2018 Theses Doctoral
Atlas Novus: Kawada Kikuji's Chizu (The Map) and Postwar Japanese Photography
This dissertation explores a vital moment in the history of Japanese photography through a sustained monographic analysis of Kawada Kikuji’s 1965 photobook Chizu (The Map). Through this first full-length English-language study on Kawada’s early work, I argue that Chizu is a palimpsest, where Kawada mobilizes both the malleability and medium-specificity of photography to create a temporal atlas of postwar Japan. Chizu is not legible cartography, but instead is an archival universe where the atomic bomb and its victims, Japan’s past military aggressions, and national narratives of ruin and growth are interwoven in a state of temporal confusion and perpetual haunting.
Chizu is also wedged chronologically and theoretically between two periods in the history of Japanese photography: the early 1950s hegemony of postwar “realism” and the avant-garde project of Provoke in the late 1960s and 1970s. My dissertation intersects a sociopolitical and psychological history of postwar Japan with visual and iconographic analysis, accompanied by comparative frameworks of contemporaneous publications that also dealt with the subjects of the atomic bomb, the Second World War, and the political unrest of the early 1960s. By structuring the dissertation around the three major thematic categories that I have identified within the visual language of the photobook—the “stains” of the Atomic Bomb Dome, the “memorial goods” of the Second World War, and the “signs of the present”—I dissect and contextualize the temporal layering and theoretical stakes at work within Chizu’s complex network of traces.
Chizu’s enormous significance lies in its refusal to settle on a firm aesthetic or theoretical language of photography, preferring instead to alternatively mobilize and refute indexicality, to put forward a multisensory experience of the photograph, and to cast assumptions about photography’s legibility into deep suspicion. I argue that this is a singular gesture of the period, one born not from individual subjectivity as dogmatic artistic ideology, but instead from an existential state of questioning the foundations of photography's relationship to time, to index, and to legible narrative. Finally, I argue that Chizu stands as an important artistic illumination of the concept of a longue durée violence: In this case, a violence continuously and insidiously enacted on a body of citizenry well before and well after the zero hour event of the atomic bomb.
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More About This Work
- Academic Units
- Art History and Archaeology
- Thesis Advisors
- Reynolds, Jonathan M.
- Ph.D., Columbia University
- Published Here
- July 1, 2018