While major exhibitions of Japanese photography have become steadily more frequent over the last thirty years, Ravens & Red Lipstick: Japanese Photography Since 1945 offers one of the first overviews of the subject to be published in English.
Visually bold and richly detailed, this volume traces the development of Japanese photography from the severity of post-war Realism to the diversity and technical ingenuity of photography in contemporary Japan, via movements and groups such as Vivo in the 1960s and ‘girls’ photography’ in the 1990s. Interleaved are new interviews with some of the most influential practitioners in photographic history, from Moriyama Daido to Araki Nobuyoshi and Kawauchi Rinko.
We sat down with author Lena Fritsch to talk about how she developed a fascination with the subject.
When did you first fall in love with Japanese art, and in particular, Japanese photography?
My interest in Japanese art and photography is intertwined with my biography and developed naturally, over time. My mother is an ethnomusicologist and professor of Japanese studies; I picked up the Japanese language in kindergarten when we lived in Osaka for 1.5 years. After we returned to Germany, she made sure I continued learning Japanese. As a teenager I feel in love with Tokyo – what a wonderful, crazy, colourful city! 19-years young and excited about this fast-paced megalopolis, I secured an internship with a Japanese company and moved to Tokyo for six months. I enjoyed visiting exhibitions and soon decided to study art history at University. A few years later, I lived in Tokyo again, studying at Keio University and researching Morimura Yasumasa’s photographic self-portraits for my MA thesis, while also working as a TV presenter. That’s when I realized that there are many more photographic art works that I want to explore – so I did a PhD in art history, examining Japanese photographs of the 1990s.
What was the trigger for your book Ravens & Red Lipstick?
The idea developed during my curatorial career at Tate Modern when I was involved in numerous displays, exhibitions and acquisitions of Japanese art. I wanted to share my passion for Japanese photography and create a beautiful coffee table book that introduces Japanese photography and its socio-cultural context to a ‘Western’ reader. Tate has a good, growing collection of Japanese photography but my book has always been an independent project, focusing on the photographs that I personally find most relevant.
I make no claims to methodological originality, but as both a European art historian and somebody whose personal history has been intertwined with Japanese culture and language since an early age, I have attempted to interpret Japanese photography from a perspective that avoids clichés. My viewpoint is constantly shifting between a ‘Western’ distant position, and a ‘Japanese’ proximal perspective.