Takuma Nakahira (Japanese, 1938-2015)

Takuma Nakahira (Japanese, 1938 - 2015) was a photographer, political activist and theorist instrumental to the formation of Japan’s post-war visual identity and language. As editor of late-‘60s photography publication and eponymous collective Provoke, Nakahira played a central role in the creation of a new style of documentary photography in Japan. Provoke, during its three-issue run, would greatly influence the look and feel of photography both in Japan and internationally. The Provoke style was raw, grainy, and definitively subjective: a new style of documentary photography that recognized the human biases and interiority of photographers. By the mid-1970’s, Provoke-affiliated photographers were exhibiting work on an international stage.


Nakahira released his first photobook, For a Language to Come, in 1970. From then on, Nakahira was known for infusing his images with his geopolitical stance: his intentionally coarse photographs from this time stood as a critique of Japan’s rapid urban expansion that resulted from its economic growth. In the fall of 1971, Nakahira participated in the 7th Paris Biennale. For this exhibition, Nakahira created new work based on his experience of Paris, a body of work titled Circulation: Date, Place, Events. Over the course of the week-long Biennale, Nakahira shot and developed nearly two hundred images per day and installed them unframed on the walls of the space. The resulting work would be known as an exercise in total subjectivity, with Nakahira’s views of Paris immersing viewers while abandoning objective views of the surrounding environment.


Nakahira’s prominent career experienced a significant shift in 1977 when he sustained significant memory loss precipitated by a major medical event, effectively ending his career as a theorist and critic. Nakahira’s post-1977 work is noted as a shift away from the “are, bure, boke” (harsh, blurred, out-of-focus) technique in favor of a clearer, more documentary style, intended to reflect an honest engagement between subject and viewer. This style would continue the artist’s career through a major retrospective at the Yokohama Museum of Art in 2003, where he would be recognized as one of Japan’s most important postwar photographers and a steadfast critic of the industrialization of modernity. Nakahira passed away in 2015.


Born in 1938 in Tokyo, Takuma Nakahira graduated from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies with a degree in Spanish. Nakahira was awarded the 13th Newcomer Award in 1969 by the Japanese Photography Critic’s Association, and exhibited at the 6th Paris Biennale that same year. In 1990, Nakahira received the Society of Photography Award. Photographs by Nakahira are held in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japan; the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan; the National Museum of Photography, Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.