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Shomei Tomatsu
Shomei Tomatsu

Shomei Tomatsu

Country: Japan
Birth: 1930 | Death: 2012

Shomei Tomatsu (東松 照明, Tōmatsu Shōmei) was a Japanese photographer, primarily known for his images that depict the impact of World War II on Japan and the subsequent occupation of U.S. forces. As one of the leading postwar photographers, Tomatsu is attributed with influencing the younger generations of photographers including those associated with the magazine Provoke (Takuma Nakahira and Daido Moriyama).

Tomatsu was born in Nagoya in 1930. As an adolescent during World War II, he was mobilized to support Japan's war effort. Like many Japanese students his age, he was sent to work at a steel factory and underwent incessant conditioning intended to instill fear and hatred towards the British and Americans. Once the war ended and Allied troops took over numerous Japanese cities, Tomatsu interacted with Americans firsthand and found that his preconceptions of them were not entirely salient.

At the time Tomatsu's contempt for the violence and crimes committed by these soldiers was complicated by individual acts of kindness he received from them – he simultaneously loved and hated their presence. These interactions, which he later described as among the most formative memories of his childhood, initiated his long-standing fixation on and feelings of ambivalence towards the subject of American soldiers.

If I had seven lives, I’d be a photographer in every one.

-- Shomei Tomatsu


Tomatsu embraced photography while an economics student at Aichi University. While still in university, his photographs were shown frequently in monthly amateur competitions by Camera magazine and received recognition from Ihei Kimura and Ken Domon. After graduating in 1954, he joined Iwanami Shashin Bunko, through an introduction made by Aichi University professor Mataroku Kumaza. Tomatsu contributed photographs to the issues Floods and the Japanese (1954) and Pottery Town, Seto Aichi (1954). He stayed at Iwanami for two years before leaving to pursue freelance work.

In 1957, Tomatsu participated in the exhibition Eyes of Ten where he displayed his series Barde Children’s School; he was featured in the exhibit twice more when it was held again in 1958 and 1959. After his third showing, Tomatsu established the short-lived photography collective VIVO with fellow Eyes of Ten exhibitors; these other members included Eikoh Hosoe, Kikuji Kawada, Ikkō Narahara, Akira Satō, and Akira Tanno. Towards the end of the 1950s, Tomatsu began photographing Japanese towns with major American bases, a project that would span over 10 years.

Tomatsu's artistic output and renown grew significantly during the 1960s, exemplified by his prolific engagements with many prominent Japanese photography magazines. He began the decade by publishing his images of U.S. bases in the magazines Asahi Camera and Camera Mainichi and his series Home in Photo Art. In contrast to his earlier style which resembled traditional photojournalism, Tomatsu was beginning to develop a highly expressionistic form of image-taking that emphasized the photographer's own subjectivity.

In response to this emergence, a dispute arose when Iwanami Shashin Bunko founder Yonosuke Natori wrote that Tomatsu had betrayed his foundations as a photojournalist by neglecting the responsibility to present reality in a truthful and legible manner. He rejected the claim that he was ever a photojournalist, and admonished journalistic thinking as an impediment to photography. Both essays were published in Asahi Camera. In addition to Asahi Camera and Photo Art, Tomatsu worked for magazines Gendai no me and Camera Mainichi. For Gendai no me, he edited a monthly series titled I am King (1964); for Camera Mainichi, he printed multiple collaborations made with Yasuhiro Ishimoto and Shigeichi Nagano in 1965 and his own series, The Sea Around Us in 1966.

Tomatsu first went to Okinawa to photograph the American bases under the auspices of Asahi Camera in 1969. The images he captured formed the book Okinawa, Okinawa Okinawa which served as an explicit critique of the American air force. On the cover, an anti-base slogan verbalizing his disdain with the overwhelming U.S. presence in Okinawa reads: "The bases are not in Okinawa; Okinawa is in the bases". This sentiment was foreshadowed in Tomatsu's earlier writings, like his 1964 essay for Camera Manichi in which he stated "it would not be strange to call [Japan] the State of Japan in the United States of America. That's how far America has penetrated inside Japan, how deeply it has plumbed our daily lives."

