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Shomei Tomatsu


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Shomei Tomatsu (born in Nagoya, Japan, 1930; died in Naha, Japan, 2012) played a central role in Vivo, a self-managed photography agency, and founded the publishing house Shaken and the quarterly journal Ken. He participated in the groundbreaking New Japanese Photography exhibition in 1974 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and, in 2011, the Nagoya City Art Museum featured Tomatsu Shomei: Photographs, a comprehensive survey of his work. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1999 Japan Art Grand Prix. Leo Rubinfien is a photographer, writer, and curator. Books of his work include A Map of the East and Wounded Cities. In 2006, he cocurated Skin of the Nation, a retrospective of Shomei Tomatsu’s work; he also recently served as guest curator of Garry Winogrand. Both exhibitions were organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and traveled to other venues thereafter. John Junkerman is a documentary filmmaker and translator based in Tokyo. His films include the Academy Award nominated Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima (1986); Dream Window: Reflections on the Japanese Garden (1992); and Japan’s Peace Constitution (2005). He translated and edited texts for Anne Wilkes Tucker’s The History of Japanese Photography, translated Daido Moriyama’s Memories of a Dog, and collaborated on Leo Rubinfien’s Shomei Tomatsu: Skin of the Nation.


Shomei Tomatsu (1930-2012) was terrified as a youngster during the fire-bombing of Tokyo in 1944-45, but he also found the explosions beautiful. The postwar occupation produced a similar ambiguity, and these mixed feelings are explored in "Chewing Gum and Chocolate." His black and white photographs show a despair at the occupation's impact on Japan and its people. Many were taken in the red-light districts adjacent to U.S. bases, recording the dives, the prostitutes and their customers. Images of B-52 bombers and other aircraft present them as mythological demons, both magnificent and malevolent, set in turbulent skies. Tomatsu's photographs have the spontaneity of Zen drawings; many are dark, grainy, blurred, out of focus or taken at radical angles.--Mary Kate McDevitt"The Wall Street Journal" (11/21/2014)

Ambivalence is the keynote struck by Shomei Tomatsu's Chewing Gum and Chocolate, edited by Leo Rubinfien and john Junkerman, an artfully sequenced collectin of his photographs of the American military presence in Japan, 1959-80. Tomatsu, whose grainy, smeared, often wide-anle black-and-white images evoke a spectrum of feelings, from nostalgic reverie to smoldering anger, sometimes within the same photograph, influenced an entire generation of Japanese photographers, most notably Daido Moriyama. The pictures here, never before collected into a single volume, do not invite facile responses as they chronicle military bases and their effluvia in a period that has the Vietnam War at its center: bars, prostitution, mixed-race children, outsize cars, Japanese hepcats in pimp suits, American children wielding toy guns, dish antennas, graffiti, demonstrations, military aircraft coming in low over a junkyard, random shards of tradition and ritual, African-American G.I.s giving the black-power salute, a narrow street of old single-story frame dwellings that is lined with pawnshop signs in English. Almost every picture could be the begining of a long, densely packed personal narrative.--Luc Sante"The New York Times" (12/07/2014)

Shomei Tomatsu's Chewing Gum and Chocolate (Aperture 2014) turned out to be a bit of a surprise for me. Expecting a fairly obvious compilation and/or re-release of older, known work, the book instead presents what could or maybe should or maybe just might have been the eponymous book the artist had been planning to make for a while. Included are a few very good essays, which make it a must buy for anyone interested in photography from Japan.--Joerg Colberg"cphmag.com" (12/22/2014)

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