Ikko Narahara, Domains, 1958. © Narahara Ikko Archives / Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film.

Ikko Narahara (1931–2020)

Japanese postwar photographer Ikko Narahara, a cofounder of the influential documentary photography collective VIVO, has died at the age of eighty-eight years old. His enigmatic black-and-white “personal document” pictures indexed the effects of manmade and natural disasters, often in isolated, insulated communities—images of a women’s prison in Wakayama Prefecture, for instance, or monastery nuns in Hokkaido from his revered “Domains” series, 1956­–58—to chart the clashes and flows of civilization.

Born in 1931 in Fukuoka Prefecture, Narahara earned a law degree at Chuo University in 1954, then studied art history at Waseda University. In 1955, he joined the avant-garde artist group Jitsuzaisha (Real Existence), which was cofounded by artists Masuo Ikeda and Ay-O and counted Tatsuo Ikeda and On Kawara among its members. He made his debut a year later with the exhibition “Human Land” at Tokyo’s Matsuya Gallery, in which images of a village in Kyushu devastated by the Sakurajima volcano were paired with those of a nearby artificial coal-mining town. In 1959, Narahara cofounded the independent documentary photo cooperative VIVO, which he ran with Akira Sato, Akira Tano, Eikoh Hosoe, Kikuji Kawada, and Shomei Tomatsu until 1961. He was based in Paris from 1962 to 1965 and spent the early 1970s in New York. From 1999 to 2005, he served as a professor at Kyushu Sangyo University.

Solo exhibitions of Narahara’s work have been staged at Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; the Shimane Art Museum, Japan; Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo; and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. He is the recipient of the Japan Photo Critics Association Newcomer’s Award (1958), the Mainichi Arts Award (1968), the Photographic Society of Japan Annual Award (1986), and the Medal with Purple Ribbon (1996), and his work is held in the public collections of the International Center of Photography, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg.