Past exhibition

Shomei Tomatsu – Skin of the Nation

02.09.–19.11.2006

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Skin of the Nation focuses on the surfaces, faces, clothes and territories that, like a map, provide information about Japan's mood and sensitivities. Shomei Tomatsu, who was born in 1930 and grew up during the military regime in World War II, belongs to the “faithless” generation, as he himself has formulated it to the generation that experienced the shock of Japan's change from a closed into an open society. His first photographs taken in the 1950s were dedicated to poverty-stricken life in post-war Japan, to wounded soldiers, potters, farmers struck by floods, school children and students from the poor social classes. At the end of the 1950s, he founded the "Vivo" photo agency with Kikuji Kawada, Eikoh Hosoe and others. During the 1960s he was regarded as the most important and influential post-war photographer. His friends in other media were the film-maker Nagisa Oshima, the theatre director Shuji Terayama, the Butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata and the writer Kobo Abe.

This major retrospective represents the first comprehensive overview of the work of Shomei Tomatsu and bears witness to his status within the Japanese post-war avant-garde and his role in the development of modern Japanese photography. With approximately 260 photographs, the exhibition shows all Tomatsu's major groups of works, for example Nagasaki 11.02 – the shattering essay on the effects of the atom bomb and the lives of the survivors – and Chewing Gum and Chocolate, his first attempt at capturing the far-reaching Americanization in Japan after the war; with the huge dichotomy between the military threat and the cultural attraction, the seduction of Hollywood glamour. Shomei Tomatsu takes us from traditional Japan to the Japan of economic success and shows the effects of these economic, political and cultural changes.

The exhibition was curated by Sandra S. Phillips and Leon Rubinfien. Realisation in Winterthur: Urs Stahel. A collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Japan Society, New York.

Main sponsor: Vontobel-Stiftung

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