6 Japanese photographers beyond Daido Moriyama or Nobuyoshi Araki

Conceptual Projects
7 min readFeb 29, 2024

My flight to Tokyo departs tomorrow.

While organising what I am going to do there, I was thinking about which museums or galleries I would like to visit. In such cases I usually go through my (humble) library for inspiration. Of all historical, travel and non-fiction novels about Japan, there were two photobooks that stood out above the rest: Random Walk by Daido Moriyama, and Self, Life, Death by Nobuyoshi Araki. Both are key figures in the field of photography worldwide and despite their different themes and styles, their images influenced a whole generation of Japanese visual artists.

Japan’s role in the history of photography is often overlooked. Perhaps this perception is because while other countries such as the US or France have been home of the most iconic photographers, Japan remained as the top producer of photographic devices, and its artists have gone relatively unnoticed.

Rediscovering these photobooks made me realise that there is a notable void of emerging Japanese photographers. At least those born after the 1980s. Obviously there are many more world-class names beyond Moriyama and Araki who have had a great influence. Some examples are Hiroshi Sugimoto (about whom I have a short review on his retrospective at the Hayward Gallery), Issei Suda or Rinko Kawauchi, artists who also paved the way of a younger generation.

At this point, I asked myself:

How many emerging Japanese photographers do I know?

Unfortunately, not many names came to my mind.

And to get a better knowledge of Japanese culture and history before my trip begins, I’ve decided to compile a list of photographers who are worth knowing and who I personally believe could soon achieve the same status as the artists mentioned above.

What about you? Do you know of any emerging photographer that does not appear on this list and whose work catches your attention?

Share them with us and let’s expand our knowledge!

Lieko Shiga. Portrait of Cultivation, from the series Rasen Kaigan, 2009

Lieko Shiga’s (b. 1980, Aichi) images are often compared to those of Rinko Kawauchi. Whether this statement is true or not, I will not be the one to decide. What cannot be denied is that both photographers share certain artistic traits that connect them.

Shiga’s images stand out for their surrealistic settings. Many of her scenes take place at the intersection of daylight and twilight. This allows her to evoke a dreamlike world. Inspired by Japanese rich folklore and ancient local myths, she spend her time shooting in a more agrarian stages rather than walking around mega-cities. This is rather unconventional for an artist of this generation considering the importance of street photography in Japan in the 20th century.

In 2007, Shiga published Canary, a milestone photobook that established the foundations of her characteristic imagery. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Shiga left behind the fast-paced environment of the city to focus her attention on rural areas. There’s a strong influence of street photography which cannot be ignored, in fact, many of her images have visual resources which she draws on from street photography such as close-ups, bold use of the flash or unusual framings.

Narumi Hiramoto. H01529, 2021

Narumi Hiramoto’s (b. 1984, Chiba) images straddle between figuration and abstraction. Some of his compositions are reminiscent of Surrealism automatism mixed with traces from the simplistic forms of the Bauhaus. His technical skills and sensitivity with collage, makes him an interesting artist to take into account.

Since 2016, Hiramoto has been working persistently on one of his most ambitious series. He created daily a unique image using photos from that day’s newspaper and posted it on his Instagram afterwards. Thus, originating an enticing cross over between the old and new media.

In 2021, PGI organised his first solo show at their Tokyo space. Entitled Good News, the exhibition referenced this relationship the artist has with the media. The collages, selected directly from his Instagram, were displayed alongside the walls of the gallery. The curation was supervised by Hiramoto who decided to focus just on the monochromatic images.

Yuki Shimizu. Beach Miyako, Iwate #004, 2021

In one of our last articles, we briefly talked about Yuki Shimizu’s (b. 1984, Chiba) work. We highlighted her series Beach Miyako, Iwate for her ability to use natural elements to create unique effects on her photographs. Her images are metaphors about the passage of time and modernization in landscapes.

Since the beginning of her career, Shimizu has been interested on how landscape is transformed. In 2019, she developed her series Empty Park based on an extensive research of a park near where she grew up. Although the series have a pure documentary vibe, it allowed her to adapt a forensic-like methodology in her practice. In Empty Park, Shimizu investigated the history and mapped the area to finally find out that the park was indeed a retention pond used to store rainwater.

Her technique was refined over the years until achieving her most recent series Half Dreaming Glass in which she gets more involved in the actual creation of the images. In the coastline of her native Chiba, she found out pieces of glass which witnessed the numerous changes in the landscape during the years. Shimizu used these pieces and mixed them with sand, dust or mould. She used them afterwards as filters for her photographs which depict a new perspective about modernisation.

Sayuri Ichida. From the series Absentee, 2021

Sayuri Ichida (b. 1985, Fukuoka) is, with no doubt, one of the finest photographers on this list. I would say she might be one of the Japanese photographers who is causing the greatest impact in Europe nowadays, as her works have been mostly exhibited at numerous fairs and venues.

Currently based in the UK, Ichida focuses her practice on existential issues based on her own life experiences and memories. She links daily life objects with human bodies and, approaching them as a visual poem, creates compositions that evoke different emotional states.

Absentee is one of her most recent and iconic series where she explores the sense of detachment that comes with death. The whole body of work is an ode to the delicacy and subtlety that Ichida put in each image. Every surface is washed by a weak light that reveals their elegant textures, details that reminds the ancient marble sculptures and, at the same time, our own fragility.

Mari Katayama. Installation view of ‘Mine and Yours’ at Foto Arsenal, Wien, 2023

Whilst compiling this list, I came across with Mari Katayama (b. 1987, Saitama). Unlike the other artists, I had not seen Katayama’s photographs before, and I must admit that they caused an impressive impact on me.

When she was nine years old, Katayama lost both of her lower legs. At the age of sixteen she decided to accept this and pursue an artistic career. Soon after this, she realised that her body would be her “brush and canvas”, and started to use it as a living sculpture, some sort of mannequin to help her convey her artistic concerns.

Katayama is not just a photographer. She combines multiple practices such performance, sculpture, and installation to raise questions about the body itself. Other than emphasising the artist’s physical condition, her work also focuses on the implicit challenges that come with it. Usually surrounded by body parts made of fabric or in settings such as ateliers or beaches, Katayama’s self-portraits break with her physical stigma and reclaim the space for unconventional bodies.

Momo Okabe. From the series ILMATAR, 2020

The first time I saw Momo Okabe’s (b. 1981, Tokyo) work was at her solo exhibition in Kyotographie in 2022. At that time, I was already thinking about the question I presented at the beginning of this article. What struck me about Okabe’s images was the straightforwardness in which she approaches the Japanese society.

Okabe’s photographs are intense. Sometimes even violent. She has a recognisable method of treating the colour in a very harsh way in order to intensify the power of each image. I’ll say her most notorious series will be ILMATAR, which encapsulates many features that characterise her photographs. The series is based on shishosetsu or I-novel, a genre defined by events that correspond with the life of the author.

Produced over the course of six years, Okabe documented her pregnancy and first years of maternity. Furthermore, the series also include images of her personal life with her friends, introducing the viewer to her private space. Considering that this topic is neither common nor easy in Japanese society, and the fact that she is a woman shooting her intimacy (many men turned to this field and had much more recognition or “market” despite their approach to the subject) makes her an important artist to be reckoned with.

Now, it’s your turn!

We want to read you! Share those emerging Japanese photographers you know by commenting on this article!

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Text by:

Juan Blasco — Founder & Curator of Conceptual Projects

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