Shomei Tomatsu
Provoke: Rare Photographic Books and Photographs


September 23 – October 23, 1999


Andrew Roth is pleased to announce the opening of an exhibition of rare photographic books from Japan’s Provoke photography movement. Flourishing between the years 1968 and 1971, the Provoke movement existed primarily through its publications, featuring the work of photographers such as Daido Moriyama and Takuma Nakahira. Accompanying the selection of books, the exhibition will include 15 photographs by Shomei Tomatsu, the mentor of the Provoke movement. The exhibition will present over 25 rare books from the period, including works by photographers inspired by the Provoke artists, such as Araki Nobuyoshi.

While assisting the esteemed photographer Shomei Tomatsu with the organization of the exhibition “The One-Hundred-Year History of Japanese Photography” in 1968, the writers Koji Taki and Takuma Nakahira began to criticize the rigid stylistic themes and artistic formalities that predominated the photography of Tomatsu and his contemporaries. Taki and Nakahira organized a group of photographers and writers and in turn published a series of three journals (Provoke 1, Provoke 2, and Provoke 3) that eschewed technical and artistic mastery in favor of a gritty and chaotic vision of post-war Japan. The Provoke journals, as well as later books published by Provoke photographers, favored an objective and anonymous view of photography rather than the subjective role encouraged by Tomatsu.

Shomei Tomatsu was an early mentor for many of the Provoke photographers. He depicted documentary images in an expressionistic manner, framing his compositions in abstract ways and giving journalistic photography a new artistic freedom. Ultimately, the Provoke artists rebelled against the formality of Tomatsu’s work; however, he remained admired by the young photographers. The present exhibition presents Tomatsu’s early work from the 1960’s, including highlights from the series Asphalt. This is the first exhibition of Tomatsu’s work in New York.

Accompanying the exhibition, we have published a catalogue titled Provoke, documenting much of the Provoke literature. Included in the catalogue is the manifesto of the Provoke movement, written by Taki and published in English for the first time.