Taki Kōji Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Exhibition - Le Bal Paris | Urban Mishmash

[Review] PROVOKE: Between protest and performance – Japanese photography at Le Bal, Paris

Le Bal’s latest exhibition Provoke – Between Protest and Performance examines the cult-photo magazine and Japanese photography of the 60s and 70s.

Japanese photo magazine Provoke appeared for just three issues between November 1968 and August 1969. This short-lived, experimental magazine was founded by a progressive set of photographers and writers Koji Taki, Takuma Nakahira, Takahiko Okada and Yutaka Takanashi, with the underlying idea of putting forward “provocative materials for thought” through photography.

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Exhibition - Le Bal Paris | Urban Mishmash
Provoke 3, cover, 1969.
Credit: © Nakahira Takuma/ Moriyama Daido/Okada Takahiko/Takanashi Yutaka/Taki Kōji. Private collection

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance

In the preface to the first edition of Provoke, the founders declare, “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 fragments of reality that can no longer be grasped through existing language, and must actively put forth materials that address language and ideas. This is why we have been so bold as to give Provoke the subtitle Provocative Materials for Thought.

Provoke marked an important chapter, not only in Japanese photography but also the prevailing social and political landscape of Japan in the 60s and the 70s. In the 1960s, Japan witnessed a wave of political protests and demonstrations triggered by a variety of reasons, the rapid modernisation, increasing consumerism, Japan-American relationships to name a few.

These widespread protests were accompanied by an unprecedented spurt in photo books to inform, witness, record and mobilise the people against the authorities. These ‘protest books’ were self-edited and published using rudimentary methods by students, associations, trade unions and environmental activists. What set them apart was the use of innovative layouts and often-blurry but striking photographs documenting the protests.

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Exhibition - Le Bal Paris | Urban Mishmash
Unknown, Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport, c. 1969 / Collection of The Art
Institute of Chicago

Against this very fertile backdrop, Provoke emerged as a means of finding new visual language. The founders of Provoke believed that traditional journalistic reportage had exhausted itself and it was impossible to effect long lasting change through direct political action. They sought a new means of expression, a new visual language, to represent the realities of the society. In part, Provoke was also a reaction to the mass media that only concerned itself with promoting an increasingly consumerist society.

Provoke photographers thus, captured the ephemeral realities (perceived and unperceived, subjective and objective) with their cameras to bring together three beautifully-chaotic issues of the magazine. Following up to a style that was already in making during the years 1960s, Provoke featured innovative graphic design, striking image and text combinations and unconventional formats. Its photographers took spontaneous pictures, sometimes without looking through their viewfinders, and developed them in self-built darkrooms. The magazine itself was printed on poor quality, rough materials. The resulting images were of the now famous “are-bure-boke” or “grainy, blurry, out-of-focus” aesthete.

Moriyama Daido Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Exhibition - Le Bal Paris | Urban Mishmash
Moriyama Daido, Untitled, from the series Accident (Akushidento), 1969.
Credit: © Moriyama Daido/collection of Shadai Gallery, Tokyo Polytechnic University

Meanwhile, prevailing sociopolitical landscape resulted in a series of experimental performative actions across Japan as a means to subvert the political institutions. Several artists took over the public space through a series of temporary interventions and performances that satirised an increasingly industrialised and consumerist society. Photography as a medium developed during this period as a means to mechanically record the performances, thereby becoming an extension of the performance itself.

Le Bal’s Exhibition

Le Bal’s exhibition Provoke: Between Protest and Performance delves into Japanese photography during the years 1960-1975. In doing so, it examines the transition of photography from being a means of recording and reporting to it creating a new visual language to represent realities.

The exhibition is divided into three sections: Protest, Provoke and Performance. The first section presents the tumultuous ‘protest’ years through a large variety of photographs, select photobooks, videos and texts produced during that period.

The ‘Provoke’ section presents facsimiles of all three issues of the magazine. We can see the photographs made by Nakahira, Takanashi, Taki (present in all three editions) and Daido Moriyama (present in second and third editions).

Araki Nobuyoshi Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Exhibition - Le Bal Paris | Urban Mishmash
Araki Nobuyoshi, Untitled, 1973.
Credit: © Araki Nobuyoshi / Collection of The Art Institute of Chicago

The ‘Performance’ section examines the intersections between photography and performing arts during the period. It presents various performances that took place in Japan in the 60s such as the Hi Red center collective’s performance during the year 1964 as a form of social critique. It also includes collaborations between photographers and artists (such as that between Eiko Hosoe and dance Tatsumi HijiKata) and photo projects that intend to be performances in their own right (such as Jiro Takamatsu’s photographing of photographs). The section also features independent projects by Araki and Moriyama.

Overall, Provoke: Between Protest and Performance is an exhibition not merely for those who have an interest in this short-lived movement in Japanese photography – it is also an important insight to the role of photography in creating and redefining cultural, social and political realities. But, more that that, it is an inspiration to imagine, experiment and explore and, a call to go beyond the dominant discourse.

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance, Photography in Japan 1960-1975, runs through December 11, 2016 at Le Bal, Paris (€6-€4) 

September 14, 2016 to December 11, 2016
PROVOKE: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975

PROVOKE: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975

Le Bal’s exhibition Provoke: Between Protest and Performance presents photographs of Japan from 1960-75, in the context of cult photo magazine Provoke.


6, Impasse de la Défense
75018 Paris

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