was amputated. His doctor at the time was Russian, and apparently Tamoto learned photography from him. After the Meiji era began, he took some extremely interesting photos. Although we not entirely sure of the photographer, there are some photos attributed to him that depict human beings fighting with the grandeur of nature as they colonize and settle the area. These photos were taken in an extremely cold, distant fashion.

Asahi Camera: Are there many of those?

Naito: Yeah, quite a lot. It seems that his student Seiichi Takebayashi also took photographs depicting the customs of the Ainu people. In front of his studio was a sign that read, “Keeping dry plates since 1871. We have views of all sorts of places in Hokkaido—mountains and rivers, fields and plains, and seashores, as well as indigenous people, residents, and views of small settlements of every kind.” When we see that, we know he was taking photos of all sorts of things. Among his photos are straight portraits, like one showing a prisoner with his hair cut in a strange fashion, so we can tell that he had a desire to record just about everything. He also took some pictures that invite contemporary viewers to empathize, such as one of a person standing smack in the middle of a wide road. Around 1877 Tamoto sent his student Kokichi Ida on an expedition to the Kuril Islands. It’s like he was taking photos all centered around a single theme, so in that respect, there is something about Hokkaido that connects with our current day.

Asahi Camera: What about the size?

Naito: Most of them are albumen prints, around ten by twelve inches. There are also some around the size of a business card.

Imai: It’s a good thing that you were assigned to Hokkaido. You said, “I suspect that I’ll find more things on a single trip to Hokkaido than by searching all over Kyushu and the Kanto region,” and once you went there, you did really well.

Naito: I think I was there around fifteen days. Before I went, I’d heard rumors. There are more photos there than elsewhere, and I feel that in terms of the devotion of the photographers themselves, the photos from there are entirely different from those that came from other places. Maybe it’s the enthusiasm you can feel in them.

Asahi Camera: Are they all in private collections?

Naito: No, most of them are in places like museums, schools, and libraries.

Asahi Camera: Are you more or less able to figure out who the photographers were?

Naito: Well, we’d do things like collect documents and show photos to locals. We researched which photographers were active when. It wasn’t really possible to take lots of pictures back then unless you had significant financial means. In the case of Hokkaido, the Kaitakushi—the bureau in charge of development and colonization—had pictures taken for their records. This meant we could figure out who took what. However, we didn’t come to any hard conclusions at all. Instead, we’d say, “Photographer unknown but . . . ” The reason is that the aim of this exhibition is to highlight the major currents of expression in all of Japanese photography.

The Earliest Amateurs Were of High Social Status

Asahi Camera: Who went to Kyushu?

Tomatsu: Two people—Naito and Hirano. In the first half of our research we asked Professor Ozawa to go with them, and in the second half the two went to various places on their own to collect things.

Naito: A lot was lost in Nagasaki due to the atomic bomb. That was because the place was a fortified area. Things just disappeared.

Imai: You could say the same thing about any of the sections in the show. The loss and damage was especially bad during World War II. The situation for professional photography studios was terrible. They were located mostly in the thriving, bustling parts of town that got burned down in air raids. There aren’t as many people who have photos of their grandfathers and ancestors; what remains is more likely to be scattered in the hands of local researchers and museums.

Tomatsu: In the case of Nagasaki, Hiroma Ueno’s photos of Tabaruzaka and the Satsuma Rebellion are in the Iwanami Collection. When we traced the provenance back, we found they had been in the Yosuke Yamahata Collection; when we asked where Yamahata had bought them, we learned that he had gotten them from Tokutaro Nagami. Nagami was an important cultural figure from Nagasaki, a rich man who collected a variety of things, and that’s how these photographs ended up in a collection in Tokyo.

Asahi Camera: Did Nagami sell them to Yamahata?

Tomatsu: The collection was dispersed in countless directions. Some of it went to the Yamahata Collection and afterward to the Iwanami Collection.

