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Jan 31 2020

OBITUARY: IKKO NARAHARA (1931–2020)

by Kylie Yeung

Japanese photographer IKKO NARAHARA passed away on January 19 at the age of 88. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo.

The celebrated photographer Ikko Narahara died of heart failure, aged 88, on January 19, according to a statement from his representative Taka Ishii Gallery. Narahara is best known for his monochrome and surrealist images, which made him a pioneer of new photographic expression in post-war Japan.

Born in the Fukuoka Prefecture in 1931, Narahara spent his youth frequently relocating across Japan for his father’s work as a prosecutor. It was during that time that the younger Narahara developed an interest in photography, art, and literature. After graduating from Tokyo’s Chuo University with a law degree in 1954, he entered a master’s program specializing in art history at Waseda University the following year. Narahara joined the artist group Jitsuzaisha (Real Existence), headed by Masuo Ikeda and Ay-O, the same year, and became close friends with artists such as Shuzo Takiguchi, Tatsuo Ikeda, and On Kawara, as well as photographers Shomei Tomatsu and Eikoh Hosoe, with whom he later founded the independent photographic agency VIVO in 1959.

Narahara’s debut solo exhibition, “Human Land” (1956), was held in Matsushima Gallery, Tokyo. His snapshots of people living in bleak conditions in Kagoshima and Nagasaki brought him instant success and renown, and his following exhibition, “Domains” (1958), earned him the Japan Photo Critics Association’s Most Promising Photographer Award. Narahara’s photography publications also gained widespread acclaim, with his book Europe: Where Time Has Stopped (1967) winning him the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science and Culture’s Art Encouragement Prize in 1968.

Throughout his career, his works have been displayed at major international venues, with solo retrospectives mounted at the Maison Européenne de La Photographie in Paris (2002–03) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (2004). His many accolades include the Mainichi Arts Award (1968), the Photographic Society of Japan Annual Award (1986), and The Japanese Medal of Honor, Purple Ribbon (1996).

Kylie Yeung is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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