Thoughts on My Exhibition of War

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Came back to steamy Delhi last week after spending a couple of weeks in Japan to attend my exhibition at the Canon gallery. It went well (the show is still traveling to three more cities in Japan) and I had good conversations with visitors.

The title of the exhibition was “Message from the Battlefield” and it’s a collection of pictures from conflict zones I’ve photographed in the last 15 years. Unfortunately, I was able to exhibit only 60% of what I wanted to show because of restrictions set by Canon: “No dead bodies and no blood can be shown.” The exhibition was about war so I couldn’t understand how they could impose such a request. Although I didn’t fully agree with the conditions, the opportunity was too good to miss. I compromised by adding a few images which ‘partially’ showing dead body and blood.

This kind of nonsense happens not only with Canon but everywhere in Japan, including by Yahoo! Japan which I have mentioned in this blog before. It’s a reflection of a conservative ‘Don’t rock the boat’ attitude of Japanese corporations. It comes down to the fact that no one wants to take responsibility in case viewers complain.

Because of this reason, most of photo exhibitions in Japan are about non-controversial themes like landscape and animals. Any themes with politics, wars and serious social issues are completely out of favor. One of sad example is the cancellation of a photo exhibition by Nikon gallery in 2012. Nikon suddenly canceled a show about “comfort women” (sexual slaves during the war used by Japanese soldiers) because of pressure from right-wing and anti-immigrant groups.

“We seldom see these kind of pictures in galleries”

As many visitors of my exhibition told me, unfortunately there are very few major galleries that deal with photographs of wars, conflicts and hard news.

Helped by a few newspaper articles, more than 1,200 people visited my exhibition in six days, which was far more than I expected. Although I was able to speak to only a small portion of them in person, it was encouraging to be told by many that they felt these images should be shown more often and in more places.  I realized that controversial images are avoided not because people don’t want to see them but because those who could show them worry too much. They underestimate viewers by assuming that disturbing issues like war and conflict aren’t of interest. They are too scared of offending through shocking images. It’s an act of ‘self-censorship’.

Japan seems to be quickly moving backward toward a dangerous pre-war era of militarism with the recent introduction of a sweeping new law to protect state secrets and moves to expand the overseas military activities of its Self-Defense Forces. At this critical time, self-censorship keeps happening, and we should realize that it’s extinguishing our civil liberties, the public’s right to know, and the opportunity to think freely.















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Keisuke Togawa 面と向かって雑談した一人です。


Manda この記事を読み終わったアメリカの友人は、ha?! でした。


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