Burn Overflow Nakahira Takuma

This is the exhibition catalog from Nakahira’s retrospective at MOMAT that took place recently in Tokyo February 6th-April 7th. His quote perhaps sums him up best, “To be honest, what I want is to live as radically as possible. Radically means extremely, and it also means fundamentally. I am fundamentally talking about always leaning forward, moving forward and changing while carrying the weight of my entire history with me. I am not talking about what I will specifically do as a result.”

From being involved with the Provoke movement in the late 60s, then criticizing himself and the “are, bure, boke” aesthetics that he pioneered with Provoke to his comeback following his acute alcohol poisoning that induced him into a coma and partial memory loss toward the end of the 70s… he was constantly questioning, challenging, and changing his approach to photography. The book and the retrospective it is based on and follows this progression.

A lot of the intrigue then comes from the period after the 70s that still saw him shooting for three more decades but he no longer brought forth any discourse to what he was doing as he constantly did before. Also with most of his works out of print and subsequently extremely hard to find, I have only personal been through what perhaps is his most famous work in “For A Language to Come” that I reviewed for JCH 11 years ago.

This coupled with the fact that unlike his contemporaries who saw the photo book as the target of their work, most of Nakahira’s work was featured in print media. That too was in this vein that really sees him thinking more about photography then engaged in its physical process.

His critical mentality was eloquently put forth in the very first issue of Provoke stating, “Today, at this very moment, language is losing its material basis- in other words, its reality- and floating in space. We as photographers must capture with our own eyes the fragments of reality that can no longer be grasped through existing language, and must actively out forth materials that address language and ideas.”

I love the structuralist basis for his thinking which was a major point in Japanese literature that junbunkaku (serious literature) genre died in the start of the 80s according to Nobel Prize Winner Kenzaburo Oe in his speech, “Japan, The Ambiguous and Myself.” He argued Japanese thinkers failed to adopt and by default Japan-ify the contemporary philosophies from that point on notably Structuralism and post…ideas of which Nakahira was clearly concerned with in particular those of Barthes and Foucault. But after all this, it was refreshing in his final decades after his coma to see him simply walking his immediate area rather Yokohama or Okinawa simply shooting during the day and developing at night.

With all of this the book maybe a little tricky to get. If you are in or visiting Tokyo, you can pick it up directly from the museum gift shop without actually having to go to an exhibition. They are currently sold out online, but there are plans for a restock here.

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-JF