Over the last decade, Hiro Tanaka has published two photobooks – Dew Dew Its and Chicharron, which won the 2018 Cosmos Arles PDF Award. He has exhibited globally in group shows and photo festivals, and toured the world with punk and hardcore rock bands, where he is often spotted deep in a mosh-pit, camera pumping in the air. But before all that, he was working nine-to-five as a computer technician in Tokyo, Japan, with no interest in photography. Tanaka’s whole career sprouted from a string of unexpected coincidences, beginning with a free flight to America.
“How to fill the gap between politics and art? This is both an old and a new problem,” writes Takuma Nakahira, in the afterword to PROVOKE no.1, published 50 years ago this month. Led by some of Japan’s best-known photographers and art critics – including Takuma Nakahira, Koji Taki, and iconoclast Daido Moriyama, who joined from the second issue – the magazine stemmed from the anger and discontent that they felt towards the post-war world. Though it survived only three issues, and was criticised at the time, it is now widely recognised as a ground-breaking publication in the history of contemporary Japanese photography.
The magazines were printed in 1968 and 1969, both turbulent years for politics which featured the May 1968 riots in Paris; the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and the anti-Vietnam protests in the US; the end of the Prague Spring. In Japan, 1968 was the year that a string of violent student uprisings forced many of the top universities to close.