Sunappu: A Genre of Japanese Photography, 1930-1980

TitleSunappu: A Genre of Japanese Photography, 1930-1980
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsKai, Yoshiaki
AdvisorBatchen, G. (nr95036836)
KeywordsDrawings/Prints/Works on Paper; Japanese/Korean Art

This dissertation discusses the development of sunappu photography from the 1930s to the end of the 1970s, demonstrating its importance to the history of Japanese photography and art. Sunappu is a Japanese photographic term that began to be used in the mid-1930s, derived from the English word "snapshot." In the broader meaning of the term, it signifies instantaneous photography taken with a hand-held camera. Sunappu, however, often took on narrower connotations, referring specifically to candid photographs of people unaware of the presence of the camera. First and foremost, sunappu describes a photographic technique. However, it also constitutes a genre of Japanese photography with historical roots stretching back to the mid-1930s. Although the term sunappu has been commonly used in the Japanese photo world, there has been little attention paid to the concept of sunappu itself. That is, the significance of sunappu as an idiosyncratic genre of Japanese photography has been neglected. This dissertation argues the following points: firstly, sunappu is an indigenous tradition within Japanese photography that is epistemically different from the Anglophone snapshot. Many Japanese photographers, including established figures such as Ihei Kimura, Ken Domon, Shomei Tomatsu, Daido Moriyama, Shigeo Gocho, and Nobuyoshi Araki, worked in this tradition, inheriting and transforming it simultaneously. Secondly, sunappu is at once a technique, a genre, and a discourse. As such, it has a unique status within photographic history. Thirdly, sunappu photography addressed the issues which were shared by contemporaneous art and literature more significantly than usually believed. This aspect of sunappu made it a cultural phenomenon whose relevance goes beyond the relatively insular world of Japanese photography. More specifically, photographers utilized the technique of sunappu, i.e., candid photography, to grapple with central issues affecting art and literature at that time, such as the controversy over Riarizumu in the early 1950s (Domon), the Americanization of Japanese culture in the 1960s (Tomatsu and Moriyama), and the representation of everydayness in the early 1970s (Gocho and Araki).