Domon Ken

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Domon Ken (1909.10.25-1990.9.15) Sakata-cho, Yamagata Pref.

Legendary Japanese photographer who promoted photographic realism. "If it is not realistic, it is not photography," he would say.

Major themes Buddhist temples, Buddhist statues, children, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors

Education Entered junior high school in Yokohama in 1923.

Career Moved to Tokyo in 1916. Entered junior high school in Yokohama in 1923 and aimed to be a painter. After graduating from junior high school, worked at a string of odd jobs starting as a day laborer at the Communications Ministry. Then as his mother recommended, he became a live-in apprentice at age 24 at a photo studio in Ueno, Tokyo during 1933-35.

Joined Nihon Kobo publishing company in 1935 as a staff photographer for Nippon magazine and pamphlets that introduced Japan to foreigners. His first assignment at Nihon Kobo was to photograph children for the 7-5-3 coming-of-age celebration. Left Nihon Kobo in 1939 and worked for the International Culture Promotion Association (国際文化振興会)until 1943. Married Tami Nakamura, a typist at the Assocation, the same year.

Visited Muroji temple (室生寺)for the first time in 1939. In 1940, started shooting Buddhist statues for the Railway Ministry's International Tourism Bureau. Started photographing bunraku puppet theater in 1941. Won the 1st Ars Photo Award in 1943 for his photo book of people.

WIth no work in 1944, sold his beloved collection of literary and art books to a used book shop. In 1946, his second daughter meets an accidental death.

Photo contest judge for CAMERA magazine intermittently from 1950 to 1955 during which he advocated photographic realism among the contest entrants. Children became a major theme from 1953 starting with kids playing in Koto Ward, Tokyo.

Published a photo book on Muroji temple in 1954 which won him the 9th Mainichi Publishing Culture Award in 1955.

Photo contest judge for Photo Art magazine from 1956 to 1959. The planned sale of his photo book on Koto Ward (Tokyo) children was canceled in 1956 due to potentially offensive realism photographs of the lower middle class and self-restraint of his realism movement which ended in 1955.

Photographed atomic bomb survivors (especially children) from 1957 when an assignment from the Shukan Shincho weekly magazine took him to Hiroshima for the first time. The resulting photo book on Hiroshima wins him the 4th Mainichi Photo Award and 2nd Japan Photo Critics Association Award in1958. Started photographing Buddhist statues all over Japan from 1958.

Photographed impoverished children in the declining coal-mining region of Chikuho, Fukuoka in 1959. Hospitalized in Feb. 1960 due to cerebral hemorrhage at age 51. The right side of his body was paralyzed, and he could no longer hold a 35mm camera. Continued to take pictures with a large-format camera while in a wheelchair.

Visited Hiroshima again in May 1968 to photograph atom bomb survivors, but suffered another stroke later in June and enters Kyushu Univ. hospital. During rehabilitation, he sketched pictures of flowers. Continued rehabilitation for 5 months in 1969 at a hospital in a hot spring in Nagano Pref.

Won the 19th Kikuchi Kan Award in 1971 for his photographs of pilgrimage of ancient temples. Awarded the Medal with Purple Ribbon in1973. Becomes the first Honorary Citizen of Sakata, Yamagata Pref. in 1974. While in a wheelchair, starts photographing temples for his fifth photo book on temple pilgrimages.

Continued to take pictures until Sept. 1979 when he suffered a third stroke that left him comatose in Toranomon Hospital in Tokyo until his death due to heart failure in 1990. All the while, Ken Domon photo exhibitions have continued to be held and his photo books have continued to be published to this day.

Legendary Japanese photographer Domon Ken promoted photographic realism. "If it is not realistic, it is not photography," he would say. In 1950 in a column in Camera magazine (published by Ars), he declared the realism movement was about "The absolutely unposed, absolute snapshot." His charisma had great influence and many amateur photographers embraced the realism movement. In 1955, Domon conceded that the realism movement had ended.

He was a prolific creator of realistic photographs of temples and Buddhist statues. The Ken Domon Museum of Photography in Sakata, Yamagata Pref. was built in 1983. The Domon Ken Award was also established in 1982 by Mainichi Newspapers. In 1995, the Sakata City Domon Ken Culture Award was started.


1st Ars Photo Award, 1943; 9th Mainichi Publishing Culture Award, 1955; 2nd Japan Photo Critics Association Award, 1958; 4th Mainichi Photo Award, 1958; 10th Photographic Society of Japan's Annual Award, 1960; Minister of Education Award, 1960; 2nd Mainichi Arts Award, 1961; 19th Kikuchi Kan Award, 1971; Medal with Purple Ribbon, 1973; Fourth Order of the Rising Sun Ribbon, 1980.

Sample photos

Book reviews

The Japan Ken Domon Wanted to Convey 土門拳の伝えたかった日本

Reviewed on: Dec. 12, 2000 Last modified: 2005-04-03 Retrospective collection of this legendary photographer's visual record of Japan, the Japanese, and things Japanese.


Published: Sept. 15, 2000 Publisher: Mainichi Newspapers Co. ISBN: 462060559X Price in Japan: ¥2,940 Qualities: Soft cover, B/W and a few color photos Size: A4, 255 pp. Language: Japanese

It's been ten years since legendary photographer Ken Domon died after being comatose for 11 years. But his memory and work still live on thanks to his former disciples who are now prominent photographers or people in a position to keep his memory alive. (Having a photography museum dedicated to him also helps.) Domon's work continue to be published in one form or another, and this latest book is one that should be noted. It was published to pass on the "Cultural Assets of Ken Domon" onto the 21st century. It is also a remembrance and testament to Domon with essays written by prominent people such as fashion designer Hanae Mori, kabuki actor Koshiro Matsumoto, painter Tadanori Yokoo, and photographer Shisei Kuwabara. They even had most of the past winners of the Ken Domon photography award write an essay on "Ken Domon and I."

