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The Spirit of Avant-Garde Photography - Transforming "Nothing Much"

Takiguchi Shuzo, Abe Nobuya, Otsuji Kiyoji, Gocho Shigeo


Publication date : 2024/04/01
Weight 770 g / Dimensions 19 x 26 cm / 240 pages
ISBN 9784865411690

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During the 1930s, a large number of works influenced by Surrealism were exhibited in Japan under the name of “avant-garde photography”. These included works by Takiguchi Shuzo (1903-1979) who, seeing the photographic medium as “a deep fold in everyday reality”, explored the potential of Surrealism. In 1938, Takiguchi gave theoretical support to the Zen’ei Shashin Kyokai (Association of Avant-Garde Photography), which he formed with a group of photographers and painters.

One of the founding members of the association, Abe Nobuya (1913-1971), created works in response to Takiguchi’s statements in Photo Times magazine. Abe’s work quickly moved away from the poetic sensibilities of surrealism towards photographs that documented a “new, unadorned harmony” in “landscapes that had been abandoned as a useless part of the city and countryside”. After the Second World War, Abe continued to inspire young photographers with his criticism, while exploring his own avant-garde expressions in photographs taken in various travel destinations.

Otsuji Kiyoji (1923-2001) contributed to Photo Times in the late 1930s, at the height of the Zen’ei Shashin Kyokai’s activities. Around 1940, under the direct influence of Takiguchi and Abe, he began to pursue a career as a photographer. In 1958, while continuing along this path, Otsuji also began teaching at the Kuwasawa School of Design. It was here that he discovered the new experimental approaches of his young students. As an educator, Otsuji broadened his perspective to include everything from his predecessors to photographers of the same era, while using his experiences as a first-hand observer of art journalism as the basis for his work. His Experimental Workshop of Photography series marks a radical departure, focusing on “photos of nothing at all” that concentrate on the mundane.

Gocho Shigeo (1946-1983) was one of the students Otsuji discovered at the Kuwasawa School of Design. In 1967, Gocho began studying photography on Otsuji’s recommendation and gradually moved towards a career as a photographer. Otsuji also wrote the forewords to two photo books that Gocho published after graduating, and closely followed his former student’s activities. As Gocho himself says, he strived to make works that were “just photographs, something that could be overlooked”, bringing a unique perspective to ordinary landscapes that were familiar to everyone.

This year, 2023, marks the 120th anniversary of Takiguchi Shuzo’s birth, the 110th anniversary of Abe Nobuya’s birth, the 100th anniversary of Otsuji Kiyoji’s birth and the 40th anniversary of Gocho Shigeo’s death. By tracing the relationship between these four artists and their work, we hope in this exhibition to convey the topicality of the avant-garde photographic spirit championed by Takiguchi.

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