Ken Domon – The Master of Japanese Realism
From April 26 to July 13, 2023 at La Maison de la Culture du Japon in Paris.
This exhibition is the first in France dedicated to one of the most significant figures in the history of Japanese photography: Ken Domon (1909-1990). It brings together around a hundred images by this pioneer of realistic photography, produced between the 1930s and 1970s. The many facets of his work are revealed here: his approach to photojournalism at the start of his career, the inevitable turn towards photography of propaganda in the 1930s, his moving testimony on Hiroshima, his touching portraits of street children and celebrities, and finally his fascination for ancient temples and Buddhist sculpture.
Ken Domon's work marked the history of photography in Japan by laying the foundations of contemporary photographic creation, and is still an essential reference today. Domon has sought all his life to obtain the most realistic images possible, without lapsing into any misery. This realism is the common thread of this exhibition which retraces the ambitious path taken by Domon to grasp Japanese culture as a whole. In particular, she gives to discover the two reports that most clearly reflect the social realism characteristic of her work: Hiroshima (1958), considered by Nobel laureate Kenzaburô Ôe to be the first work of contemporary art inspired by the atomic bomb that deals with the living and not the dead, and The Children of Chikuho (1960), a series that bears witness to the poverty that plagues the mining villages in the south of the country, focusing on the lives of children.
Series Portraits, which Domon relentlessly pursued from 1936 to 1953, reveals to viewers the faces of personalities in different fields - artistic, literary, cultural or scientific -, such as the writers Mishima and Tanizaki, the artists Foujita, Tarô Okamoto and Yûsaku Kamekura, the director Yasujirô Ozu or actor Toshirô Mifune.
The last part of the exhibition is devoted to Domon's longest photographic series, Pilgrimage to ancient temples, a collection of images of Buddhist statues and architecture, hidden treasures and unobtrusive landscapes, captured during travels across the country from 1939 until his death as he sought to capture the beauty of sacred places of ancient times. This valuable testimony reflects both the progress made in photographic technique during those years, with the transition to color film in 1958 for example, and the constraints that the photographer's poor health imposed on him in his work.