The short-lived Japanese magazine Provoke is recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the postwar era, uniting the country’s most contentious examples of protest photography, vanguard fine art, and critical theory of the late 1960s and early 70s in only three issues overall. Provoke is accordingly treated here as a model synthesis of the complexities and overlapping uses of photography in postwar Japan. The writing and images by Provoke’s members – critic Taki Koji, poet Okada Takahiko, photographers Nakahira Takuma, Takanashi Yutaka, Moriyama Daido – were suffused with the tactics developed in some Japanese protest books which made use of innovative graphic design and provocatively “poor” materials. Recording live actions, photography in these years was also an expressive form suited to emphasize and critique the mythologies of modern life with a wide spectrum of performing artists such as Araki Nobuyoshi. Enokura Koji and Takamatsu Jiro.
Provoke 2 -1969
Provoke 3 – 1969
The image in itself is not an idea. It cannot attain the totality of a concept, nor can it be a commutative sign like a word. Its irreversible materiality—a reality that has been detached by the camera—exists in a world opposite that of language, and because of this it sometimes provokes the world of language and concepts. In such instances, language transcends its fixed, conceptualized self, and is transformed into a new language, or rather a new idea.
Today, at this very moment, language is losing its material basis—in other words, its reality—and floating in space. We as photographers must capture with our own eyes fragments of reality that can no longer be grasped through existing language, and must actively put forth materials that address language and ideas. This is why we have been so bold as to give Provoke the subtitle Provocative Materials for Thought.
Takanashi Yutaka, Nakahira Takuma, Taki Kōji, Okada Takahiko | Provoke 1 (Preface)
Taki Kôji (1928-2011), an architecture critic and graphic designer, became involved in photography at a number of levels in the 1960s and early 1970s: critic, theorist, editor, publisher, professor, and, for several years at least, photographer. After gaining a degree in art history at the University of Tokyo, Taki opened a design firm in the early 1960s. He then took up a series of teaching positions before serving from 1966 as the principal researcher for 100 Years of Photography: A History of Japanese Photographic Expression; a major exhibition held in Tokyo in 1968. Analyzing the process of conceiving a history of Japanese photography led Taki, Nakahira Takuma, Okada Takahiko, and others to contribute to Foto Critica, an incisive student magazine, in 1967 and 1968; and then to help found Provoke, an association that lasted from 1968 until 1970. Taki designed the group’s publications, and he published in them both photographs and lengthy essays; particularly for the final venture, Mazu tashikarashisa no sekai o sutero (First, Abandon the World of Pseudo-Certainty, 1970). In 1972 he published his first book, Kotoba no nai shikō (Wordless Thought: Nots on Things, Space, and Image). As a writer and theorist he concentrated on subjects in urbanism but also addressed the Japanese monarchy, decorative arts, and sports.
A native of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, Tōmatsu Shōmei (1930-2012) began his photographic career in 1954 as a staff photographer for the Iwanami Photo Library. As a freelancer from the late 1950s, Tōmatsu turned his attention to the impact of American occupation , a theme that would run throughout much of his work, notably in a body of photographs that he came to call Chewing Gum and Chocolate. The social impact of US military bases, and the brutal human impact of the atomic bomb, became major subjects in his work in books such as “11-ji 02-fun“ Nagasaki (Nagasaki 11:02, 1966), Nihon (1967), and Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa (1969). Active in magazines, Tōmatsu also took up historical research, helping to prepare a major survey exhibition on Japanese photography in 1966-68 (see biography Taki Kōji); he taught as well at Tama School of Art. In the early 1970s Tōmatsu continued his teaching, outside of established university structures, on the island of Okinawa, where he had partially relocated after the Okinawan islands reverted to Japan in May 1972. Okinawa became another major subject for Tōmatsu and he produced work on the island’s unique landscapes and rich folklore, such as Taiyō no empitsu (The pencil of the Sun, 1975). From the early 1960s, Tōmatsu consistently put in pictures the deep causes and effects of wholesale cultural transformation in Japan; as such, he became almost dauntingly influential for the members of Provoke. Tōmatsu innovated on the structure of photo-essays, involving competing voices and encouraging tension rather than resolution of difficult social subjects. He also wrote extensively in his own photobooks, testing a range of literary voices, and thereby established a new creative role model as photographer-commentator that shaped a generation as well.
