Explore Japan’s “Paths Through Modernity” in Prints & Photographs

The Japanese tradition of printmaking weaves throughout its history, creating a screen upon which scenes emerged, images of daily life preserved. As photography emerged in the mid-nineteenth century a new mode of recording life took hold and found its way into the mix, developing a distinctive style in rhythm with the tradition of woodblock prints.

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The twentieth century was a transformative time for Japan. After 125 monarchs dating back to Emperor Jimmu crowned in 660 BC, the Imperial House of Japan lost power. The oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world had been defeated and in its place, a constitutional monarchy was established in 1947.

The century had been radical, in more ways than one, as its artists created entirely new ways of seeing the world. A new exhibition, Japanese Prints and Photographs: Paths through Modernity, now on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through September 25, 2016, looks at the twentieth century through an incredible selection of works that reveal a glorious love for the pleasures of the visible world, and the sensations it invokes in the quiet contemplation of the work.

Included in the exhibition is the work of photographer Daido Moriyama (b. 1938), whose work exposes the chaotic underbelly of post-war Japan. Giving us a new layer of nuance and depth that only an insider can perceive, Moriyama wields the camera like sword. He slices through space and time and what emerges isn’t always lean. In fact, it’s just inclined to be messy and mysterious, asking more questions than it can ever hope to answer.

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As Moriyama observes, “Photographs are pieces of the everlasting world—daily life—and fossils of light and time. They are also fragments of presentiment, inspiration, record, and memory about human beings and their history, as well as another language and world that becomes visible and intelligible through objectifying reality by means of cameras. They show us beauty and tenderness and also ugliness and cruelty now and then, not as the answer but always as a new question. I believe photographs to be pieces of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Which is why I have been and will be devoted to photography.”

It is the essence of devotion that perfumes these works, the level of commitment each artist brings to the craft of image making. As the exhibition reveals, there is a love of beauty that transcends subject matter and iconography; it simply is a desire to connect to the experience itself. Whether through the impression of an inked plate or the projection of light through film Japanese Prints and Photographs: Paths Through Modernity explores the spot where they connect, where they mingle and merge and emerge as Japan’s vision of itself.

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Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.