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  • Introduction: Between the Viewfinder and the Lens—A Journey into the Performativity of Self-Presentation, Gender, Race, and Class in Heisei Photography (1989–2019)
  • Ayelet Zohar (bio)

Morimura Yasumasa (b. 1951) created his iconic image Portrait (Futago) (Twins) (fig. 2.1) (hereafter referred to as Futago), a reenactment of Edouard Manet’s Olympia (1863), in 1988.1 Morimura’s photograph was displayed in Osaka’s ON Gallery before it was included in Against Nature: Japanese Art in the Eighties, a group show organized by the Japan Foundation that traveled to the United States in 1989. It was the first time that Futago was presented outside Japan, and it stimulated great interest and received high acclaim from audiences and critics alike. The importance of Futago as a turning point in the history, practice, and language of Japanese photography at the beginning of the Heisei era (1989–2019) cannot be overstated: Futago questioned multiple layers and key concepts that defined Japanese photography of the previous generation. Simultaneously, Futago posed potential alternative answers to photographic methods, approaches, and iconography that marked the threshold of Heisei photography.

In this introductory essay, I frame and contextualize shifts in the practices of Japanese photography during the Heisei era, examining how new themes and changing subjects of self-presentation, the dramatic change in power relations, responsibility, and political valence, and a new assortment of artists, multiple new subjects, and iconographies appeared on the stage and rose to prominence. This text primarily focuses on a single aspect of the changes that took place in photography and video art during the Heisei period, not as an established corpus or a specific canon, but as a process that defines itself through the multiple changes of that era. My appraisal of this process centers on the relationship between the photographer and the photographed, highlighting problems of identity and representation, as they appear in the works that are discussed throughout this issue.2 In this context, the present essay emphasizes the crucial changes enacted by the growing participation of women photographers, who have contributed to the rise of imagery related to marginalized subjects and have taken on a prominent role in defining [End Page 9] the terms of photographic practice, such as the acknowledgement of minority groups, an openness toward sexual and gender identities, and a new legitimization of traditionally domestic subjects, such as old age, family, motherhood, etc.

In paying attention to the importance of the photographic process, I discuss a number of what I call “photographers without cameras.” The work of these artists marks the Heisei era’s shift from an emphasis on the photographer as creative subject, to a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between photographer and photographed, and the understanding of the photographed as a crucial participant in a mutual performance that leads to the production of a final image.3

Departing from Are-Bure-Boke

Before delving into the nature and meaning of the idea of Heisei photography in reference to its iconography, photographic practices, and positions of multiple participants, I would like to describe the main modes of photographic practice that prevailed in Japan during the postwar decades, from 1945 to the 1980s. After postwar socialist-realist photography in the 1950s played a crucial role as mainstream practice in the construction and reimagining of everyday life in the immediate ravages of the postwar period, with the founding of the VIVO group of the 1960s and Provoke magazine from 1968 to 1969,4 Japanese photography embarked on a new approach that departed from the social consciousness of the 1950s, adopting a more experimental approach in the 1960s, in the post-ANPO crisis period.5 Japanese photography became synonymous with the style of these two groups and the term are-bure-boke, three words that indicate the “grainy, blurry, and out-of-focus” qualities of the photograph.6

During this period, both VIVO and Provoke came to be associated with highly-stylized photojournalism, and the world of Japanese photography was dominated by male photographers (the term cameraman [カメラマン] became synonymous with “photographer” in Japanese).7 Strategies of snap-shooting and quick photography, often shot without using the viewfinder, were at the core of photographic practice.8 Many images...


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