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Power Made Visible: Photography and Postwar Japan's Elusive Reality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 May 2008

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Despite the impact of the Allied occupation (1945–52), Japanese photography in the immediate postwar period was neither “art” nor “documentary” by American definitions. Instead, as the vigorous 1953 debate over “realism” shows, photographers such as Domon Ken and critics such as Tanaka Masao and Watanabe Kosho insisted that photography—at least real photography—was a political practice. It was political not because its aesthetic accomplishments bolstered national prestige in the arts nor because it provided visual evidence for public policies by documenting social conditions. A real photograph, whether of a beauty, a beggar, or a bourgeois, attempted to make manifest a reality often invisible to the naked eye: the reality of power and how power ought to work after Japan's defeat. These photographic practices show us that postwar conditions were so unsettled that the very nature of social reality—what it was, how one should see it, what one could hope for—was still undefined. By participating in the ideological effort to “constitute reality,” photography in Japan sought to establish political, social, and aesthetic norms that were taken for granted elsewhere.

Research Article
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2008

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