There are two good reasons to see the exhibition on the short-lived photography magazine Koga, now on at the Tokyo Photographic Art (TOP) Museum. One is that it is full of powerful images that will linger in the memory despite their relative simplicity. The other is that, as the story of art continues to develop beyond the confines of paintings and sculptures by dead white men, the inventiveness and distinct character of the avant-garde photography in Koga deserves greater exposure for what it can tell us about Japanese visual culture of the 1930s.

Until the 1920s, fine art photography was dominated by the idea that in order to be taken seriously, it should be reminiscent of oil painting. Photography’s ability to record the outside world with clarity and detail, the attributes that made it novel and unique, were considered too literal for a medium of artistic expression.

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