Vintage photographs capturing post-war Japan at Hammer Museum, Mar. 5- Jun. 4
A Letter from Japan: The Photographs of John Swope (1908-1979) on view at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Westwood from March 5 through June 4,
is the first in-depth presentation of vintage prints from the late Los Angeles photographer’s 1945 journey through post-war Japan. Shot during a three-and-a-half-week period, Swope’s photographs vividly document the impact of World War II on the local population of Japan as well as on the Allied soldiers and prisoners of war.
The exhibition presents over 115 prints, and gives insight into Swope’s larger pursuit of capturing the universal human experience by also including highlights of his work as a renowned Hollywood photographer and his international travels from the 1930s through 1970s.
Early on, Swope became best known for his insider views of Hollywood in which he captured both the glamorous and the mundane sides of life through intimate portraits of celebrities and behind-the-scenes views of movie and theatrical productions. He went on to have a successful career as a freelance Life magazine photographer, where he frequently covered similar stories on Hollywood.
The exhibition includes significant loans from the John Swope Trust, Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Yanamashi prefecture, Craig Krull Gallery, Ben Stiller, and other private collections.
Capturing post-war Japan
In 1945, John Swope was chosen by the influential photographer and subsequent Museum of Modern Art curator Edward Steichen to join an elite group of U.S. Navy photographers assigned to tell the story of World War II from the perspective of the average sailor.
The photographs, which would ultimately be disseminated in military and popular national publications, were intended to reinforce American patriotic ideals.
Swope’s three-and-a-half-week Japan assignment lasted from August 28 through September 19, 1945—a time of limbo between war and peace—during which Swope was assigned to document the release of Allied prisoners of war on a journey throughout Japan.
Challenging the Navy’s rules about fraternizing with the Japanese civilians, Swope widened his artistic focus beyond his official assignment to explore another side of the military struggle—the personal, moving moments of individuals and families struggling in the aftermath of war.
His poignant photographs of Japanese people going about their daily lives in harsh post-war conditions include timeless, poetic images capturing such moments as a mother pushing her child in a carriage through a desolate street, a farm worker wearing a typical bamboo hat walking in the rice fields, and the beautiful landscape of Ohashi reminiscent of traditional Japanese woodblock prints.
Throughout Swope’s Japan tour, he wrote an emotional and insightful 144-page letter to his wife, Dorothy McGuire. In his letter, he articulates his conflicted feelings about the war and his position as a representative of the victors.
Swope was particularly sensitive to how much the war had impacted the local population as he had visited Japan 15 years earlier as a young man. His letter notes these changes and tells personal stories about the prisoners and Japanese people whom he encounters and photographs. Swope begins the letter on August 30, 1945 while anchored in Tokyo Bay:
The Hammer Museum presents several free public programs related to A Letter from Japan, including gallery talks, screenings, discussions, and lectures: Discussion on WWII Prisons of War, Date to be determined, John A. Glusman, editor-in-chief and executive vice president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, with William Barrette, artist and writer; Propaganda Film Night, Thursday, April 6, 7 p.m., Screenings of Japanese and American World War II propaganda films; Lecture, May 4, 7 p.m., Anne Wilkes Tucker, curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Gallery Talk, Saturday, June 3, 2 p.m., Carolyn Peter, Letter from Japan exhibition curator.
The Hammer Museum is located at 10899 Wilshire Boulevard, at Westwood Boulevard. Parking is available under the Museum. Rates are $3 for the first two hours with the museum validation, $1.50 for each additional 20 minutes.
For current museum information, visit www.hammer.ucla.edu or call (310) 443-7000. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 11a.m.–7 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; closed Mondays. General admission is $5. The Museum is free for everyone on Thursdays.
John Swope. Arai, September 5, 1945. John Swope Collection, ? John Swope Trust.
Posted by culturalnews
at 00:01 PDT
Updated: 05/29/06 16:32 PDT