A focus on three major photographers who represent Japan's post-war recovery and boom years
Japan not only emerged from the second world war on the losing side, the island nation also suffered one of the most scarred national psyches. Estimates vary, but some 135,000 civilians were killed in Hiroshima and 50,000 in Nagasaki. About half of these victims, the luckier ones, were killed instantly.
The influence of this catastrophe on manga cartoons and the cartoonish super-flat art of Takashi Murakami has been widely noted. But this show in the East of England offers visitors the chance to see how three major contemporary photographers have also borne witness to the post-war years in the traumatised land of the rising sun.
The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art has collected 65 prints, many from the artists’ studios, for the first show of Japanese photography in the region. Despite the atrocities committed on all sides during WWII, it appears that life rather than death provided the inspiration for Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikoh Hosoe and Kikuji Kawada who were aged between five and twelve on VJ day.
So you can expect exuberant studies of flowers from Araki, lyrical portraits from Hosoe and closely observed skies from Kawada. There is also nudity on all sides. This probably isn’t a family show, but the concern with sex does call to mind the desperate embraces which people claim they would reach for given a three minute warning.
Without a doubt, there is more to the history of 20th century Japan than conflict. There is also an economic miracle and a gift for manufacturing and export which belies the nation’s modest size. All of the above is reflected in this extensive show, which fills a niche you need to know about.