Edward Putzar in Tokyo in 1999.

Book review of Edward Putzar's book on Japanese photography history.

by Philbert Ono

Japanese Photography 1945-1985

Reviewed on: March 14, 1998 Last modified: 2005-04-03

Excellent layman's introduction to post-war Japanese photography.

Published: 1987 Publisher: Pacific West, Inc. ISBN: 0-944360-00-9 Price in Japan: ¥(US$24) Qualities: Soft cover, no photos Size: A4, 96 pp. Language: English, Might be available at Truepenny Books, Tucson, Arizona

Although this book is over 10 years old, it still is a good, basic introduction to Japan's photography scene after World War II. And I have been informed that it is still available (from Truepenny Books in Tucson). The book is by no means an exhaustive survey of postwar Japanese photography, but it does touch bases with most of the big names and movements in modern Japanese photography. The book claims that it is the first book of its kind. This is a claim which rings true. Rarely have there been books about contemporary Japanese photography in English.

The author, Edward Putzar, joined the U.S. Army after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1952. He was stationed in Kyoto where he started studying Japanese literature. He studied at Kyoto University for a year and returned to Berkeley to earn a Master's degree in Oriental Languages. He then taught Japanese literature at the University of Arizona, Tucson (now retired). He is also an expert photographer. For this book, he interviewed Japanese photographers and researched Japanese sources of information. Quotes taken from the interviews provide interesting insights into the minds of the photographers.

The text is easy reading. However, it has no chapters nor subheadings. It is just a straight body of text from start to finish with no warning when it is moving on to another topic. The book doesn't even have a table of contents, but there is a good index at the back. About 40 large photos are shown on glossy paper. They are mostly B/W and a few are in color. I have to confess that this book did serve as an inspiration for PhotoGuide Japan. On page 85 of the book, the author talks about Japanese photography magazines and photo exhibitions in Tokyo. He mentions that Asahi Camera magazine listed 31 photo galleries in Tokyo alone, together with maps ("essential," he says). He also writes that there is "a wealth of experience awaiting the foreign visitor, but learning about and finding everything in town can be a trial." There were city guide publications which were helpful, but they were "necessarily limited in their coverage." He adds, "As any foreign visitor to the city soon discovers, the most precious gift one can receive is time from a knowledgeable informant, for the city is always busy, expensive and exhausting." I think it was this sentence which finalized my decision and determination to launch PhotoGuide Japan. (I bought and read the book in 1995, and PhotoGuide Japan went online in March 1996.) It sure is nice to think that PhotoGuide Japan is a "precious gift" to people (and to myself). For this, I thank Mr. Putzar. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)