Exhibition captures six decades of images that reflect the evolution of photography in Japan

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Exhibition captures six decades of images that reflect the evolution of photography in Japan
Kazuo Nakagawa, Ginza, July 31, 1945, 1945. Gelatin silver print, 22.2 × 32.2 cm. Yokohama Museum of Art.

OTTAWA.- The Shōwa era (December 1926 to January 1989), saw unprecedented changes in photographic expression in Japan. These six decades were marked by the diversification of genres – from propaganda and documentary photography, to photojournalism and artistic photography – and the emergence of new photographic technologies and movements. The early 1960s, a time of high economic growth in the country, also saw the birth of the automatic exposure camera, making photography accessible to all.

Through more than 200 photographs drawn from the Yokohama Museum of Art collection, the National Gallery of Canada presents this tumultuous epoch in Hanran: 20th-century Japanese Photography, an exhibition on view from October 11, 2019 to March 22, 2020.

Hanran, Japanese for "overflow", recalls the many artistic, social and political changes that took place in Japan during the Shōwa era. The exhibition, organized by the Yokohama Museum of Art in collaboration with the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada, features a rich and diverse range of photography that offers fascinating perspectives on Japan’s history and the history of the medium.

“This sweeping view of Japanese photography in the last century is particularly important for the Canadian Photography Institute and our visitors, not only because it contextualizes the Japanese photographs in the Institute’s collection, but also because it fulfills the Institute’s mandate to collect and exhibit international art.” ― Ann Thomas, Acting Chief Curator, National Gallery of Canada and exhibition curator

Ms. Thomas worked closely with Eriko Kimura, Curator, Yokohama Museum of Art, to prepare this exhibition, which brings together the work of 28 photographers who made their mark on the history of photography both in Japan and abroad.

"During the Shōwa era, the period covered by this exhibition, photography emerged as one of the most significant visual languages of 20th-Century Japanese art. It is our great honour to introduce Canada to some outstanding examples of Japanese photography from the collection of the Yokohama Museum of Art." ― Eriko Kimura, Curator, Yokohama Museum of Art

The exhibition centres around seven themes: Urban landscape of the 1930s and the Shinko Shashin (New Photography), capturing the flourishing of Tokyo’s modern urban culture and the influences of Western lifestyle and architecture through the lenses of photographers intent on conveying a sense of the city’s changing realities; Shadows of war and photojournalism, focusing on photographs that trace significant historical events, preparations for war and the evolution of photography as a tool for disseminating information; Japan’s Defeat, presenting works that convey the haunting impact of war on Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Postwar restoration and photographic realism, with photographs representing the lives of ordinary people; Snapshots of the period of high economic growth, showing images of people in different parts of the country; and Conflict and the end of “postwar”, presenting images of various student and worker protest movements that marked the late 1960s and early 1970s. The exhibition ends with the theme New directions: Are-Bure-Boke and Kompara Shashin, illustrating some of the powerful and fascinating trajectories Japanese photography has taken since the 1960s.

The small- and very large-scale photographs in the exhibition are black and white, with the exception of two works.

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