This essay investigates women's photography and its critical reception in recessionary Japan. Drawing on the observation that women's photography centered on portraying relationships, critics—who were predominantly men—interpreted the genre as a project that aimed to reconnect communities that have unraveled in the wake of the long recession. Female photographers, however, rejected this interpretation. Building on this tension, I make two arguments in the essay. First, I claim that critics projected onto women's photography their own nostalgia for the economic high-growth era, during which the developmental state assigned women to sustaining social reproduction as wives and mothers. Second, my interviews with photographers reveal that it was precisely the desire to disengage from these normative gender role models that drove women to photography. I argue that women practiced photography to expand the zones of subjectivity from which they were able to draw new forms of labor and pleasure. However, the more women tried to distance themselves from the normative gendered role models of the postwar period, the more male critics tried to anchor them back to these role models. As such, the critical reception of women's photography sheds light on the predicament of feminist art in a context in which it is primarily women who are called on to reconnect the social relationships that came undone as growing economic volatility pushed social reproduction into a relentless crisis.
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Gabriella Lukacs; Unraveling Visions: Women's Photography in Recessionary Japan. boundary 2 1 August 2015; 42 (3): 171–184. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2919567
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