A Question About: Provoke

The question: What was Provoke magazine and why was it important?

The respondentMarc Feustel is an independent curator, writer and blogger based in Paris. A specialist in Japanese photography, he is the author of Japan: A Self-Portrait, Photographs 1945-1964 (Flammarion, 2004) and the founder of Studio Equis, an organisation devoted to broadening access to the visual arts between different cultures, with a focus on the relationship between Japan and the West. He writes for several photographic publications including European Photography, Foam, Fantom, Look and VU MAG and blogs at www.eyecurious.com.

The responseProvoke was a magazine founded in Japan in 1968 by the photographer and writer Takuma Nakahira, the poet Takahiko Okada, the photographer Yutaka Takanashi and the art critic Koji Taki (although Daido Moriyama is maybe the name most commonly associated with Provoke, he didn't come on board until the second issue of the magazine). Araki famously said that he was "jealous of Provoke" and wanted to join them but wasn't allowed. Although it was very short-lived, lasting only three issues, it came to define a generation of Japanese photography. The style associated with Provoke was known as are, bure, bokeh (rough, blurry, out-of-focus), a style which lasted far beyond Provoke's short lifetime and which is still used by many photographers today. Beyond the are, bure, bokeh aesthetic, the philosophy of the magazine was based on the same rough, disruptive approach, mirroring the extremely turbulent social and political climate of the late 1960s. Rather than the magazines itself, Provoke is maybe best characterised by two books by Provoke photographers: Moriyama's Shashin yo sayonara (Bye Bye Photography) and Takuma Nakahira's Kitarubeki Kotoba no Tameni (For a Language to Come). Both of these books were an attempt to stretch the limits of the language of vocabulary and to break the existing mould of photography.

Provoke was undoubtedly important, but sometimes I think its importance is overstated as there are many other dynamic periods in Japanese photography (both before and after Provoke), that receive far less attention. For example Shomei Tomatsu, Kikuji Kawada, Ikko Narahara and other photographers of the generation just before Provoke had already rejected the objective associated with documentary photography in the post-war years, creating a "subjective documentary" that laid the ground for the photographers of the Provoke generation. Nonetheless the impact of Provoke on Japanese photography is undeniable. Takashi Homma, one of the most prominent photographers in Japan today, compares the photographic landscape after Provoke to a "burned field," likening it's impact to that of an atomic bomb.