Tōmatsu Shōmei (1930-2012) has been praised as the greatest and most influential photographer to have emerged out of Japan’s turbulent post-war generation. His raw, grainy and impressionistic style signalled a dramatic break with the quiet formalism and photojournalism that had defined earlier photography. Influencing the anti-establishment Provoke photography movement in Japan in the late 1960s, he is hailed as the stylistic mentor of artists such as Moriyama Daidō, Araki Nobuyoshi and Nakahira Takuma.
Tōmatsu first began to take photographs to document the student protests, which he supported during his time studying economics at Aichi University, as a member of the All-Japan Student Photography League. Upon graduation, Tōmatsu joined the production staff working on Iwanami Shoten’s influential Photography Library series. He participated in the Eyes of Ten exhibition in Tokyo, and recognition soon followed in the form of the Japan Photo Critics Association prize in 1957 and the Mainichi Photography Award in 1959.
Tōmatsu’s photography has persistently found new ways to articulate the lingering traces of American influence which he perceived across Japan. His 1960 series Occupation, documented Americanization in Japanese cities whilst Hiroshima-Nagasaki Document 1961, ranks amongst the earliest attempts authorised to record the nuclear devastation from within the restricted zone.
The series Chewing Gum and Chocolate was named so to reflect the handouts given to Japanese kids by the soldiers – sugary and addictive, but ultimately lacking in nutritional value.