Over more than fifty years, photographer Eikoh Hosoe has built up a body of work that shows a unique mastery of photographic techniques.
Early in his career, he abandoned the predominant post-war documentary style in favour of an approach underpinned by a sense of experimentation and freedom. Making use of mythology, metaphor and symbolism, he created images that go beyond the limits of traditional photography.
Hosoe's style sits at the crossroads between several different fields, combining photography with theatre, dance, film and traditional Japanese art. Still today, he continues to push back the limits of photographic expression.
Hosoe's career took off in the late fifties with the series entitled Man and Woman (1959). Thanks to the writer Yukio Mishima, Hosoe met Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the founders of butoh dance. Since the very beginning of his career, Eikoh Hosoe has drawn inspiration from butoh.
This revolutionary artistic movement began in the post-war years, including aspects of German expressionism and Japanese dance, sets out in search of a new social identity. After seeing a performance by Hijikata adapted from Mishima's novel Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours) in a small Tokyo theatre, Hosoe was inspired to photograph this unique dancer; their collaboration was to continue for many years. In 1961, Mishima saw some of Hosoe's photos of Hijikata and invited him to work with him. This resulted in the series entitled Barakei (Ordeal by Roses), first published in 1963. After this, Hosoe began to work with Hijikata on the series entitled Kamaitachi (1965-1968), an intense dramatisation of Hosoe's childhood memories in the rural area of Tohoku in northern Japan where he spent the war years. Hijikata plays the “kamaitachi”, a legendary demon that lives in the rice fields. Kamaitachi is perhaps the finest illustration of Hosoe's hybrid style, combining as it does performance and documentary with a dramatic and and baroque aesthetic that embodies the principles of buto ankoku (dance of darkness).
Hosoe continued to work with Mishima and Hijikata throughout their lives, and in 1971 he produced the series “Embrace” with Hijikata, for which Mishima wrote the introduction. Hosoe is a unique figure in Japanese photography. A master printer, he has never stopped experimenting with traditional and digital techniques in order to develop new methods of photographic expression.
He has exhibited and taught all over Japan and in the West, and his ability to bridge the gap between the two has helped form a mutual understanding between these different photographic cultures. Over the past fifty years, his innovation and open-mindedness have considerably enriched the photographic idiom.