Monday, October 6, 2014

File 8: "Kamagasaki" by Seiryu Inoue, 1985, reviewed by Natsuko Oda

“Kamagasaki”, an ambitious photographic project that Seiryu Inoue embarked when he was only in his twenties, took him five years to complete.  The resulting book, originally published in 1985, was the only book of Inoue’s photography published during his lifetime.

The part of Osaka City known as Kamagasaki has a negative image for most Japanese because unemployed people gather from all over in Japan and reside in this area.  Kamagasaki has been either avoided as an object of dread or sought out as an object of curiosity for a long time.  Although it has improved slightly over the years, poverty and thus discrimination against Kamagasaki still exist in Japan.

The book, which revolves around the riot that happened in Kamagasaki in 1960, is comprised of three parts: the first part, “Ningen Hyakkei” (A Hundred Views of Humans), show the lives of the residents before the riot; the second part, “Arashi no Yume” (Dream of Storm), the four days of the riot; and the last part, “Zekkyou no Ato” (After Screaming), the reconstruction after the riot.

Inoue and Shinichi Tsukasa, a labor union activist in Kamagasaki, wrote the postscript for the book, and Osamu Higashibuchi, a poet based in Kamagasaki, inserted fourteen verses throughout the book and provided Inoue's project with lyrical effects. 

The book's first part, "Ningen Hyakkei", was originally exhibited in his solo show, "Ningen Hyakkei Kamagasaki" at Gekkou Gallery, Tokyo in 1960.  Unfortunately, his exhibition was not featured in any of the professional photo magazines.  But after a riot actually occurred in the next year, his work finally received a significant amount of attention  He also received two prestigious prizes, The Fifth Japan Photo Critics Association New Face Award and Camera Art New Face Award in 1961.

Social Documentary was one of the most popular subjects in Japan in the 1950s and 60s.  Ken Domon’s “Chikuhou no Kodomotachi” (Children in Chikuhou Prefecture), published in 1960, left a strong impact among Japanese photo community, so Inoue could more comfortably take the themes of poverty and unemployment for his project.  “Kamagasaki" was not merely objective documentary, but it explored Inoue’s personal concerns about social contradictions, and his strong and deep perspective on human beings.

Most of the photos were taken secretly, or taken without looking at the viewfinder, in order to avoid any possible conflict with Kamagasaki residents. The photos are therefore out of focus, and the compositions are often not fixed, although they successfully deliver the emotions of residents living in tough situations. The captured images are sensational; a woman, maybe a sex worker, is loitering on the street. A man, who maybe relieved himself, is exposing his back hip on the side of the road. A thin, malnourished girl has vacant eyes. Numerous hands of unemployed people looking for work float across the pages.

Through these straightforward and cruel close-up shots, we experience the actual events as they were. We feel the dust and smell the odors in the streets.

Inoue stated in the postscript: “What I thought about in taking the photos while living at a doya (cheap and neglected hotel for unemployed people) was that they made me realize that I liked myself so much, enough to make me cry, and that I hated myself so much, enough to make me want to die.” Inoue was looking at human weakness and wretchedness in an extreme situation while seeing himself in those he photographed, and he felt deep despair. The photographs are living documents about the relationships on the street, and Inoue wanted to affirm through them the human condition he found in Kamagasaki.

Natsuko Oda: photobook writer, currently based in Hiroshima, Japan, specializes in Japanese photobooks in the 60s-70s, earned the Master of Arts in Photography and certificate of Museum of Art Counsil from Nihon University in 2000.  Master thesis on Diane Arbus.

Book Info:

Title: Kamagasaki
Artist: Seiryu Inoue
Design: Haruo Shimonaga
Text: Seiryu Inoue, Shinichi Tsukasa, Osamu Higashibuchi
Publisher: Ginga Shobou
Date: 1985
Edition: 500
Size: 7.87×11.81 inches 
Binding: hardcover
Page: 129 images in 180 pages

Artist Info:

Seiryu Inoue

Japanese, b. 1931- d. 1988

Born in Kouchi prefecture to a farm family, Inoue lost his left index finger and the middle finger of his dominant hand while cutting fodder when he was six years old. When he was in junior high school, he had to support his family as the eldest son because his father joined the military. At the age of fourteen, his mother died before his father came back. After his father’s remarriage, Inoue ran away from home because of a feud with his parents. In 1951, at the age of nineteen, his uncle introduced him to Takeji Iwamiya, a renowned photographer in Osaka because he was worried about his emotionally distressed nephew.  Inoue became Iwamiya's apprentice.  Inoue later went back to his hometown because of pleurisy,  although he never go back home and lived alone in a cave for a year. He then returned to Osaka and began working at Iwamiya Photos, a commercial photography studio.

