The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is regarded as a highlight of post-war photography. The Albertina
, in the worlds first-ever exhibition on this topic, is taking a close look at this publications creators and its long genesis. The presentation encompasses a representative cross-section of Japanese photographic trends during the 1960s and 1970s. With around 200 objects, the exhibition Provoke unites works by Japans most influential photographers - including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shōmei Tōmatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. Before the backdrop of the massive protest activities in Japan during this period, they created their images out of an awareness of being at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These works thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and a renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.
This exhibition places Provoke in a historical context, focussing on the dialogue between the groups photography in particular and contemporary protest photography and performance art in general.
Photography is examined as a document of - and/or a call to - protest against injustice: the period around 1960 saw numerous books published in connection with the first great wave of protests in Japan against renewal of the alliance with the USA. A few of them document the demonstrations themselves, while others deal with related themes - above all with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The years during which Provoke was published saw these protests, which were staged employing great creativity, give rise to a captivating visual world of resistance to the illegal actions of large corporations and the despotism of the neoliberal Japanese state.
As the 1960s wore on, the protest movements intensified, leading to a flood of photo volumes and prints. The makers of Provoke - critic Kōji Taki, author Takuma Nakahira, critic and photographer Takuma Nakahira, and photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Daidō Moriyama - were of the opinion that journalistic photography had exhausted itself and that it was impossible to effect long-term change through direct political action. But even so, in their texts and their photos, they oriented themselves on the aesthetic strategies to which Japans protest photography had given rise: their works feature strikingly innovative graphic design that employs image sequences, pithy text/image combinations, dynamic outtakes, and the interplay of specifically chosen cheap materials (rough paper, low-resolution printing) with fold-outs and unusual formats.
The exhibition concludes by examining the Japanese photography of its chosen period as a variant of performance art and/or as documentation of live actions: Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, and Nobuyoshi Araki are among those photographers who, around 1970, developed great interest in portraying darkroom work or other processes connected to the production of photographic prints as visible and active components of photographic creativity. They were preceded in their efforts by dance performers such as Tatsumi Hijikata, who worked with filmmakers and photographers, as well as by groups like the Hi-Red Center, which blurred the distinctions between photographic documentation and live actions in which photography and other media played a role.
But such influences worked both ways: directly inspired by the activities of the photographers of Provoke, Hi-Red Center member Jiro Takamatsu and Koji Enokura turned to photographic conceptual art in the early 1970s.
This exhibition is a coproduction between the Albertina, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Le Bal in Paris, and the Art Institute of Chicago.