Widely regarded as Japan’s greatest living photographer, Eikoh Hosoe explores the strata of the human subconscious through a powerfully evocative use of visual metaphor. META, a retrospective exhibition spanning three decades, presents ten different chapters of Hosoe’s innovative work, charting his remarkable evolution as an artist whose iconoclastic images have consistently questioned the identity of the individual in Japanese society.
Hosoe was 12 years old at the time of the savage destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events that resulted in unprecedented destruction and the psychological upheaval of a nation. When he began making photographs six years later, Japanese culture was still in the midst of radical change hastened by the omnipresence of the American forces. Finding himself at odds with the restrictive social disciplines of Japanese society, Hosoe sought to express himself through the development of an idiosyncratic photographic style. In the early 1950s, he was a key contributor to a new expressive movement that had emerged as a reaction against the documentary and pictorialist traditions prevalent in Japanese photography at that time. Hosoe and a group of similarly-minded artists were influenced by the American notion that photography could be a medium of personal orientation, and experimented with photographic materials and techniques as a means of achieving greater interpretative ends.
In 1960, Hosoe produced a body of work that shocked Japanese audiences and earned him international attention. Titled Man and Woman, this work graphically and sensually conveys the physical and emotional conflict of the sexes. With powerful erotic gestures, Hosoe depicts scenes of primal gender confrontation. The combined effect of the physicality of the bodies, a disturbing sense of space, and Hosoe’s overt manipulation of the photographic process evokes tensions at the heart of male-female relationships. Man and Woman was all the more shocking to Japanese audiences because of its apparent disregard for the social tenants established under General MacArthur’s repressive occupation, which included strict limitations upon the depiction of any sexual act or the display of pubic hair. These laws were intended to restrict the import of explicit sexual imagery, but they also had the effect of censoring locally produced art, and in particular, photography. Hosoe’s Barakei (1961–1962) depicts acclaimed author Yukio Mishima as both observer and subject of an allusive and tangled web of eroticism, suffering, and martyrdom. Hosoe’s complex layering of Baroque and Rococo architectural elements, symbols of pagan and Christian deities, and images of Mishima’s powerful body surrounded by organic objects and remnants of man-made structures suggests a culture and belief system in conflict. The success of Barakei placed Hosoe firmly in the vanguard of Japanese photography.
Other bodies of work include: Kamaitachi (1965–1968), a meditation on Hosoe’s wartime evacuation from Tokyo to the place of his birth; and Embrace (1969–1970), in which intertwined bodies form sculptures that evoke simultaneous emotions of pleasure and sensuality, pain and aggression.
NUMBER OF WORKS: 191 framed photographs
TOUR DATES: June 1990 - June 2008
PUBLICATION: Eikoh Hosoe: Meta (Curatorial Assistance, 1994)