Casting a cold eye on postwar Japan, the raw, grainy and impressionistic photography of Shomei Tomatsu practically defined Japanese photography in the second half of the 20th century, greatly influencing Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki and Takuma Nakihara. His best-known images are his portraits of people and street scenes from the 1950s, when the country struggled to recover from World War II and US military presence was ubiquitous; his photographs of 1960s Japan; and throughout his career, his images of Okinawa, where he died in 2012. Tomatsu's most famous single photograph is probably Melted Bottle, Nagasaki, 1961, which depicts a beer bottle rendered grotesquely biomorphic by the nuclear blast that devastated Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The American photographer and writer Leo Rubinfien described Tomatsu's Nagasaki images as "sad, haggard facts," noting that "beneath the surface there was a grief so great that any overt expression of sympathy would have been an insult."
This book, which accompanies a major retrospective at MAPFRE in Barcelona, elucidates the rich visual universe of Tomatsu, including his best-known images and previously unpublished work. It is the first comprehensive survey to be published since his death.
Born in Nagoya, Japan, Shomei Tomatsu (1930–2012) began his career in the early 1950s as a traditional photojournalist. He played a central role in Vivo, a self-managed photography agency, and founded the publishing house Shaken and the quarterly journal Ken. Tomatsu participated in the groundbreaking New Japanese Photography exhibition in 1974 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; his most recent US survey, The Skin of the Nation, was held at SFMOMA in 2006.