Depth of Field: A Japanese Photography Reading List

Depth of Field: A Japanese Photography Reading List

Photo: NGC


Photography in Shōwa-era Japan (1926–89) is vast and various, from the Ukiyo-e-inspired landscapes of Roso Fukuhara, to the social realism of Ihee Kimura, to the provocative style of Nobuyoshi Araki. Hanran: 20th-Century Japanese Photography compresses these and many other photographic movements into a single seven-part exhibition.

As the title suggests, Hanran, which means “overflow” in Japanese, extends far beyond what can be contained within a picture frame — or in this case, a book. For those wanting to explore the topic in greater depth, here are a few jumping-off points, paired with what we are calling overflow recommendations, for further reading:


The History of Japanese Photography

Depth of Field: A Japanese Photography Reading List

Anne Tucker, The History of Japanese Photography, Museum of Fine Arts Houston Series, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Courtesy of Yale University Press. Photo: NGC


This massive exhibition catalogue from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, covers almost the entirety of photography in Japan, from the introduction of daguerreotypes by Dutch merchants, to the beautifully experimental photographs of the Heisei Period (1989–2019). A detailed timeline is complemented by informative essays by Anne Wilkes Tucker, Takeba Jo, and Kaneko Ryuchi. Several appendices include artist profiles and explanations of the role played by Japan’s influential camera clubs.


Overflow recommendation: A Career of Japan: Baron Raimund Von Stillfried and Early Yokohama Photography (2016) by Luke Gartlan, one of the leading researchers of post-sakoku Japanese photography.


Shinzo and Roso Fukuhara: Photographs by the Ginza Modern Boys 1913–1941

Shinzo and Roso Fukuhara: Photographs by Ginza Modern Boys 1913–1941

Noriko Fuku, Shinzo and Roso Fukuhara: Photographs by Ginza Modern Boys 1913–1941. Tokyo and New York: Shiseido Corporate Museum Ltd. and Sepia International, 2001. Courtesy of Shiseido Corporate Museum Ltd. Photo: NGC


The Ginza Modern Boys — brothers Shinzo and “Roso” (born Nobutatsu) Fukuhara — laid the groundwork for artistic photography in Japan. Both focused on elements within landscapes, and incorporated a thoughtful way of composing images that is reminiscent of early Romantic painters.


Overflow recommendation: Anything by Hiroshi Sugimoto; his tone of quiet reflection is complementary to the work of the Ginza Modern Boys.


Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows

Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows

Amanda Maddox, Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows, 1st edition. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015. Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum. Photo: NGC


This biography by Amanda Maddox is a good introduction to the work of Miyako Ishiuchi, and her best-known series Yokosuka (1977), Mothers (2004–09), and Hiroshima (2007). While not wholly within the Shōwa era, Ishiuchi’s work continues to address prevailing themes of identity, mortality, and the effects of time on people and places.


Overflow recommendation: Hayashi Shigeo’s panoramas of Hiroshima (1945), exploring what many post-war Japanese photographers were working to address in their cultural memory.





Takuma Nakahira (et al.), PROVOKE, 3 volumes. Tokyo: Purovoku-sha, 1968–69 (original printing); Tokyo: Nitesha, 2018 (reprint). Courtesy of Nitesha. Photo: NGC


Existing somewhere between protest and performance, the short-lived magazine PROVOKE was an outlet for protest movements in urban Japan between 1960 and 1975. Currently on view in Hanran, this collected volume contains all three issues of the magazine, as well as commentary from its original contributors, including Takuma Nakahira.

By its own admission, PROVOKE sought to expand the avant-garde through its guiding statement: “The image itself is not an idea. It cannot attain the totality of a concept, nor can it be a communicative sign like a word.”


Overflow recommendation: Similar to PROVOKE, the KOGA magazine and collective explored questions of modernity in Japanese photography, and helped further the proliferation of photozines in Japan.


Araki: Love and Death

Araki: Love and Death

Fuyumi Namioka and Francesca Bernasconi (eds.), Araki: Love and Death. Cataloghi di Mostre Series, Milan: Silvana Editorale, 2011. Courtesy of Silvana Editorale. Photo: NGC


Nobuyoshi Araki is a photographer of extremes. His work ranges from portraits of children playing in the streets, to photographs of bondage, to tender, melancholic images of his cat, Chiro. His raw and contentious vison is tempered in this book by the inclusion of the Sentimental Journey/Winter Journey (1971–90) series, which documented his wife Yoko’s declining health and eventual death.


Overflow recommendation: Araki’s protégé, Michico Kon, has a dark style that is also informed by Joel Peter Witkin.


View works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Takuma Nakahira, Miyako Ishiuchi, Roso Fukuhara, and more than twenty other photographers from the collection of the Yokohama Museum of Art in Hanran: 20th-Century Japanese Photography, on view until March 22, 2020 in the galleries of the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada.



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