Eyes of an Island: Japanese Photography 1945–2007 

Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, 2007

In 2007 I co-curated an exhibition of Japanese photography in collaboration with the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London. Eyes of an Island, Japanese Photography 1945–2007, brought together work from over sixty years, from pieces by recognised masters including Shomei Tomatsu, Daido Moriyama, Hiroshi Hamaya, Shigeichi Nagano, Hiromi Tsuchida and Eikoh Hosoe, to more recent work by photographers such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ryuji Miyamoto, Naoya Hatakeyama and Nobuyoshi Araki amongst others.

As co-curator of the show, I wrote the introduction to the catalogue. Here is an extract from that essay:

"A photographer looks at everything, which is why he must look from beginning to end. Face the subject head-on, stare fixedly, turn the entire body into an eye and face the world."

Shomei Tomatsu

Shomei Tomatsu,  Street Entertainers , Tokyo, 1961

Shomei Tomatsu, Street Entertainers, Tokyo, 1961

On August 6, 1945 the world was thrust into the reality of the nuclear age when “a sun brighter than a thousand suns” appeared over Hiroshima. Three days later a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. These events changed the course of modern history and nowhere more radically than on the Japanese archipelago. The massive physical devastation of these and other fire-bombings was soon followed by Japanese surrender and with that the destruction of the myth of the emperor. By the end of the summer of 1945, Japan was faced with the prospect of total reconstruction: of its towns and cities, of its economy and above all of its society. The nation was suddenly faced with the question, “What is Japan?” 

This question has been at the core of the remarkable evolution of Japanese photography over the past 50 years. While it would be mistaken to think of a single ‘Japanese’ photographic approach, one unifying factor has been the way in which Japanese photographers have engaged with this crucial question of the identity of their nation. Perhaps more than in any other photographic nation, Japanese photography has consistently engaged with the social and political realities surrounding it, searching for new approaches to contribute to modern Japan’s search for identity. 

By Marc Feustel

Ryuji Miyamoto, From the series  Cardboard Houses , Tokyo, 1995

Ryuji Miyamoto, From the series Cardboard Houses, Tokyo, 1995