|Title||Out of sight: surrealism and photography in 1930s Japan|
"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 ( 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
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.