The Impact of Hiroshima & Nagasaki on Japanese Photobooks – Russet Lederman

The current Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945 exhibition on view at the International Center of Photography provides a good platform to discuss Japanese photobooks which deal with the development of a postwar Japanese identity that synthesized the horrors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings.


In the process of healing and creating a truly original visual language, Japanese photographers at first sought to directly record the bombing’s devastation. As one of the most important memorials to the Hiroshima bombing, Ken Domon’s Hiroshima (1958) employs respectful, yet unflinching gravure images to document the bombing’s atrocities. In response to Domon’s objective documentary style, later photobooks, such as Eikoh Hosoe’s Embrace (1971), explore a more internalized, self-reflective approach that pushes the boundaries between realism and abstraction. Also influenced by Callahan and Siskind, this seminal work by Hosoe focuses on the formal qualities of the human form as it renders it surreal. Furthering this unsettling form of abstraction within a natural setting devoid of human presence is Jun Morinaga’s River: Its Shadow of Shadows: 1960-1963 (1978). A hauntingly beautiful monograph, Morinaga’s landscapes unnerve and disquiet the viewer with their sense of loss.

A different type of loss, one that is shaped by visiting memories associated with “place” can be found in three photobooks by Miyako Ishiuchi. Often referred to as a trilogy, her Apartment (1978), Yokosuka Story (1979), and Endless Night (1981) present images of her hometown Yokosuka as a place both transformed and compromised by the postwar American military presence in Japan. Ishiuchi’s exterior and interior images of deserted homes and streets of her childhood, along with the decrepit and decaying love hotels built to accommodate the American servicemen, project a sense of melancholy that reinforces both a personal and national sense of loss.  This same approach can also be seen in her later Mother’s (2002), a memorial presented through close-up oversized images of her mother’s intimate garments. Decay, loss and transformation are also present in Ryuji Miyamoto’s Kenchiku No Mokushiroku / Architectural Apocalypse (1988). As both a document and a personal commentary on destruction and renewal, Miyamoto’s photobook moves beyond the open wounds of postwar healing to initiate a new focus – one that embraces the conflicted and schizophrenic postwar identity.



Hiroshima – Ken Domon
R TR820.6 .D65 1958








Embrace – Eikoh Hosoe
TR675 .H67 1971





River: Its Shadow of Shadows: 1960-1963 – Jun Morinaga
R TR670 .M67 1978




Apartment – Miyako Ishiuchi
TR659.4 .I74 1978





Yokosuka Story – Miyako Ishiuchi
TR820.5.J3 .I74 1979



Endless Night – Miyako Ishiuchi
TR659 .I74 1981




Mother’s – Miyako Ishiuchi
TR140 .I842 2002


Kenchiku No Mokushiroku / Architectural Apocalypse – Ryuji Miyamoto
TR659 .M59 1988

Curator Erin Barnett spearheaded a video project for the current ICP exhibition:
Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945
http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/hiroshima-ground-zero-1945

About Russet Lederman

Russet Lederman is a media artist, writer and photobook collector who lives in New York City. She teaches art writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York and writes on photobooks for print and online journals, including Foam, The Eyes, IMA, Aperture and the International Center of Photography’s library blog. She is a co-founder of the 10x10 Photobooks project, lectures internationally on photobooks, and has received awards and grants from Prix Ars Electronica and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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