The book shows 182 "nitty-gritty" photographs selected from all his major works on Japan made between 1935 and 1978. The photos are divided into four sections: Japanese Faces, Record of Modern Japan, Japanese Children, and Japanese Culture.

"Japanese Faces" show 36 portraits of famous novelists, painters, poets, artists, kabuki actors, and other noted figures. They include painter Shoen Uemura, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata, sculpturer Isamu Noguchi, writer Shintaro Ishihara in his youthful days, and sculpturer Taro Okamoto.

"Record of Modern Japan" presents 73 pictures of people in various places in Japan doing various things. See fish mongers in Okinawa, a farming family eating dinner at home, a street in Ginza festooned with Japanese flags to celebrate the fall of Nanking, an American MP directing traffic in Ginza, protest movements, and photos of Hiroshima atom bomb survivors.

"Japanese Children" are 27 candid shots of children in Tokyo's Koto Ward and in Chikuho, a now-defunct coal-mining town in Fukuoka. The kids are playing on the street, catching fish in the river, or studying at school. It was a healthy time when there were no video games.

"Japanese Culture" is a collectrion of 46 realistic pictures (including color photos) of Japanese temples (mainly in Nara and Kyoto), Buddhist statues, and Bunraku puppets and puppeteers.

The gruff-looking Domon was a leading advocate of realism in photography. His photographs therefore look very real, and sometimes too graphic (such as a skin graft operation on a Hiroshima bomb victim). Japan was his main theme and his photographs are a valuable record of Japan's culture and history. He has left behind a major legacy in Japan's photography world.

Biography in Japanese






営業写真に懐疑と不満を抱き、報道写真を志す。 1935:「放課後」「アーアー」がアサヒカメラの月例に入選。日本工房入社。

1936:「風貌」の最初の写真となる武田麟太郎を写す。この年、亀倉雄策と知り合 い、毎晩のように写真論を戦わせる。


「日曜日の宇垣さん」(ライフ)掲載。 1939:日本工房を退社し、国際文化振興会の嘱託カメラマンとなる。

水澤澄夫の案内で初めて室生寺を撮影。 1940:日本報道写真家協会が結成され常任委員となる。

1941:「文楽」(中央公論)を撮りはじめ、以後1943年まで続ける。 日本報道写真協会が結成され、常任理事に就任。

1943:「対外宣伝雑誌評論」(日本評論)で日本の対外宣伝グラフを批判。 同誌は発禁となり、振興会の嘱託を辞任。



1947:夏、次女真菜が防火用水に落ち死亡。深刻なショックを受け1ヶ月間仕事がで きない状態が続く。



1950:「カメラ」月例写真審査員となり「カメラとモチーフの直結」「実相観入」を主張、リアリズム写真を提唱する。勅使河原蒼風作品を撮影したことから蒼風との交遊が始まる。 「集団フォト」が結成され、顧問に就任。






1956:「フォートアート」の月例審査を担当、1959年まで続ける。 小市民リアリズムを自省し「江東のこども」の刊行を中止する。



1959:「古寺巡礼」「日本風土記」「民族の美」連載開始。 炭坑の悲惨な状況を社会に訴えるため、筑豊を二週間取材。帰京後、過労のため脳出血をおこし自宅療養を余儀なくされる。















1977:横浜翠嵐高校へケヤキ額入りの写真を贈呈。 「私の履歴書」(日本経済新聞)で25回にわたり連載。 1978:一ヶ月近く御所市の病‰@‚ノ入‰@‘メ‹@‚オ、待望の雪の室生寺を撮影。

1979:朝日賞・仏教伝道文化賞を受賞。 越前甕墓・永平寺・越前海岸を写すが、これが最後の撮影行となる。 9月、三度目の脳出血で倒れ、虎ノ門病‰@‚ノ入‰@A以後、11年間意識不明が続く。








1958:美術出版社「中尊寺」 研光社「ヒロシマ」 東京創元社「現代日本写真全集2 土門拳」


1960:パトリア書店「筑豊のこどもたち」 研光社「るみえちゃんはお父さんが死んだ」 美術出版社「日本の彫刻-飛鳥・平安編」




1965:東京中日新聞社「信楽大壺」 美術出版社「古寺巡礼」第二集 美術出版社「大師のみてら-東寺」




1971:毎日新聞社「薬師寺」 美術出版社「古寺巡礼」第四集 筑摩書房「荻原守衛」



1974:築地書館「死ぬことと生きること」「続・死ぬことと生きること」 駸々堂「日本名匠伝」 矢来書‰@u古窯遍歴」

1975:駸々堂「私の美学」 美術出版社「古寺巡礼」第五集

1976:ニッコールクラブ「こどもたち」 矢来書‰@u風景」 ダヴィット社「写真作–@v

1977:世界文化社「土門拳自選作品集」全3巻 平凡社カラー新書「東大寺」「お水取り」「京の寺・上」

1978:平凡社カラー新書「京の寺・下」講談社文庫「風貌(続)」 ダヴィット社「写真批評」 美術出版社「女人高野室生寺」

1979:ダヴィット社「写真随筆」 サンケイ新聞社「現代彫刻」 美術出版社「日本の彫刻」第一集 カメラアート社「信楽」

1980:美術出版社「日本の彫刻」第二、三集 集英社「日本の美-艶」

1982:朝日新聞社「昭和写真・全仕事5 土門拳」

1983:「土門拳全集」全13巻 「手-ぼくと酒田」








1979:「現代彫刻」 (より)