Tomatsu visited Okinawa three more times before finally moving to Naha in 1972. While in Okinawa, he traveled to various remote islands including Iriomote and Hateruma; he spent seven months on Miyakojima where he organized a study group called “Miyako University” aimed at mentoring young Miyako residents. Combined with his images taken in Southeast Asia, Tomatsu's photographs of Okinawa from the 1970s were shown in his prizewinning Pencil of the Sun (1975). Although he had come to Okinawa in order to witness its return to Japanese territory, Pencil of the Sun revealed a considerable shift away from the subject of military bases that he pursued throughout 1960s. He credited a diminishing interest in the American armed forces, in addition to the allure of Okinawa's brilliantly colored landscapes, for his adoption of color photography.

In 1974, Tomatsu returned to Tokyo where he set up Workshop Photo School, an alternative two-year-long workshop (1974–76), with Eikoh Hosoe, Nobuyoshi Araki, Masahisa Fukase, Daidō Moriyama, and Noriaki Yokosuka; the school published the photo magazine Workshop. Tomatsu's dedication to nurturing the photography community in Japan was also evidenced in his role as a juror for the Southern Japan Photography Exhibition and his membership in the Photographic Society of Japan's committee to create a national museum of photography. The efforts of this group led to the establishment of photography departments at major national museums, such as Yokohama Museum of Art and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, as well as the first photography museum in Japan, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum.

In this, photography is the same thing as love. When my gaze, diving into the sea as my subject, converges with the act of photography, hot sparks fly at the point of intersection.

-- Shomei Tomatsu


Tomatsu took part in his first major international show, New Japanese Photography (1974) at MoMA New York, alongside workshop members Hosoe, Moriyama, Fukase, and 11 other photographers. New Japanese Photography was the first survey of contemporary Japanese photographers undertaken outside of Japan. It traveled to eight other locations in the United States including the Denver Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Art, and Portland Art Museum.

By 1980, Tomatsu published three more books: Scarlet Dappled Flower (1976) and The Shining Wind (1979) were composed of his images from Okinawa; and Kingdom of Mud (1978) featured his Afghanistan series printed earlier in Assalamu Alaykum. In the early 1980s, Tomatsu had his first international solo exhibition, Shomei Tomatsu: Japan 1952-1981 shown at thirty venues over three years. He was also included in notable international group exhibitions regarding Japanese art: in 1985, he was one of the main artists in Black Sun: The Eyes of Four first shown at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; in 1994, he was featured in the seminal show Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky at the Yokohama Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

In the last decade of his career, Tomatsu embarked on a new and comprehensive series of retrospectives, dividing his oeuvre into five "mandalas" of place. Each mandala was named after the area it was exhibited: Nagasaki Mandala (Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, 2000); Okinawa Mandala (Urasoe Art Museum, 2002); Kyoto Mandala (Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, 2003); Aichi Mandala (Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, 2006); and Tokyo Mandala (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 2007).

Tomatsu also had a separate retrospective, Shomei Tomatsu: Skin of the Nation, for the international museum circuit. Skin of the Nation was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and curated by Sandra S. Phillips and the photographer and writer Leo Rubinfien. The exhibition toured three countries and five venues from 2004 through 2006: Japan Society (New York); National Gallery of Canada, Corcoran Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Fotomuseum Winterthur.

In 2010 Tomatsu moved to Okinawa permanently, where he held the final exhibition during his lifetime, Tomatsu Shomei and Okinawa - Love Letter to the Sun (2011). He succumbed to pneumonia on 14 December 2012 (although this was not publicly announced until January 2013).

