Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975

06 March 2017

SIG: Contemporary

I’d seen a reference to the “Provoke” exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago in February’s Black and White Photography magazine and made time in my schedule for a Sunday afternoon visit last week.  I’m glad I did, this exhibition is a great, with nearly 500 photographs and some 80 photobooks representing the highly creative work of the period.

The Tokyo magazine “Provoke” existed only for three issues over the nine months November 1968 to August 1969 but it crystallized progressive art photography and cultural criticism in Japan during the 1960s and early 1970s.  The Provoke members Daidô Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi, Takahiko Okada and Kôji Taki were connected in their interests in the nationwide political protest movement.  Japan suffered from a lot of cultural change during its conversion from ruined empire to economic superpower after the second world war.

There’s a lot of gritty grainy black and white work, with subjects ranging from new and old popular culture, street scenes, protesters and collectives.  There’s a great series on the protests at the clearing of farmland to create Narita airport – for me quite poignant as I contemplate how, when working in Japan in the mid to late 1990s, I used to think travelling the train between Tokyo and Narita airport provided stunning views of farmland.  It must have been so much better…

Suites of photographs and books by Nakahira, Takanashi, and Moriyama, the three main photographers of Provoke, anchor the show. There are showcases full of photobooks, with copies of Provoke disassembled and pinned to the wall for close-up review.

Images of a “happening”, a street performance and a Conceptual Art series bring the exhibition across many art disciplines.

If you can’t get to Chicago before the end of April you can find out more at

see some different images from the exibition at

with other references available at


An edition of Provoke

Comments (1)

04 July 2017

Interesting to note that "Provoke: Between Protest and Performance" by Diane Dafour, Duncan Forbes, Matthew Witkovsky, eds. (Steidl) was the 2017 winner of the Best Photography Book in a competition run by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation and exhibited at Photo London, Somerset House, in May.

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