Out of sight: surrealism and photography in 1930s Japan

Stojkovic, J. 2013. Out of sight: surrealism and photography in 1930s Japan. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design

TitleOut of sight: surrealism and photography in 1930s Japan
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsStojkovic, J.

"There is not a country in the world where the Surrealist voice found a faster response

than Japan. From its origin (1924, date of the first Manifesto), until the war, there was

no Surrealist activity in Europe that was not almost immediately reflected upon.", Breton, André ([1959] 2008). En guise de préface à l’anthologie surréaliste de Tokyo. In: Breton, André; Hubert, Étienne-Alain (et al.), Ouvres completes IV: Écrits sur l’art et autres

textes. Paris: Gallimard, p. 1155.

Regardless of André Breton’s insistence on how there was no Surrealist

activity that did not have a response in Japan, the knowledge of Surrealist

photography practised in the country during the decade between 1930 and

1940 remains ‘out of sight’ of the existing scholarship until the present day.

Therefore, this thesis brings to the fore the significance of this practice,

encircled by the multifaceted relations between Surrealism, photography and

1930s Japan, asking how can its historical condition be altered and written

into the existing field of knowledge.

Emerging and developing at a time of political oppression and military

campaigning that led Japan into the Pacific War in 1941, Surrealist

photography of this decade is an important case study into how photography

can perform a critical role in visualising new and different strands of thought

and action. As this photography was practised outside of a single Surrealist

group, it played such a role by equally remaining ‘out of sight’ of the state

censorship and maintaining a position in the marginalised space of the

illustrated press.

Such a position outside of a formal Surrealist group and on the margins of

Japanese society is affirmed in this thesis through the notion of minor

literature, characteristic for its deterritorialised, collective and immanently

political character. These three defining characteristics enable construction of

a minor historical framework through which Surrealist photography in Japan of

the 1930s can be considered as of significant relevance to the discursive

fields of Surrealism and History of Japanese Art.

To argue for such relevance, this thesis is based on archival research of over

a hundred photographs and offers a close reading of the main texts published

with regard to Surrealist photography in the decade. It shows how regardless

of its unorthodox position, Surrealist photography in 1930s Japan mobilised

an extensive number of practitioners around the country, in Tokyo, Osaka,

Nagoya, and Fukuoka, and how they acted as a subversive force to the

homogenised visual culture from within all the major categories of

photographic practice developing in the decade.

Publication dates

Related outputs

Performance in Print: Channeling Tōmatsu Shōmei’s NO.541
Ross, J. and Stojkovic, J. 2018. Performance in Print: Channeling Tōmatsu Shōmei’s NO.541. Photography and Culture. 11 (2), pp. 181-196. https://doi.org/10.1080/17514517.2018.1467087

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