Ravens & Red Lipstick: Japanese Photography since 1945

Lena Fritsch, Ravens & Red Lipstick: Japanese Photography since 1945

Thames & Hudson, 2018

Ravens & Red Lipstick is the first chronological overview of Japanese photography to be published in English. Interspersed with original artist interviews, Lena Fritsch’s vivid commentary and nuanced scholarship contextualise the influential characters, important works and entangled political movements that constitute a fascinating history. The narrative opens in the postwar years when Japan’s visual language was dominated by photojournalist imagery of scorched cities and traumatised children. In the subsequent period of reconstruction, Fritsch details how a more sensitive realism emerged, witnessed in Ken Dōmon’s close-ups of the seated Buddha or Shōji Ueda’s sand dune dreamscapes.

Fritsch goes on to dissect how in the fifties and sixties, an increasing interest in photographic discourse - disseminated through camera clubs, magazines and art schools - coincided with a growing appetite for new modes of expression; Kikuji Kawada’s black and white depictions of cigarette cartons and coke bottles are presented alongside Shōmei Tōmatsu’s portrait of a girl blowing a chewing gum bubble. Eikoh Hosoe’s dramatically composed nude of a man, woman and octopus exudes eroticism, brutality and desire. These iconic artists opened the door for a new kind of photographic freedom in the latter half of the 20th century: Kōhei Yoshiyuki’s softcore voyeurism in Tokyo parks, Daidō Moriyama’s experiments in light, materiality and printing, and third wave feminist and punk photographers such as Yurie Nagashima whose naked family portraits explored gender and the female body in innovative and complex ways.

The survey culminates in 2017 with a diverse selection of contemporary photographers such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ryūdai Takano, Yōko Asakai and Yasumasa Morimura. As Japanese photography garners increasing international interest, Fritsch offers her predictions for its future trajectory. She avoids didactic or stale interpretations of the East, instead allowing the beautiful collection of images to speak for itself.

Text by Verity Seward

Published in Aesthetica Magazine Issue 85 October / November 2018

© 2020 by Verity Seward