New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Shomei Tomatsu

As one walks into the Howard Greenberg gallery one is immediately surrounded by the work of Homer Page, an under appreciated photographer who was active in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It is only after passing through half of this display that you reach a small alcove with knee high bookshelves lining the three walls. Above the shelves at eye level are 12 prints by the brilliant and highly influential Japanese Photographer, Shomei Tomatsu. The dozen prints are selections from two of Tomatsu’s bodies of work, 11:02 Nagasaki and Chewing Gum and Chocolate. The first of these explores a uniquely Japanese event, the physical and psychological aftermath of the detonation of an atomic bomb in a populated city. The second series deals with the occupation of Japan by American soldiers from a Japanese perspective.

It was a bit puzzling to me why an artist of his stature was given such cursory treatment. The dozen photos seemed to have been chosen at random and although there were some key images (the sneering sailors from Chewing Gum and Chocolate and the scarred face of Kataoka Tsuyo giving the viewer a defiant and suspicious look from 11:02 Nagasaki and the erotic and violent Coca Cola, Tokyo) these were hardly a career defining selection. And why show it right next someone like Homer Page? I decided to inquire about this situation with a gallery representative. The very friendly person at the desk informed me that the decision to put up this show was purely an issue of timing. These 12 images came from another gallery on the west coast and this was the only time the Howard Greenberg gallery had to exhibit them. It seems Shomei Tomatsu is very reluctant to show his work outside of Japan.

The Howard Greenberg Gallery has a shown a great interest in mid century Japanese photography as witnessed by their Photographers of Japanese Descent show in the Spring of 2008. I can only applaud the gallery for being willing to bend over backwards to show the prints of such a great artist. Come to think of it, I have only ever seen Shomei Tomatsu’s work in books and so contrary to my earlier opinion about this show, I am ever so grateful to have been able to see this master photographer’s prints first hand.

Shomei Tomatsu

Howard Greenberg
41 E 57th St. 14th Fl
Midtown         Map

212 334 0010

Friday, January 8 to
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Hours: Tues - Sat, 10 to 6