Hirano: Some of it also ended up in a museum in Nagasaki. It impresses me to think about how huge Nagami’s collection must have been. It is a great shame that the collection got dispersed and disappeared before someone with a historian’s eye could trace its provenance and catalog it. In Kumamoto I went to see a studio that was opened by a fellow named Rihei Tomishige in 1870. The studio is in the same place it was back then, but I was quite surprised. Three generations later, the studio is still active in Kumamoto. It’s a big studio constructed with amazing timberwork. According to an old story, people would come on horseback with two bags of rice—bags made of woven straw, that is—to have their pictures taken. The story has a ring of truth to it.

Imai: Incidentally, there weren’t any amateur photographers among the general public until around the middle of the Meiji era. The early amateurs were nobility and other people of high status.

Naito: Yoshinobu Tokugawa, Yodo Yamauchi, and Shungaku Matsudaira were among these aristocrats who engaged in photography as a hobby. You couldn’t do it if you didn’t have quite a lot of money.

Imai: Nowadays we can’t even imagine those professional photo studios’ proximity to people of power in the mid-Meiji era! [laughs]

Naito: There’s an amazing story that Kuichi Uchida built a bridge over the Sumida River.

Imai: Reiji Esaki’s monthly salary of was probably ten thousand yen in today’s money.

Tomatsu: In the Bunkyu era it cost one or two ryo [gold pieces] to have a picture taken. If you converted that into today’s money, it would be a staggering amount.

Naito: Around 1872 photography started to spread more generally.

Imai: People who were running professional photography studios also did more experimental work at the same time that they were doing their studio work.

With Photographic Plates, Counterfeit Bills Disappear

Asahi Camera: I hear that you are also showing photographs like the one of [the geisha] Ponta and the one of a lady washing her hair.

Naito: Yeah. The photograph of Emperor Taisho, which also circulated as a photogravure at the time, was sold on the market as a tinted glass plate. You know, in those early days, it was quite a surprise to people that you could develop multiple copies of the same thing. So people started selling things like bromides of geisha, and Renjo Shimooka took pictures of foreign boats to sell. Shinpei Eto seems to have been interested in photography. At the beginning of the Meiji era, as I understand it, he made a law that said that to catch criminals, authorities should use photos of people with similar faces; ironically, after the Hagi Rebellion, authorities distributed photographs of him, leading to his own capture and execution. The picture of his severed head also made the rounds in Tokyo. Paper money also got its start then. In 1869 gold certificates affixed to albumen prints came out in Osaka and Kanagawa, and the following year in Tosa too. The year 1869 also saw the emergence of something called the Photographic News, which was a weekly publication with photographs affixed to it. Once it became possible to print photographs [on paper], tinted glass prints quickly disappeared from the market.

Tomatsu: Today we have line-drawn portraits of Ito Hirobumi and Itagaki Taisuke printed on bills, but in the old days photographs were pasted directly onto them.

Naito: Counterfeit bills suddenly disappeared. That seems to have really caused some problems. [laughs] Nowadays, people would be glad about that. [laughs]

Asahi Camera: Ms. Imai, could you tell us about the “America” corner?

Imai: The display is in parallel with the section on the era of professional photography studios. The printing paper is good; the technique is beautifully executed, and the preservation is good, so we’ve put original photographs on display. The section should be rather unusual. We’ve got oil prints, carbon prints, and so on.

Tomatsu: Imai was also really dedicated. She did a great job collecting beautiful photographs. That corner of the show is beautiful.

Imai: If it wasn’t, we couldn’t ask for an admission fee from the visitors. [laughs] Rakan Suzuki’s Portrait of Lady has the same texture and density as a sketch drawn with conté crayons. His descendants helped tremendously by bringing in that picture and others.

Tomatsu: Yoshiaki Watanabe was the one who told us about his work.

Imai: I wouldn’t have discovered it through the ordinary routes, so I was really happy when it suddenly showed up in front of me.

Taki: Where was Suzuki?

Imai: New York.

Taki: I think that when Iwata Nakayama was in New York. He used the name Rakan Studio.

Imai: The amount of space for that corner was fixed, so unfortunately, there were things we couldn’t display—for instance, the portraits of Japanese people in New York at the time, such as Ayako Ishigaki as a young girl or Baku Ishii, who had gone there to study dance. I suspect that if we showed these photos to the people in them today, they’d be astounded.

