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Reviewed by:
  • Provoke: Between Protest and Performance—Photography in Japan 1960/ 1975 ed. by Diane Dufour and Matthew S. Witkovsky
  • Miryam Sas (bio)
Provoke: Between Protest and Performance—Photography in Japan 1960/ 1975. Edited by Diane Dufour and Matthew S. Witkovsky. Steidl, Göttingen, 2016. 680 pages. €60.00, paper.

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance is a large book published in conjunction with an important exhibition on Japanese photography jointly curated and exhibited at four locations. The show began its tour (January-May 2016) [End Page 234] at the Albertina Museum in Vienna's city center, a museum with a strong photographic collection, then moved to the newer Fotomuseum Wintherthur in Switzerland (for summer 2016). It traveled on to LE BAL, Paris, at the end of 2016 and then made a splash at the Art Institute of Chicago in early 2017, its last, and only North American, venue. Diane Dufour, founder and director of LE BAL, a contemporary art center dedicated to photo, video, cinema, and new media, is credited as the editor of the volume, along with Matthew S. Witkovsky, Sandor Chair of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago. Albertina's chief curator for photography Walter Moser and Winterthur director and curator Duncan Forbes also contributed as coeditors. One senses the guiding perspective of Sawada Yōko, whose Osiris Press has been instrumental in republishing influential photo books and spreading understanding of the photography of the Provoke era; as curator and agent, or what she calls providing "editorial assistance,"1 Sawada has been a key figure in the Provoke movement's reemergence.

Exhibition materials claim that this show "is the first to provide a thorough history of the Provoke movement and to draw out the many connections between photography, political protest, and performance in postwar Japan."2 There has been extensive interest in the photographers around the Provoke journal (1968–60), or the more broadly conceived Provoke Era, across a wave of presentations at galleries, national museums, and in the art market in the last 20 years. For example, anecdotally, I can say these works came strongly to my attention starting in 1999 with the preparations for the exhibition Moriyama Daidō: Stray Dog at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, organized by Sandra S. Phillips. Yet the claim would still probably be true here that this is the most thorough contextualization and history of the Provoke movement in a museum exhibition I have yet seen. With its specific focus on protest photography as a precedent for the Provoke movement and the relationship with (photographically embedded) performance and performative art, the exhibition gives a useful broad view of photographic works that have otherwise, as the authors show, sometimes even been omitted from prominent exhibitions of postwar Japanese "fine arts."

This lush, heavy book must have been expensive to make, perhaps with the help of state-sponsored arts programs that we can only be jealous of in the United States, as well as corporate sponsors. With its 680 pages of highquality plates and reproductions, it includes all of the pages of the three issues of Provoke (reprinted at half-page size at the center of the book) and [End Page 235] much more. Though it may be unlikely to be reprinted and has now long been sold out—used copies run about $200 as of this writing—it is available at over two hundred libraries from Berkeley to Zurich to Singapore, so it will likely have an impact on scholarly and art historical framings of this period of photography for a long time to come.

Luckily—though the exhibition has ended—we still have the book to continue the legacy of this thorough and deeply researched work. Arguably, the exhibition has already set the tone for notable subsequent exhibitions. For example, in the Spanish-speaking world, the 2019–20 exhibition at Bombas Gens Centre d'Art (Valencia) entitled The Gaze of Things: Japanese Photography in the Context of Provoke follows this 2016 book's inclusion of protest photography as well as performance. The latter exhibition thus includes a room of works from the protest books of Hamaya Hiroshi and Hamaguchi Takashi; like the book under review, it frames Provoke...


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pp. 234-239
Launched on MUSE
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