“Early on in his career, Naitō photographed the mummies of Buddhist priests who had died fasting for the salvation of starving farmers in Dewa Sanzan and then started making photographs that focused on the folk religions and ethnology of Tōhoku. In this body of work (1968–1970), Naitō portrays itako, female shamans who invoke the spirits of the dead. Female shamanism used to be widespread within Japan; today it is limited to this region where the more esoteric sides of Eastern religion are still practiced. These female shamans photographed starkly by Naitō are celebrating death. They mourn the dead by performing rituals and dancing all night to evoke the spirits of the deceased. These women are exuberant and celebrate death not life. Naitō pays homage to this time-old tradition with his bright flash, graphically illuminating the characters he depicts. As he observed: “The vitality of women comes from the earth. They embrace everything like goddesses and the title Ba Ba Bakuhatsu (Grandma Explosion) came to my mind naturally.”


“In his early works, Naito had experimented with polymer molecules on glass to create stylized and vaguely anthropomorphic images. This eventually led to “Coacervation,” arguably his first important series, which consisted of highly abstract images of chemical reactions. On the side, he also designed book covers for science fiction novels, including the Japanese edition of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Good work, all of it, but not yet spectacular.”

“When Naito first began researching Tohoku folklore, he had expected to find places “haunted with a macabre atmosphere.” Instead, he stumbled into a vivacious traditional society “filled with elderly women who throw boisterous bashes all night long.” Using a strobe — a tool previously rarely used in art photography, but one on which Naito would rely throughout the ’60s and ’70s — he captured images of a world that has since largely vanished: a devotee in trance, a one-eyed shaman in worship, smiling beldams with gold-capped teeth on a temple stay. Many of these images were shot at night, with little concern for composition, leaving much to chance. The results are often haunting.”


“Another World Unveiled.”



—Masatoshi Naito

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  • Last modified: 2018-12-21 08:13
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