Source: Wikipedia


 

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Exclusive Interview with Laurent Baheux
French photographer Laurent Baheux, follows the tradition of humanist photographers by capturing black-and-white images of nature and wildlife. His subjects are not confined to cages or enclosures; they are free individuals, captured in the moment, displaying the full strength of their freedom, the beauty of their personalities, and the tenderness of their communal lives. Celebrated for their aesthetic power and authenticity, Laurent's black-and-white photographs have been featured in books, publications, exhibitions, and conferences, and are displayed in galleries both in France and internationally.
Reflections by Jon Enoch
Jon Enoch is a London-based freelance photographer, who works with celebrities, sports people, CEOs, as well as advertising agencies and brands. Jon regularly creates his own personal work, which have won numerous awards over the years. Jon’s recent project ‘The Candymen of Mumbai’ has won a Portrait of Humanity award and was the overall winner of the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the year 2023. His previous 2019 project called ‘Bikes of Hanoi’ also picked up multiple awards including the Paris Photo Prize - Gold in 2019, Portrait of Humanity Award 2020 and was the Smithsonian Grand Prize Winner in 2020. He was also shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards in 2020 and nominated for the Lens Culture Portrait Prize 2020. We asked him a few questions about his project 'Reflections'
Exclusive Interview with George Byrne
George Byrne is an acclaimed Australian photographer known for his striking use of color and composition. Byrne's work often captures urban landscapes with a minimalist and abstract aesthetic, transforming ordinary cityscapes into vivid, painterly images. His distinctive style highlights the beauty in everyday scenes, emphasizing geometry, light, and shadow to create visually captivating pieces. Byrne has gained international recognition for his unique approach to photography, blending elements of fine art and documentary to offer a fresh perspective on the urban environment.
Barbara Cole and Wet Collodion Photographs
Cole is best known for her underwater photography, but her other studio practice during the cold months in Toronto is an ongoing series of wet collodion photographs. This heavily analog process from the 19th Century is a years-long endeavor of revitalization and experimentation, offering modern day viewers an understanding of what it took to develop photographs in the early days of its invention. Cole has added her own unique take on the process by adding a layer of color in contrast to the usual sepia tones associated with the genre. The resulting wet plate photographs are tactile and dimensional dances between light and shadow, past and present, depicting women in timeless dreamscapes. We asked her a few questions about this specific project
Exclusive Interview with Michael Joseph
I discovered Michael Joseph's work in 2016, thanks to Ann Jastrab. I was immediately captivated by the power of his beautiful black and white photographs from his series 'Lost and Found.' His haunting portraits of young Travelers have stayed with me ever since.
Exclusive Interview with Debe Arlook
Debe Arlook is an award-winning American artist working in photography. Through color and diverse photographic processes, Arlook’s conceptual work is a response to her surroundings and the larger environment, as she attempts to understand the inner and outer worlds of human relationships. Degrees in filmmaking and psychology inform these views.
Orchestrating Light: Seth Dickerman Talks About his Passion for Photographic Printmaking
Seth Dickerman is a master manipulator of the wide spectrum of light densities that reflect off the surface of a photographic print and enter into our field of vision. His singular intent in making prints is to bring out the best an image has to offer, which means giving an image the ability to hold our attention, to engage us, and to allow us to discover something about an image that is meaningful and significant.
Exclusive Interview with Michel Haddi
Photographer and film director, Michel Haddi has photographed many high-profile celebrities while living in the USA including, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, David Bowie, Uma Thurman, Francis Ford Coppola, Cameron Diaz, Faye Dunaway, Nicholas Cage, Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Angelina Jolie, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and many others. He also manages a publishing house, MHS publishing, which publishes his own books. Currently based in London we have asked him a few questions about his life and work
Exclusive Interview with Sebastien Sardi
In 2008, Swedish photographer Sebastian Sardi, inspired by an article exposing hidden mining-related incidents, embarked on a photography journey. Without formal training, he explored mines and ventured to India's Jharkhand state to document coal miners in Dhanbad, known as the "coal capital." His project, "Black Diamond," captured the lives of people, including men, women, and children, dedicated to coal extraction in grueling conditions.
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