"Material provocative to think", said the subtitle of Provoke, the magazine that shook the Japanese photographic scene in the late sixties. Founded by the critic Kōji Taki together with the photographers Takuma Nakahira and Yutaka Takanash and the poet Takahiko Okada, only three numbers were enough to become one of the great landmarks in the history of photography of the last fifty years. The influence of the distinctive style of your images, are-bure-boke (grain, sweep, blur), and its daring design still colea.
"Provoke was a break in the way we look and appreciate reality," says Nuria Enguita, curator, along with Vicente Todolí, of the exhibition The look of things. Japanese photography around Provoke,which can be seen in the Gens Bombs art center. "From the photographic language, the magazine condensed a transformation that was being experienced in other artistic manifestations (in sculpture, in land art and in the body art). He knew how to channel a mode of expression to show a feeling that defined an era ".
The exhibition includes the work of 15 artists belonging to different generations that between 1957 and 1972 radically transformed the photographic language. Discontent and anger at the changes experienced by Japanese post-war society - which had gone from being a primarily agrarian society to a rapid immersion in the culture of industry and consumption - served as the background to the development of these new forms of to photograph. Among the photographers that make up the exhibition the most veteran is Hiroshi Hamaya, who was always in the first line of photographic modernity in Japan, becoming the first Asian member of the Magnum agency. His work will be a precursor of the transformation brought about by the VIVO collective, in the 1950s, and later by the Provoke group. The work of the photographer Ishiuchi Miyako appears as a representation of a later generation, heir to an aesthetic very close to Provoke, and shares her experimental mood in the technique in order to delve into the meaning of being Japanese in a turbulent time. In 2014, she was the first Asian woman to receive the prestigious Hasselblad award.
In 1957 the exhibition took place The Eyes of Ten (The eyes of ten), that served to gather photographers like Shōmei Tōmatsu, Eikoh Hosoe and Ikkō Narahara, who would later form the VIVO cooperative together with Kikuji Kawada and Akira Satō. Inspired by New York 1945-1955, William Klein's book, and The Americans by Robert Frank, they sought a more subjective expression through a style that supposed a critical reaction against the photojournalism of the time of the war, impregnated of the governmental ideology, and against the socialist realism of the postwar period. They laid the foundations for the great renovation that was to come. In the same way, Takuma Nakahira pointed out that "photojournalists who wanted to 'portray the truth objectively' could only appreciate the facts from the point of view of state power."
"There is always a look to the past to go forward in Japanese photography," says Enguita. Thus, Provoke looks towards the photographers of the war and the postwar period and from his position he surpasses the most subjective documentary style of VIVO. Photography acquires its own language, independent of words, and is presented as a document that the viewer must read. His images "resist our visual comprehension, with its disconcerting oblique angles, blurred and kinetic lines that frame landscapes of 'empty' infrastructures, made of cables, darkness and guardrails," writes Miryam Sas in the catalog. "The important thing is no longer It is the 'beauty'.
"Provoke's photography is an experiential photograph, a document of a movement, hence it is blurred and unfocused," says Enguita. Thus, we find the nocturnal landscapes of Daidō Moriyama, (who participated in the second issue of Provoke), dark places populated by elusive figures that take us into the uncertainty of the urban night. Or with the work of Takashi Hamaguchi, considered one of the most committed photographers of the moment, who documented two decades of protests without being influenced by any ideology, inviting the viewer to question his position before the objective facts. "Despite its name, Provoke was not so much a provocation in the political sense but in the formal sense in the search for a new language to explain the world."
The idea of photography as an act is expressed in the work of Takuma Nakahira. During his participation in 1971 at the Paris Biennial he made daily photographs of the city, which at night he fixed on a panel, discarding those of the previous day, which he left scattered on the floor reflecting his artistic vision and questioning his own way of thinking. expression.
"The I also exists thanks to the look of things," said Nakahira. Provoke It teaches us that the world affects us and looks at us, that we can not reach a place and make a photograph only with our subjectivity and what we have inside. Going through the evolution of Japanese photography in its forms of constructing reality, the exhibition allows us to understand "how the world, objects, contexts -in short, 'things'-, modify our relationships and also build our ways of moving, to look or even to feel, "says Enguita.
The look of things. Japanese photography around Provoke. Pumps Gens Center d'Art. Valencia. Until February 2, 2020.