Tomatsu: You could probably say the same thing about “War and Deployment,” which Hirano organized. The massive amount of material in the collection of the Pentax Gallery was really valuable.

Hirano: Deployment to Siberia is a representative work.

Asahi Camera: The photographer’s name is just given as Fujita.

Hirano: We only know the photographer’s surname, not his given name. According to the official war records of the time, the Land Survey Section of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office took all the photos. Isshin Ogawa singlehandedly undertook the task of printing them. Fortunately, we discovered that there was a big ledger in the Pentax Gallery that had handwritten remarks about whether the images could or couldn’t be released to the press. There were many professional photographers, especially people connected with Isshin Ogawa, who were members of the Land Survey Section back then. Usually they used pictures to construct precise land maps—the type with a 1-to-50,000 scale—but once the war began, they also took photos as records. It was a government office, so the main rankings were engineer, assistant engineer, and support staff. Only the engineers would have their full names recorded in the documents, not the subordinates. As a result, the photographer of that image is identified only as “Fujita, support staff.”

Tomatsu: Yet he did record specific data about the lens, exposure, and climate.

Hirano: Around the time of the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, there were lots of ten-by-twelve-inch prints. The most common shutter speeds they used were 1/10 of a second or 1/25 of a second. We have records that on clear days they also used 1/2 a second.

Asahi Camera: Did they use portable dark boxes?

Hirano: They weren’t portable. Ten by twelve inches is big, so they were large cameras on tripods.

Tomatsu: A person couldn’t do it alone. The photographer probably brought along some of his assistants when deployed.

Naito: Still, they were using dry plates, so it would have been a lot easier than using wet plates. That made it possible for photographers to capture things like movement. If they had used wet plates, they would have needed to coat them first.

Hirano: The “War and Deployment” section goes up to the Siberian deployment. The time between the Manchurian Incident of September 18, 1931, and the end of the war in 1945 is covered in “Wartime.” The last photo that we’ve got on display is Yosuke Yamahata’s Nagasaki after the Atomic Bombing.

Tomatsu: “Wartime” consists of forty-eight pieces.

Hirano: The period covered in “War and Deployment” stretches from the Meiji era to the early Taisho era [1912–26], a time when people were carrying large cameras. But around the time of the Siberian deployment, they had cabinet-type cameras. I think one can divide the photographers who went to the battlefield after the Manchurian Incident into two types: photographers associated with newspapers and photographers who went to the battlefield to report for the army. When war began with China in 1937, cameras were becoming smaller and more functional. I think we cannot overlook the fact that those changes alone led to more photos being produced.

Asahi Camera: Did Leicas play an active part in that?

Hirano: There is no doubt that Leicas were used a lot in Japan, but they were tremendously expensive, so I can’t definitely say that people got full use out of them on the battlefield.

Tomatsu: What is the difference [between “War and Deployment” and “Wartime”] in terms of content?

Hirano: “War and Deployment” has lots of pictures taken, for instance, by the Land Survey Section out of the need to develop war plans in an objective way—for instance, for battle, for measuring firing distances, and so on. Two characteristics of the photographs in “Wartime” are that the photographers had clear intentions—some pictures were taken for newspaper reporting while some were taken for national propaganda—and that the images themselves show growing diversity.

Art Photography Influenced by Painting

Taki: What we call the era of art photography and the era of professional photography studios overlap somewhat. Professional photographers also created art photos and were exploring technique. However, as we mentioned before, amateur photographers came mainly from the upper classes during the second decade of the Meiji era. Amateur photography gradually expanded from this, soon leading to the emergence of art photography. This continued until the rise of the New Photography Movement in the early Showa era [1926–89]. That’s why we put a break at the beginning of the Showa era and called what followed the era of art photography. One can divide the principal work of the period into two types: the pigment style, relying on gum bichromate, bromile, and other techniques, and straight photos. One could break the straight photos down even further, into photos that were taken with a soft focus and photos that were taken in a straightforward fashion but printed on modified, even deformed, paper. These art photos were in search of painterly qualities; the influence of painting was extremely strong. For instance, there is a famous picture by the Kyoto-based photographer Makihiko Yamamoto called Young Girl, but there are lots of art photos that aim for a melancholic tone reminiscent of pictures in the Sodosha tradition. There were also people like Shinzo Fukuhara who rebelled against the pigment style and advocated placing emphasis on the more photographic qualities of the photo. But in my opinion, Fukuhara’s work is just another kind of painterly photography. With gum bichromate and bromile prints, you need to see the originals to understand their appeal, so we did our best to collect as many of them as possible, but that was a difficult task since so much had been incinerated in World War II.

