Photographs: from left to right: Shomei Tomatsu Kadena, Okinawa, 1969 and Blood and Roses, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1962. Collection of the estate Shomei Tomatsu –INTERFACE, Okinawa © Shomei Tomatsu –INTERFACE / Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film

The exhibition, Shomei Tomatsu, comprising 180 photographs, traces more than six decades of Japanese history. Showing until 16 May at the Fundación MAPFRE Casa Garriga Nogués Exhibition Hall. 

4 June last, in Barcelona, Fundación MAPFRE opened its Shomei Tomatsu exhibition. The unique work of this Japanese photographer is being shown for the first time in Barcelona. His work covers the key events in the history of Japan following the Second World War.

Shomei Tomatsu (Nagoya, Aichi, 1930–Naha, Okinawa, 2012). He began teaching himself photography at the same time as studying economics at university. He created the influential photography agency VIVO, together with Ikko Narahara, Eikoh Hosoe, Kikuji Kawada, Akira Tanno and Akira Sato, and was distinguished as being the first ever Japanese artist to put on an individual exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of New York.

This exhibition is presented through 180 photographs organized into eleven themed sections tracing more than six decades of Japanese history. The show begins with the sections Postwar Japan, with photos of the damage caused by the war and the consequences of flooding and The American Occupation, which depicts the influence exercised by the American military occupation.

Through his camera lens, Tomatsu explored the after-effects of the Nagasaki bomb, portraying some of the victims with consummate sensitivity. He always requested their consent to show the world the interminable suffering that still tormented them. He also captures the effects of bombardments through a selection of everyday objects (a watch, a bottle, a shirt).

The show continues with sections entitled The Eros Experience and  The Emergence of the Rebels, in which Tomatsu shows the impact of the economic boom in Japan following the 1960s, echoing the profound social transformation the country went through in the second half of the 20th century.

From 1980 onwards, he began to explore the traditional roots of his country and the traditional culture of the temples and religious festivals, captured in the Kioto series. At the same time, he demonstrated his interest in nature and the objects that circle it, pausing to contemplate his most immediate surroundings. In 1986, following coronary disease and a long period of convalescence, he began to notice the accumulated waste products on the black sand beaches of the Chiba prefecture. The artificial and natural are juxtaposed in the strange photographs that feature in the Plastics series (1988‐1989).

The exhibition concludes with the series Modern Japan, comprising images in which the photographer shows another side of the transformation that the country went through during the 1960s. His photographs show land contamination and smoke rising from petrochemical complexes among other stark realities.

The Shomei Tomatsu exhibition, produced by Fundación MAPFRE, benefits from exceptional loans from the Shomei Tomatsu Legacy Collection – INTERFACE as well as others from the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Per Amor a l’Art Collection, Valencia; and the Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film, Tokyo.

Taking part at the launch of the exhibition were its curator, Juan Vicente Aliaga, and Pablo Jiménez Burillo, director of the Fundación MAPFRE Culture Area.

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