Book Review “Shigeo Gocho 1946-1983” (2004, K.K.Kyodo News, Tokyo)
“Behind the surface layer of dispersed things in daily life, occasionally, the incomprehensible shadows of human existence flit through.” Shigeo Gocho [Nippon Camera, February Issue, 1980.]
Shigeo Gocho was born in 1946, just a year after Japan’s surrender and the end of WW2. Behind the high fame of his contemporaries, such as Daido Moriyama and Takuma Nakahira, Gocho is a hidden gem yet not exposed to the Western eyes.
Gocho is regarded as a leading photographer of “Conpora [abbreviation of contemporary]” school. Common criticisms often refer similarities between Conpora and photographers of the exhibitions “Contemporary Photographers – Toward a Social Landscape” (1966) and New Documents (1967), but the structural difference of Tokyo among other Western cities, is often overlooked. At the end of WW2, almost 1/3 of the downtown Tokyo was burned by USA’s strategic bombing. Thus today’s urban landscape of Tokyo was instantly constructed just in a several decades on the war-scorched earth.
Takuma Nakahira and a critic Koji Taki criticized Gocho’s work as lacking in a sense of crisis, weak in fixed gaze, and prominent in transitoriness.” (p324)
Nevertheless, the social landscape of Tokyo, which was suddenly sprung up like mushrooms in the postwar days, must be the most bizarre and thrilling field for Gocho’s camera eye.
His most important work “Self and Others” represents sensitive but intense distance between the photographer and each model. Among 59 portraits, almost all models, except three or four, are directly looking into a camera.
When we look into the surface of those photographs, tiny eyes of “others” take us to the passage to another world behind their enigmatic gaze.
Before Gocho’s eyes, so called “daily life” is the connotation of the cosmos itself. As a film director Yasujirō Ozu strikingly depicts the fathomless solitude of human existence in “Tokyo Story” (1953), Gocho tries to see through something behind the surface layer of common landscape in the mega-city. Gocho’s incurable disease and premature death also tell us that to embrace his everyday life is literally a struggle for his existence.