Araki on Tomatsu – Hold The Lettuce

A while ago I noted on this blog the passing of legendary photographer Shomei Tomatsu. I just ran across this remembrance of Tomatsu by legendary photographer Nobuyashi Araki. It is translated by Dan Abbe and posted on his blog, Street Level Japan. If you are at all interested in the Japapanese photo scene then you must keep up with Dan Abbe. He is a writer based in Tokyo. I added the portrait of Shomei Tomatsu (unlike Araki I never knew what Tomatsu-san looked like) and some of Tomatsu’s color photographs.

The Foreman of Photography Who Pursued Light and Wind: Remembering Shomei Tomatsu


Without Shomei Tomatsu, Japanese photography after the war would have been a lot softer. Tomatsu photographed politicians and military bases, but, unlike regular journalistic photographs, his photographs had a personal viewpoint. As the leader of photography after Ken Domon and Ihee Kimura, he set the bar for everyone.

His photograph of a glass bottle deformed by radiation is incredible. But after photographing Nagasaki and the American bases in Okinawa, with his 1975 “Pencil of the Sun” he found the Okinawan world of wind and color. “Man, Tomatsu went to paradise,” I thought. It made me realize clearly that Okinawa wasn’t just about the bases; a cow’s silhouette could also be found there.

He used to photograph the essence of something and then add a reason, but he gradually abandoned reason for light and wind. He thought that photographs themselves could be more persuasive than words. Maybe that’s why he was on Okinawan soil at the very end.

I take what’s called “Personal Photographs,” but I’ve also thought of society and history, in part because of Tomatsu’s photographs. I was influenced unconsciously by his photobooks.

In 1974, saying he wanted to create a “schoolyard” of some sort, Tomatsu started “Workshop Photography School.” I was invited to the school as a teacher, though not to teach anything about mental thinking, just “finger thinking.”

When I was at Workshop in Okinawa, I took some nude photographs by a grave. Instead of saying “don’t do that,” Tomatsu smiled. He really let people be free, and had the productive talent of being able to expand his own horizons to bring people together.

People might say Tomatsu was the Don of Japanese photography, but for me he was the headmaster. Ah, but with that cool goatee, more like the big boss, the foreman.

About 10 years ago, I went to the opening of Tomatsu’s show in Nagasaki.  I can’t say exactly why, but I’ll never forget the way he greeted me from the second floor, with a smile and a wave. Maybe it’s that in the wave of his hand, he was saying both “hello” and “goodbye.”





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