Saturday, 31 July 2010

Tracks: The World of Gen Otsuka

Published by Heibonsha in November 1996, the book has texts by Teruo Okai and Ryuichi Kaneko, with English translations by Jeremy Angel.The first half of the book is made of plates of his photographs, and then there's the texts afterward. The photographs here are a selection made by Ryuichi Kaneko, who also put together the exhibition Tracks of Gen Otsuka. Hajime 'Gen' Otsuka, an important Japanese photographer who has little representation on the Internet, this book, (which I think is out of print), presents a great selection of his pictures, starting from the work that earned him attention from some of Japan's top photographer's of the day, 'Gecko' from 1933 which was included in the British photographic almanac; 'Modern Photography 1934-35'. Thanks to Teruo Okai's biographical piece we have an insight into the life of a remarkable photographer, who's father was also interested in photography, Otsuka was brought up in a household surrounded by photographic equipment. Otsuka was born in 1912, his father owned a coal mine, but the families fortunes were lost when the mine was destroyed in a gas explosion. As a student of photography he was well connected, Yasuzo Nojima was an early admirer of his work, Otsuka walked the Ginza searching for well attired young ladies to use as models, staying away from using professional models. An early success came when an exhibition of his was held at Kinokuniya Gallery in the Ginza.

The photographs in this book show Otsuka's range, theres a stunning collection of portraits, Toshiro Mifune, (1949), Setsuku Hara (1951), Hikosaburo Bando (Kabuki actor 1949), Mishima Yukio (1949), Eiji Yoshikawa(1951), theres also mention of a study of Kawabata Yasunari, although no images are included, and among the non Japanese portraits theres Juliette Greco 1961, Margot Fonteyn 1959, Marcel Marceau 1955, Charlie Chaplin, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, (1965), but this is a small selection of names here. Otsuka worked at Asahi in the 1930's and was abruptly sent to China to photograph the Sino-Japan War, although he was more interested in the everyday life of the Chinese, and was interrogated by disgruntled military who had thought perhaps he should have been producing propaganda like images instead. He was present at the defeat at Taierzhuang, where he was lucky to have escaped alive. A striking image is that of the juxtaposition of a Japanese bomber seen from the perspective of a rice/barley? field, but also the photograph has caught a cricket jumping at the same time, giving the impression that the cricket is nearly the same size as the aeroplane. Near the end of the second world war, he was sent to Korea as an advisor to a newspaper, on his return he was posted to photograph the identity numbers on U.S B29 bombers, whilst on these flights he witnessed the fire bombing of many cities, including Kobe. Some photographs are taken during the war years, and some from Hirohito's tour of the Kansai area from 1947, another historically interesting series of plates here are those capturing some location shots and the filming of Japan's first colour film 'Carman's Home-coming/Karumen Kyoko Ni Kaeru' directed by Keisuke Kinoshita, and there are also some montage pieces Otsuka put together, mainly depicting his thoughts on post war society, a man reclining under an umbrella, hiding from a shower of falling Yen notes. There also photographs of Mount Fuji, taken in various seasons and from many viewpoints, and there are many dream like shots of Tokyo during snowstorms that span his career. In 1964 he organized the photographic exhibition of the Tokyo Olympic Games, a couple of years after he organized two exhibitions of Henri-Cartier Bresson. This book gives a great selection of Otsuka's oeuvre, shortly before his death in 1992 an exhibition of his work was put together under the title The Tracks of Gen Otsuka.

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