Provoke captured 60’s countercultural Japan. With iconoclasts such as Daidō Moriyama at its helm, Provoke was the underground photography magazine that gave Japan an anti-authoritarian alternative in its post-war years.
In the counter-cultural glorious year of 1968, a young group of radical Japanese photographers and writers joined forces to create this anti-establishment magazine that would come to define an entire era of Japanese post-war avant-garde photography. Lasting just three issues, its gritty pages opened onto an urban darkroom of youthful rebellion where brazen snapshots of Tokyo met with bold texts on the subversive power of the photographic medium. Its makers – poet Takahiko Okada, theorist-photographers Kōji Taki and Takuma Nakahira, and photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Daidō Moriyama (who joined in issue two) – championed an iconoclastic photographic style called are-bure-boke. This ‘rough, blurry and out of focus’ approach galvanised the riotous, counter-cultural spirit of 60’s Japan when the country was a hotbed of public protests.
As it emerged in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, public outcries continually deplored Japan’s alliance with the U.S, the Vietnam War, the westernisation of Japanese culture and the ruthless speed of industrialisation, propelled by the neo-liberal government. In response to these frantic, urgent times, Provoke’s visual language embraced movement and disorientation, rejecting prevailing modes of image-making in a society increasingly dominated by media artifice. Advocating independent thinking, the magazine’s subtitle underlined that it was ultimately committed to ‘Provocative documents for the sake of thought’ – and it achieved that, in just three issues.
In the east Asian art world, Provoke is virtually schoolboy knowledge. Until recently, however, the rest of the world had been slow to recognise its significance. Featured recently in the international exhibition ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance’, here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about this trailblazing magazine: It changed post-war Japanese photography. It proved an alternative form of protest. It rallied against fixed meanings and its legacy is as stoic four decades later.