We called the next section “The Second Flowering.” A critic at the time by the name of Franz Roh said, “In photography, there were two golden ages.” When we chose our words, we weren’t imitating him. As we reevaluated the photography of the early Meiji era, the words first and second suggested themselves naturally. However, I think it is no mistake to say that the second flowering began with the so-called New Photography Movement, which was influenced by European artistic movements. It was, quite literally, the golden age of the prewar era. One could say that it was during that period that photographic expression found general acceptance.

Iwata Nakayama’s photogravure Untitled is a photogram. Apparently Nakayama studied under Man Ray, but Nakayama wrote that he discovered this technique by himself. Even so, that explanation doesn’t fit chronologically. Even if the two were making photograms separately, Nakayama’s came significantly later. It is not entirely clear who made the first photogram in Japan, but Hakuyo Fukumori might be a possibility.

Tomatsu: We on the curatorial committee worked so hard collecting material and curating that we literally had no personal lives anymore, but no matter how much passion we poured into our work, there were still things we couldn’t have accomplished alone. We wouldn’t have been able to collect this much and hold this exhibition if we didn’t have the support of the five hundred members of the Society and the cooperation of the works’ owners, as well as that of numerous people knowledgeable about photography. We are grateful for the understanding and cooperation of everyone involved.

SIDEBAR: Explanation of the Twenty-One Sections

Asahi Camera: Can you give us an overview of what the twenty-one sections are?

Tomatsu: We started with “Beginnings.” As the title suggests, this section deals with the dawn of photography in Japan, and there we display mostly original items. For instance, there are around twenty items—old documents, cameras believed to have been used at the time, silver-plate photos taken by foreigners visiting Japan, and wet-plate photos taken during the end of the Edo period through 1882.

“The First Flowering” is divided into four panels dedicated to the Kanto region, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and unusual photographs. They show the route through which photography entered the Kanto region, starting in the vicinity of Yokohama and Shimoda. Similarly, it entered Kyushu through Nagasaki, and it entered Hokkaido through Hakodate. In other words, we are digging up the history of ways that photography entered Japan via these three routes. In the Kanto display, we have photographs like Niigata Lion Dance, The Prison Gate of the Hodogaya Execution Grounds, Prostitutes, and Edo Castle Abandoned at the End of the Edo Period. In the Kyushu section, we have Samurai and Local Customs in the Studio, Panorama of the Nagasaki Port, The Battlefield of Tabaruzaka, and so on. In the Hokkaido display, we have View of Colonial Development, Flowing Water, etc. In the rare photograph display, we have things like a montage of two connected photographs of samurai playing shogi and Reiji Esaki’s famous photos Torpedo Explosion and Scene of Seppuku.

In the corner “People from the End of the Edo Period,” we have the photos Foreign Ambassador, Feudal Lords, The Restoration’s Men of Spirit, The Meiji Emperor, High-Ranking Meiji Officials, and Yoshinobu Tokugawa, among other things.

“Famous Places throughout the Country” has one corner dedicated to famous spots in Tokyo, while another corner is dedicated to famous sites across the nation. The Tokyo images show places both before and after Edo was renamed Tokyo, and it includes pictures like Double Wooden Bridge, Rickshaws Running through Ginza, and Boating at Mukaijima. “Professional Studios” is divided into two parts dedicated to studio portraits and group photos. Accompanying this is the section “America,” which focuses on photos taken abroad by people who went to the United States to study photography—primarily Rakan Suzuki and Toyo Kikuchi. “Actors and Prostitutes” has a total of three panels, one of which is dedicated to photos of the actor [Onoe] Kikugoro V taken by the famous female photographer Ko Moriyama. Here 750 original albumen prints are displayed so that they form a wall. In the “War and Deployment” section, we have collected early photographs from war zones—pictures of the Sino-Japanese Wars, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I, as well as soldiers deployed to Siberia.

