‘I never learnt the academic theory of photography as a record, but I was instinctively aware of the meaning and importance of documentation. Whenever I came across something I felt the need to record, I would travel across the country to do so at all costs. Before I knew it, 10 years had past, and although the scope of my vision and range of subjects is narrow, I have records of incidents from the time. As I compare these images I get a sense of a fragment, of the transitions of the world over time.’ - Hamaguchi Takashi (b. 1931)
Hamaguchi Takashi embarked on his career as a freelance photojournalist in 1956, at the peak of photojournalism’s popularity and influence in Japan. A movement which coalesced around legendary reportage photographers Domon Ken and Kimura Ihei, photojournalism rejected aesthetic sensibilities and expressive modes of narrative photography in favour of a new Realism, termed the ‘absolutely pure snapshot’ by Domon Ken.
Hamaguchi’s first photograph to attract significant attention showed a student throwing a rock in protest at the wedding carriage of Crown Prince Akihito in 1959. This image, instantaneously captured in all its unanticipated, violent potential, would foreshadow a decade of escalating civil unrest which Hamaguchi would be at the forefront of documenting. As tension between the Japanese public and their government continued to escalate throughout the 1960s, and displays of popular dissent became a daily fixture of international news coverage, Hamaguchi’s bold and dispassionate account of the times was broadcast across mainstream media channels and passed through more subversive political circles.
His work recording the student movement, fierce anti-American protests, and the bitter campaign against the construction of Narita airport is celebrated for its intensely human perspective. Hamaguchi incorporated elements of humour and details of the living conditions of participants within his version of events, refusing to reduce participants to the sum of their political identities. Instead of photographing incidents from a partisan standpoint, Hamaguchi remained open-minded, conscientiously committed to capturing situations without bias, so that his audience could make up their own minds: ‘I was driven to shoot simply by a sense of mission, which told me that I had to document and disseminate the situation.’
Today, Hamaguchi’s work is held in the collections of the Yokohama Museum of Art, the China Art Museum, Shanghai, and the Romanian National Gallery of Art. His major awards include the All-Japan Mainichi Photography Exhibition Prime Minister’s Award (1964).