"Provoke": Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975

Exhibition Website

Jan 28 2017 - Apr 30 2017

The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. Although it existed only for three issues and a mere nine months—November 1968 through August 1969—Provoke crystallized the best of progressive art photography and cultural criticism in Japan during the 1960s and early 1970s. The Provoke members—Nakahira Takuma, Taki Koji, Takanashi Yutaka, Okada Takahiko, and Moriyama Daido (listed here last name first, in accordance with Japanese custom)—connected in their interests with the nationwide political protest movement, itself a terrific source for photography and photobooks in that time. Their work also dovetails with the rise of performance in Japanese fine art during the same years.

This exhibition is the first anywhere in the world 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. The exhibition features suites of photographs and books by Nakahira, Takanashi, and Moriyama, the three main photographers of Provoke. Other important photographers with works on view include Tomatsu Shomei, a mentor to many Provoke members; Hosoe Eikoh, the most internationally recognized photographer of the time; and Araki Nobuyoshi, a popular and controversial figure until the present day. An important early happening by the Fluxus group Hi-Red Center; a street performance by actor and director Terayama Shuji; and Conceptual Art series by Enokura Koji and Takamatsu Jiro bring the exhibition across disciplines and territories. Meanwhile, selections from a set of nearly 500 protest photographs and some 80 protest books extend the reach of the exhibition into vernacular creative work of the first order.

A major international traveling show, which has Chicago as its only North American venue, this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute of Chicago and draws heavily on the collection of the museum, which has been actively acquiring Japanese postwar photographs and photobooks since 2010. Approximately 40% of the more than 250 items on display belong to the Art Institute.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.

Whether you go or not, the 700-page exhibition catalog, Provoke: Between Protest and Performance: Photography in Japan 1960-1975, reproduces all three issues of Provoke in full, and carries substantial excerpts from dozens of other books. It includes new or newly translated interviews with most of the principal photographers, as well as 18 original period writings. The image-driven book also contains substantial new scholarship on Provoke, protest, and performance in Japan, offering a strongly interpretative account of currents in Japanese art and society at a moment of historical collapse and renewal. 

Nowadays Provoke is recognized as a major contribution to postwar photography in Japan, featuring the country’s finest representatives of protest photography, vanguard fine art and critical theory in only three issues overall. The magazine's goal was to mirror the complexities of Japanese society and its art world of the 1960s, a decade shaped by the country’s first large-scale student protests. The movement yielded a wave of new books featuring innovative graphic design combined with photography: serialized imagery, gripping text-image combinations, dynamic cropping and the use of provocatively "poor" materials. The writings and images by Provoke's members were suffused with the tactics developed by Japanese protest photographers, who pointed at and criticized the mythologies of modern life. 

  • Photography
  • Asian
  • 20th Century
  • Political / Satire / Documentary
  • Japanese
  • Nakahira Takuma
  • Takanashi Yutaka
  • Moriyama Daido
  • and others

Exhibition Venues & Dates