Born in the town of Ikeda near Osaka, Moriyama Daidō (born 1938) began his professional life as a graphic designer. He apprenticed in photographer Iwamiya Takeji’s studio in 1961, but soon moved to Tokyo to join the photographic collective Vivo. When the group dissolved, he became Hosoe Eikō’s assistant, working with him on the series Barakei (Ordeal by Roses). Working in a gritty, apparently casual style, Moriyama emerged as a leading voice in the second half of the 1960s, especially after publication of his first book Nippon gekijō shashinchō (Japan: A Photo Theater) in 1968. His “cast“ included performers, but also bohemians, prostitutes, and other social types marginalized in Japan’s decade of “economic miracles“ and its attendant social conformism. Throughout the following year, Moriyama published a portfolio in each issue of the monthly magazine Asahi Camera, collectively titled Akushidento (Accident), in which he tested various kinds of “accidental“ imagery: appropriated images, pictures of mayhem, voyeurism. At the request of critic and photographer Nakahira Takuma, whom he had first met in 1964, Moriyama participated in the second and third issues of Provoke, both published in 1969 as well. He also took part with Nakahira in a terrifically important discussion about the meanings and uses of photography, published in multiple versions between 1969 and 1972. The final publications of their talk came in 1972, in Shashin yo sayōnara (Farewell Photography), a book that pushed photography to the limits of legibility and coherence. After a hiatus that lasted for nearly a decade, Moriyama resumed photography in the earl 1980s, and has remained prolific until this day, with over 100 solo exhibitions and over 150 books to his name.
Born in 1938 in Tolyo’s Harajuku district, Nakahira Takuma (1938-2015) graduated from the city’s University of Foreign Studies, where he concentrated o Latin American independence movements and supposedly offered his services to the revolutionary government in Cuba. In 1964-65, as an editor at the leftist cultural magazine, Gendai no me (Contemporary Eye), Nakahira met the photographer Tōmatsu Shōmei; the two became quite friendly for several years, and Tōmatsu encouraged Nakahira both to publish photographs in the magazine and to begin making his own. Nakhira embarked on a prolific double career as photographer and cultural critic, publishing portfolios of street pictures as well as reviews on subjects in film and photography for various left-oriented magazines. By 1968, when he co-founded the magazine Provoke with Okada Takahiko, Takanashi Yutaka, and Taki Kōji, Nakahira had become a widely respected voice of his generation. Provoke made manifest—without resolving them—the complicated relations between photography and language, and between art and political resistance, in a way that galvanized a generation of photographers while contributing to far wider cultural discussions. In 1970 Nakahira published his first bool of photography, Kitarubeki kotoba no tame ni (For Language to Come). The book was received as a milestone and marks Nakahira’s culminating involvement in the Provoke movement. In 1971 he participated in the Seventh Paris Biennale, with Circulation: Date, Place, Events, for which the photographer took pictures in the city and the rest of the Biennale all day long, then printed and processed them each night and immediately pinned up the loose, curling prints as part of an ever-changing installation. The attempt to fix an image in any form—as a book, an exhibition, a statement of ideas—were thoroughly questioned. In the essay collection Naze shokubutsu zukan ka (Why an Illustrated Botanical Dictionary?, 1973), Nakahira developed a new line of questioning that led him in parallel to adopt a prosaic approach in color photography. Ever-evolving, he burned his early prints and negatives in 1973. He also pursued other experiments in his own work, despite a debilitating coma that lasted for nearly a year in 1977. Nakahira enjoyed a retrospective exhibition of his career at the Yokohama Art Museum in 2003.
Farewell to Photography [Moriyama Daidō]
Kitai Kazuo – Resistance 1965
The All-Campus Joint Struggle at Tokyo University 1967-1969 [Watanabe Hitomi]
Protest Surrounding the construction of Narita Airport
PROVOKE: BETWEEN PROTEST AND PERFORMANCE
PHOTOGRAPHY IN JAPAN 1960/1975
STEIDL PUBLISHERS 2016