Metamorphosis of Japan After the War: Into the heart of the country

Polly Checkland Harding
Photo of a woman modelling on a circular stage

Open Eye Gallery’s latest exhibition manages to be both wide-reaching and intensely personal. We review it.

This is an exhibition that pulls off a remarkable feat. With a mix of black and white photos, set across three moderate rooms, the Open Eye has managed to capture the shifting soul of a country. Japan’s atmosphere, aesthetics and preoccupations post-WWII are brought into focus not through an all-inclusive retrospective; instead, the transition from scarred but tentatively evolving country to an age where the “three sacred treasures” of society had become the TV, refrigerator and washing machine is shown through selective curation – here, symbol is balanced beautifully with intimacy.

Open Eye has managed to capture the shifting soul of a country

The exhibition starts, for example, with a row of photographs that map the terrible residue left by two atomic bombs – images of stained and flacking concrete ceilings and one of an empty, tattered uniform – before turning to the personal. Arranged into a grid on a back wall, we find opportunistic shots of a woman sagging in sleep towards the disconcerted man she shares a bench with, of a young boy smoking, and of dancers at the Shinjuku Central Theatre taking a break backstage.

The focus in the two further rooms sets tradition alongside modernity, sometimes in a literal way, as with Takeyoshi Tanuma’s shot of women in modern clothing sizing up their traditionally dressed compatriots at a festival. Towards the end, however, the work becomes more insistently symbolic, with sequences such as Eikoh Hosoe’s Ordeal by Roses taking a turn for the surreal. Photographic developments, as well as political and personal ones, are gestured to – with the kind of neat complexity that galleries, artists, and humble review writers aspire to.

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