Then and Now: Japanese Women Photographers of the 1970s and ’80s Revealed Through Their Photobooks by Russet Lederman

“In March 2014, the Hasselblad Foundation presented the Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako with its annual award. Ishiuchi, who has spent more than thirty-five years pursuing a photographic vision that explores time and surface filtered through memory, is among only a handful of recognized female photographers from Japan’s postwar scene of the late 1960s through the ’80s. Historical documentation of this period provides limited insight into other female photographers active during this era of great experimentation in the medium, when a new and distinctly Japanese photographic idea emerged in direct response to the political and social constraints that dominated postwar Japan in the shadow of the atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

During the 1970s, the United States discovered postwar Japanese photography through several survey exhibitions curated by the Japanese historian Yamagishi Shoji: first at the Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with John Szarkowski, 1974; and then in 1979 at the International Center of Photography (ICP) under the auspices of Cornell Capa. In 1977 the Württembergischer Kunstverein, in Stuttgart also contributed to the West’s understanding of this period with its exhibition Neue Fotografie aus Japan. Surprisingly, only the ICP show included a female photographer – Ishiuchi Miyako. Despite their almost total exclusion in the major survey shows in the West of 1970s and ’80s Japanese photography, there were several very active and talented female photographers in addition to Ishiuchi. A few were students or assistants of well-known male photographers such as Moriyama Daido, Araki Nobuyoshi, and Tomatsu Shomei. And as was and still is the custom in the Japanese photographic community, these women presented their work principally in the format of photobooks.”


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