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  • Sep 11, 2015

Japanese Photographer Takuma Nakahira Dies At 77

Japanese photographer TAKUMA NAKAHIRA, who died on September 1, 2015, at age 77. Photo by and courtesy Trent Everitt. 

On September 1, Takuma Nakahira, a pioneer of modern Japanese photography, died from pneumonia-related complications at a hospital in Yokohama, Japan. He was 77 years old. Nakahira, who was also a revered writer and critic, was renowned for cofounding the seminal Japanese photography magazine Provoke during the 1960s.

Born in 1938 in Tokyo, Nakahira graduated from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in 1963 with a degree in Spanish. Upon graduation, he was hired at a publishing company as an editor, where he worked for the new-left magazine Gendai no Me (“Contemporary Eye”). There he met Shomei Tomatsu (1930–2012), regarded as one of the most influential Japanese photographers of the postwar era, who encouraged and inspired Nakahira to create his own photography work.

From the mid-1960s, while also working on his photography, Nakahira began publishing essays that discussed revolutionary ideas about art and photography. This eventually led him to establish Provoke (subtitled “Provocative Materials for Thought”), along with art critic Kōji Taki, poet Takahiko Okada and photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Daido Moriyama, in 1968. Provoke ran for only two years, resulting in just three issues and one book; yet it made a profound impact that has continued to influence the Japanese art scene today. The magazine introduced the provocative, avant-garde style of are, bure, boke (“rough, blurred and out of focus”)—as embodied in the beautifully raw, black-and-white photographs by Moriyama—which rebelled against the established aesthetics and conventions of the Japanese art world at that time, and reflected the rapid urban development and social upheaval that characterized postwar Japan.

In 1969, Nakahira’s photographic work received the Newcomer Award from the Japanese Photography Critics’ Association. A year later he published his first book of photography, entitled For A Language to Come (1970). Then, in 1973, Nakahira published another book—Why an Illustrated Botanical Dictionary?—in which he rejected his previous body of stylized works and presented objective color photographs devoid of personal expression. During the 1970s, Nakahira continued to experiment in his practice, publishing Duel on Photography (1977), which coupled his writings with photographs by Kishin Shinoyama, renowned for his sensual, provocative portraits of nude women. Immediately after the publication of Duel on Photography, however, Nakahira succumbed to an illness that brought him to near death. Though he gradually recovered, subsequent complications caused him to suffer memory loss and aphasia.

Undeterred by his condition, Nakahira continued to work on his photography and eventually published two photo books during the 1980s: A New Gaze (1983) and Adieu à X (1989). The latter publication was released in conjunction with an eponymous exhibition at Foto Daido, a now-defunct gallery founded by Daido Moriyama. After several years of retreat, public interest for Nakahira’s work was revitalized in the early 2000s, when a large-scale retrospective was held at the Yokohama Museum of Art. Entitled “Nakahira Takuma: Degree Zero – Yokohama” (2003), the exhibition displayed over 800 of his photographic works, dating from his formative period up to 2003. Since then, Nakahira has received renewed attention, both locally and globally, with several exhibitions in Japan, including at ShugoArts, Tokyo, the Art Gallery of Chukyo University, Nagoya, and the Hachinohe City Museum of Art.

In 2010, For A Language to Come was re-released by Tokyo-based publisher Osiris, who also published Circulation: Date, Place, Events (2012), featuring three of Nakahira’s essays from the early 1970s. Currently, Nakahira’s work is being featured in “Things: Rethinking Japanese Photography and Art in 1970s” (5/26–9/13), along with the works of Kiyoji Ohtsuji and Yutaka Takanashi, at Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art.

Excerpt from TAKUMA NAKAHIRA’s book For a Language to Come (1970). Courtesy Osiris, Tokyo. 

Hanae Ko is reviews and web editor at ArtAsiaPacific. Special thanks to Stuart Munro for research reference.