7 Japanese Photographers You Need to Know

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Hiroshi Hamaya

As someone from the West, I find Japanese photography extremely intriguing. Japan is known for its rich arts culture, and photography as a medium is no exception. More and more there are a lot of very well-known Japanese photographers in the West, such as Hiroshi Sugimoto or Rinko Kawauchi. So let's take a look at 7 Japanese photographers that you need to know.

Rinko Kawauchi (1972 – )

She is a photographer with an easy-to-identify style. Her work is filled with serenity and poetry around ordinary moments. She started working in the advertising industry and continued there for quite a while before deciding it was enough. Since then, she has pursued a career as a fine art photographer. She mostly uses the generous 6X6 format, and human presence is almost nonexistent in her images. Viewing her work, I can't stop recalling the poetry of William Carlos Williams.

You can indulge yourself with her work here. And you can find a more casual vision of her work in her diary.

Nobuyoshi Araki (1940 – )

Araki is a creative monster who has released 450 photobooks and still doesn’t miss a day without taking photographs, as you will learn in this interview from the great guys over at Vice. He was born in Tokyo and studied photography from 1959 to 1963. In 1963, he started working at an advertising agency called Dentsu. Arākī (his nickname) is considered to be one of the most prolific artists ever – not just in Japan, but in the world. His style is unique. I have no words to describe it. It is just a blast of expression of the sort that few artists achieve. Perhaps this photograph is my favorite from Arākī.

You can see more of his work here and here. Viewer discretion is very much advised.

Daidō Moriyama (1938 – )

Image By Sebastian Mayer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46951366

Street photography is my biggest passion, so Daidō Moriyama's work was an absolute must for this list. As Moriyama is a self-proclaimed addict of cities, his street photography comes as no surprise. Since 1968, he has been obsessed with capturing the frantic nature of cities with a unique aesthetic that reflects the dark side of urban life. He has various influences – from Weegee to the great novel On The Road by Jack Kerouac (who wrote the introduction to Robert Frank's masterpiece, Americans). You can see more of Moriyama’s work here and get to know him a bit better in this video. You might even get a couple of surprises.

Hiroshi Hamaya (1915 – 1999)

Image By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54007816

Hamaya was the first Japanese photographer to join the Magnum Agency (yup, the one and only). He is considered to be one of the most eminent Japanese documentary photographers of the 20th century. His work focused mainly on the traditions of his own land, which gives viewers great insight into the vagaries of the every day – a snapshot of an amazing time.

You can see more of his work here.

Michiko Kon (1955 – )

If you’re into Joel-Peter Witkin's work, you definitely need to have a look at the eerie works of Michiko Kon. She attended the Tokyo Photographic College after graduating from the Sokei Art School, so her background as a contemporary artist is robust. Most of her work is in black-and-white, and the themes she revolves around are death, sexuality, and beauty. Her work includes interesting sea creatures, too.

You can see more of her art here.

Yosuke Yajima (1981 – )

Yosuke is the youngest photographer on our list; therefore, you can expect an interesting approach to photography. He started taking photographs while he was a student, and he has been a part of many exhibitions and photography festivals. He has a beautiful, spare aesthetic, so if you’re interested in “minimalism” as an art form, consider studying his work.

Japan has been recently known for its high rate of depressed young people. And if this is true, his work is a clear way to illustrate the strange grief this portion of the population is currently struggling with.

See a little bit of his work in this video.

Hiroshi Sugimoto (1948 – )

Image By team art in Berlin – Hiroshi Sugimoto Berlin, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8715603

I love to end these features with the biggest names in the group. Sugimoto is a famous photographer who has experimented with an unbelievable number of different genres in photography. From dioramas at natural history museums to electricity, from patterns to the great beauty of “time being exposed“. He is a Japanese photographer currently based in New York, and his work – and I may take the risk of saying all of it – has been shot with an 8X10 large format camera and at extremely long exposures. His work has been influenced by the Dadaist and Surrealist art movements, and he has also been drawn to work concerning late 20th-century modern architecture. Sugimoto is one of the most well known, contemporary photographers of today.

If you happen to be a fan of U2, you can see one of Sugimoto’s pictures on the cover of the “No Line on the Horizon“.

Easter Eggs

If you’re into Japanese art, you need to see Hokusai's work. I won’t be surprised if you already know it, but his work was so good that even Jeff Wall offered an excellent tribute to it.  And last but not least, you need to watch this beautiful documentary if you want to know more about discipline, something all photographers need.

This is not the first article that seeks to introduce you to photographers from specific countries; so far we have covered Hungary, Argentina, México, and India. We hope you’re enjoying this survey of photographers from different lands. My hypothesis is that photographers from specific countries have some sort of visual connection among themselves.

About the author

Federico Alegria

Frederico is a professional photographer from El Salvador. Check out his photography portfolio.

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