In “The Use of Photography,” we display items that show the various ways in which photographs have been used—photographic postcards, advertising plates, passports, magic lanterns, transfer-printed pottery, photographs printed on deerskin, photographic oil paintings, hanging scrolls, and gold certificates. “Art Photographs” is dedicated to what we sometimes call the era of pigment. The pictures are lined up by type: painting-like photographs, landscapes, people, and still lifes.

In “Changes in Photographic Technology,” we explain the various types of photographic processes, such as carbon bromide, gum bichromate, printing-out paper, albumen, wet plate, dry plate, and so on. We have displayed original prints of each type in the showcase. “Disasters” consists of images of tragedies throughout the Japanese archipelago, such as the eruption at Sakurajima, the Muroto typhoon, the Nobi earthquake, the Sanriku tsunami, and the great fire of Hakodate. “The Second Flowering” is divided into several subsections: realist photos and human faces, women, famous writers, science photography, subjective photography, grouped photos, etc. In other words, we can think of this as an era of various schools of photography. There you can find photographers who were working at the front lines of photography at that time. We also have the section “Graphic Journalism,” which includes a showcase of materials published around the same time.

About the “Advertising” section: In the prewar period, the use of photography in advertising wasn’t as showy as it is today, but we created this corner because we feel one has to think about advertising photography separately. There you can find newspaper ads for things like Akadama port wine and Hanao soap. We also have an ad for Fukusuke tabi socks by Iwata Nakayama, who submitted photos in response to a public competition sponsored by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

In the “Transformations in Fashion” section, viewers can follow changes in fashion. There we show images from the 1870s through today that show women in a variety of outfits, ranging from kimonos and rounded marumage hairstyles to contemporary Western-style fashion. We also see photos of old-fashioned items such as air-raid hoods and monpe-style pants.

The section “Manchuria” has a selection of photos from colonial Manchuria. There is a corner dedicated to the art photography that Japanese photographers made there, especially Hakuyo Fuchikami. “Documents” is a section where we show photographic positives and negatives illuminated by fluorescent lights. People might misunderstand our use of the word document here, but what we mean are photographs that represent a type of memory—photos that show Japanese history from the end of the Edo period through the loss of World War II. History has largely been told through words, but we wanted to show it through a photographic chronology that one can take in through one’s eyes. The pictures are small in size, and there are lots of them. It was quite a challenge to tell a hundred years of history in only 160 photographs, but in this corner, we try to show it by focusing mainly on historical events.

Next there is the section “Photographers.” This contains portraits of photographers themselves. There are 110 people represented, starting with Hikoma Ueno and Renjo Shimooka and continuing to the present day. In other words, we display portraits of the people who appear throughout our exhibition of one hundred years of photographic history. The section “National Advertising” has a collection of photographs published in old magazines of the time, such as Front and Nihon, which were issued by the government as a way of promoting Japan abroad. The last section is “Wartime,” which deals with the time between the Manchurian Incident of 1931 and the loss of World War II, in 1945. The section contains a mixture of photos taken on the battlefield and photos that were taken after the shooting subsided.

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Translated by Jeffrey Angles

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Focus on Japanese Photography

Digital Publication

Centered on SFMOMA’s large, diverse collection of Japanese photography from the postwar years to the present, this publication examines the development of the country’s distinctive and innovative photographic culture through the work of key practitioners of the last six decades. Biographical overviews, artist talks, video interviews, and additional resources provide insight into this tumultuous but artistically fertile period, spanning Allied occupation and the escalation of American troops in Japan during the Vietnam War, the country’s spectacular economic growth and subsequent crash in the 1980s, the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and on.

Header image: Naoya Hatakeyama, Blast #13018, 2006 (detail); chromogenic print, 39 3/16 x 59 1/16 in. (99.5 x 150 cm); collection SFMOMA, gift of the Kurenboh Collection; © Naoya Hatakeyama
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Essays and Artist Talks