"A photographer looks at everything, which is why he must look from beginning to end. Face the subject head-on, stare fixedly, turn the entire body into an eye and face the world"
- Shomei Tomatsu
Tōmatsu Shōmei (1930-2012) has been praised as the greatest and most influential photographer to have emerged out of Japan’s turbulent post-war generation. His raw, grainy and impressionistic style signalled a dramatic break with the quiet formalism and photojournalism that had defined earlier photography. Influencing the anti-establishment Provoke photography movement in Japan in the late 1960s, he is hailed as the stylistic mentor of artists such as Moriyama Daidō, Araki Nobuyoshi and Nakahira Takuma.
"Tomatsu is the pivotal figure of recent Japanese photography, his images are an intuitive response to the experience of life itself."
Tōmatsu first began to take photographs to document the student protests, which he supported during his time studying economics at Aichi University, as a member of the All-Japan Student Photography League. Upon graduation, Tōmatsu joined the production staff working on Iwanami Shoten’s influential Photography Library series. He participated in the Eyes of Ten exhibition in Tokyo, and recognition soon followed in the form of the Japan Photo Critics Association prize in 1957 and the Mainichi Photography Award in 1959.
Tōmatsu’s photography has persistently found new ways to articulate the lingering traces of American influence which he perceived across Japan. His 1960 series Occupation, documented Americanization in Japanese cities whilst Hiroshima-Nagasaki Document 1961, ranks amongst the earliest attempts authorised to record the nuclear devastation from within the restricted zone. Tomatsu also returned again and again to photograph the changing face of Okinawa, Japan’s southern-most archipelago, which remained an American colony until 1974.
Major solo exhibitions have been held in Tōmatsu’s honour at institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and the Art Institute of Chicago. His work is held in the permanent collections of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Pompidou Centre, Paris.
Among his major awards are the Japan Photo Critics Association Newcomer’s Award (1958), the Japan Photo Critics Association Artist Award (1961), the Mainichi Art Award (1976), The Minister of Education, Science and Culture’s Art Encouragement Prize (1976), The Medal with Purple Ribbon (1995) and The Photographic Society of Japan Distinguished Contributions Award (2005).