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The Shih Hsio-yen Distinguished Lecture in Art History series

Photographic Modernism in Japan: Hamaya Hiroshi (1915-1999) and the Japanese ‘Folk’

Date: 24 October 2013 (Thursday)
Time: 5:30pm
Venue: Rayson Huang Theatre, HKU

By the late 1910s the adjustment of Japanese art practice into two domains mirrored in the distinction between Nihonga (Japanese style painting) and Yōga (Western-style painting) had broken down even as it was becoming institutionalized in national art exhibitions. Not only did several artists work between both categories but the introduction of photography and European avant-garde art practices meant that the notion of the visual as a domain of art changed, sometimes towards an abstract formalism, sometimes towards an expressive nationalism. Photography came into its heyday in teh late 1920s through the widespread distribution of photogravure magazines and the absorption of constructivist, photographic collage and surrealist techniques. Hamaya Hiroshi emerged from this context. His work marks a useful trajectory through quotidian realism and flapper absurdism to wartime propaganda imagery. Hamaya was one of the few photographers to express regret for the direction taken by his wartime work. After 1945, he followed broadly three trajectories out of it: towards a humanistic visual ethnology of folk life in the severe natural environment of Northern Japan; towards a eulogizing of daily life in enjoyment and struggle; and towards a scientistic distance from nature in large scale ‘objectivist’ examinations of mountains. The paper will examine the ‘return to the folk’ and its visual representation in his work as a type of Japanese responses to the crises of its own modern histories including those of its modernist art.

Speaker: John Clark

John Clark, Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney and Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow, has long been at the forefront of scholarship on the diverse development of modern art across east and southeast Asia, ranging from colonial interactions of the 19th century to the most recent international biennials. His latest book is Modernities of Japanese Art (Brill, 2013).