In 1958, when he was twenty-seven years old, Inoue happened to visit Kamagasaki, which immediately attracted him, and he began to take reportage photos.  He moved to Kamagasaki and lived in a doya where unemployed people resided. He wore shabby clothes like the others, and drank and communicated with them. He did not take a single photo for a year since he wanted to lower the residents’ defenses.

Two years later, in May 1960, Inoue mounted his first exhibition, “Ningenhyakkei Kamagasaki,” at Gekkou Gallery in Tokyo. The following year he won two prestigious prizes for his exhibition: The Fifth Japan Photo Critics Association New Face Award and Camera Art New Face Award. In August of the same year, a huge riot occurred in Kamagasaki. More than ten thousand people fought with the police for four days.  Inoue got into the center of the arson, rock-throwing and vandalism. He wrapped a towel, which had a hole for the camera lens, around a compact camera with his hand and pretended to throw rocks while he took pictures. After the situation calmed, Inoue joined a Kamagasaki labor union as an official  photographer and covered news in the town.

Beside his Kamagasaki project, Inoue made social documentary of Koreans people who lived in Japan (after his death, published as “Hokkikou”(Return to the North) in 1994), but he remained connected to Kamagasaki for life by joining a literary circle, “Hadaka no Kai” (Naked Club) where people talk about Kamagasaki, and cooperated with television documentary programs.

Since 1976, Inoue had taught a photography course at Osaka University of Arts, and was engaged in the education of young photographers such as Kou Inose and Gen Yamaguchi.  In 1986, he began to photograph traditional life and the natural features of the Amami Islands located in southwestern Japan. He often went to the islands and developed a relationship with their residents, but unfortunately, he died in a drowning accident in the sea while taking photographs. This unfinished series was published as “Amami” with a help from people who were very close to Inoue.

Thanks to Daido Moriyama and Kou Inose, Inoue’s works are now being re-evaluated. Especially, Daido, who was Inoue’s younger apprentice at Iwamiya Photos, greatly admired Inoue so that he reminisced, “I could understand what street photography was only through my relationship with Inoue.”  Osamu Wataya, a fashion art director with Hysteric Glamour, reorganized Inoue’s work, and thanks to Wataya, Inoue’s photography was reborn with modern sensibilities and gains more attention.


1985  Kamagasaki, Ginga-shobou
1990  Amami, Soubun-sya
1994  Hokkikou (Return to the North), Remembrance of Seiryu Inoue
2001  Hysteric One Seiryu Inoue, Hysteric Glamour
2003  Irresistible Steps Seiryu Inoue 1956-1988, Soukyuu-sya
2007  Seiryu Inoue/Ichirou Kojima, Rat Hole Gallery
2011  Hito to Ishi (Man and Stone), Zen Foto Gallery
           Kamagasaki Kodomo (Kamagasaki Children), Zen Foto Gallery


1960  Ningen Hyakkei Kamagasaki (Hundred Views of Human) Gekkou Gallery, Tokyo
1962  Zekkyou no Ato Kamagasaki (After Screaming Kamagasaki) Osaka city, Airin Hall
1962  ’61 Japan Photo Critics Association Awarded Photographers Exhibition, Fuji Photo Salon, Tokyo
1970  Warera Nippon Dochakumin Ten (We are the Indigenous Peoples of Japan Exhibition) Kobe Gallery, Kobe
1971  Takeji Iwamiya Clan Photo Exhibition, Hankyuu Department Gallery, Osaka
1977  Document of Sinking Kunisaki, Ikeda Bank Yamashita Branch, Hyougo
1984  Association of Japanese Photographer 1984 Members in Osaka Exhibition, Fuji Photo Salon, Osaka
1985  Seiryu Inoue Exhibition, Ginga MiniHall・House of Poet Kamagasaki, Osaka
           Seiryu Inoue Photo exhibition Kikoku (Return to Country) Cafe Dorumen, Osaka
           Human Rights Week in Collage Seiryu Inoue Photo exhibition Ningen Sengen (Declaration of Humanity)
1987  Art Information Center Exhibit Hall, Osaka University of Arts
1996 Seiryu Inoue Photo Exhibition Kamagasaki, Konica Plaza Shinjuku and Osaka (Organized by Daido
           Moriyama, Kou Inose and Gen Yamaguchi)
2001  Seiryu Inoue Kamagasaki/Daido Moriyama Cherry Blossom, Place M, Tokyo
2004  1956-1988 Seiryu Inoue Exhibition, Place M, Tokyo
2005  Seiryu Inoue Photo Exhibition, Amagasaki Cultural Center Art Hall


  1. Funny i purchased this book yesterday :

    Thanks Miwa!

  2. Purchased the book yesterday at Paris Photo. So glad you introduced me to it!