Getting my head around Japanese Photography - Domon Ken

After getting home from Japan, I realized that I didn’t know much about Japanese Photography/Photographers.  So I’ve been doing some reading and present some of the things I’ve learned.

Domon Ken
Ken Domon was born in 1909 in Sakata, in the North-Western Yamagata prefecture, however his family moved to Tokyo when he was seven years old. By his early teens, Domon had developed an interest in painting canvases, going so far as holding exhibits and even selling one piece for ¥30 (30 cents). Domon then tried unsuccessfully to make a living as a painter, but in 1933 at the age of 24 he followed the advice of his mother and joined the Miyauchi Kotaro photography studio as an apprentice. This was when Domon started to dedicate his life to photography, spending his nights reading books and learning about its history and fundamentals. In 1935 Domon joined Nippon Kobo, an influential publishing agency that produced ‘Nippon’, a magazine aimed at introducing Japan to the West. Nippon Kobo was established in 1933 by Yonosuke Natori, who used innovative photography techniques learned during his time in Germany. There Domon oversaw photography for internationally-bound brochures, and he spent time in the Izu Peninsula working as a cameraman for Rintaro Takeda. The photographs taken during this time became the basis for Fubo, his first book on photography.1939 had a major impact on Domon’s life. After leaving Nippon Kobo and joining the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Domon got married to Tamiko Nakamura. The two travelled to Miyazaki on their honeymoon, but Domon was not one to miss a chance for photography. Following the suggestion of art historian Sumio Mizusawa, this was Domon’s first visit to the temple that would become the foremost subject in his lifework, Muroji Temple.Domon went freelance after the war in 1945, and began “A pilgrimage through old temples” in Nara and Kyoto the following year. Domon became an honorary citizen of Sakata in 1974, which was when he donated all 70,000 pieces of his photography to his hometown. Sakata reciprocated by building the photography museum which was completed in 1983.  Other famous photographic works that are periodically shown to the public at the museum include “Muroji Temple”, “Hiroshima” (taken in the years following the dropping of the atomic bomb), “The Children in Chikuho” (photos expressing the daily life of coal miners and their children), “Bunraku Puppets”, and “Features”.

“A truly good photograph captures more than the naked eye.”- Ken Domon

Using Format