Theses Doctoral

Temporary Ruins: Miyamoto Ryūji's Architectural Photography in Postmodern Japan

Cushman, Carrie

This dissertation focuses on the acclaimed Japanese photographer Miyamoto Ryūji (b. 1947), whose work deals with a range of structures and spaces that I describe as ruinous: demolition sites that document the incessant development of Tokyo in the 1980s; man-made shelters of the urban homeless; the ungoverned Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong; Kobe after the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake; pinhole photographs of the late-modern Japanese urbanscape; and, most recently, the Tōhoku region after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. This project intersects an architectural and urban history of postwar Japan with the close visual analysis of Miyamoto’s photographs to show how images of ruins have served as a visual trope to challenge modernist narratives of progress and late-capitalist development. Second, I argue that these images connect multiple layers of trauma in the contemporary Japanese experience, illuminating the relationship between memory and image essential for an understanding of the role of photography in narrations of history. By examining this relationship, I clarify the ways in which postwar history has been narrated in Japan and how certain images (and the memories they spark) complicate the official narrative.
Miyamoto Ryūji’s work is a compelling example of the ruin as a key theme in postwar and contemporary Japanese photography because of the diverse social and historical issues that converge in his work: urban planning, the commodification of architecture, historical preservation, natural and man-made disasters, homelessness, and, uniting all of these concerns, memory and its relationship to history. Outside of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, images of ruins are an underexplored way of understanding and documenting memory in Japan. Throughout the dissertation, I unearth the ruin as a central motif of postwar and contemporary Japanese photography in spite of widespread claims that Japan is a country without ruins. In doing so, I propose new ways of understanding the ruin that are specific to modern Japanese history and culture.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Cushman_columbia_0054D_14634.pdf Cushman_columbia_0054D_14634.pdf application/pdf 26.1 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Reynolds, Jonathan M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018