Episodes / Ep. 369 - Ivan Vartanian

369. Ivan Vartanian

Writer and Academic

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Ivan Vartanian is a writer and scholar on Japanese photography

Episode 369: Ivan Vartanian is a legend. Aside from being a publisher/Goliga, he is one of the most passionate researchers regarding Japanese photography and photobooks. I was fortunate to have this conversation. It could not have been better timed for my interests and to celebrate the new Goliga book Japanese Photography Magazines 1880-1980.

I would count this episode as a highlight in my conversational career. I finally got a chance to dig my heels in with the Japanese photography scholar to speak about his exceptional new book with Toda Masako and Kaneko Ryūichi Japanese Photography Magazines 1880-1980 with contributions from Fujii Yūko, Inokuchi Yoshio, Nariai Hajime, and Soeno Tsutomu. The book contains so many references that my head was swimming during the conversation. There was so much information present that I think we might have covered about 5% of the actual material in the book. We spoke about many things in the book, but also the legendary career of Kaneko Ryūichi, which cannot be underscored enough.

The conversation was reasonably nuanced for people interested in the topic, yet there was so much more to say. We spoke about Kaneko and the many people whose work and efforts brought the book to light. To understand the importance of Japanese photography magazines to understand the country and its photography more broadly. Instead of seeing through the Western lens of monographs and the cult of celebrity that many artists and audiences are guilty of engaging with, the book suggests a more considerable understanding of a nation and its culture through the lens of the medium. This should be underscored. We should apply this thinking to the West. Instead of seeing art created by an individual, we should see the larger continuum of time, history, practice, and criticism as inherent in producing work. It is much more collective than we like to believe. Do not rest on getting this book. It is an education itself.

Original Press Release

Magazines are not unlike photography itself: unruly, energetic, ephemeral and largely disposable. They carry and express the spirit of their moment like nothing else. This major study of Japanese photography magazines, produced with the greatest care and expertise, captures what it was that made the country’s visual sensibility so rich and so special. Alongside portfolios by the great names, published before their famous books, there is fascinating work by brilliant but forgotten image makers, along with writing and design that is just as vital. This is a landmark publication, allowing us to see a visual culture develop, explore and expand in real time, across a century of enormous change. 

—David Campany

Japanese Photography Magazines: 1880s to 1980s is a one-hundred-year history told through camera and photography magazines. With over 1,300 illustrations, this book shows how magazines continually served as a genre-defining platform. Starting with the earliest camera-related publications in the 19th century through to the end of the magazine’s golden era in the 1980s, this book immerses the reader into the work of well-established as well as overlooked photographers, representing a broad range of imagery and approaches. The book also features an ample amount of primary writings by photographers that were originally included in the magazine pages, providing essential background and context to some of the most iconic images in the field. Such writings include texts by Araki Nobuyoshi, Fukase Masahisa, Hosoe Eikoh, Kawada Kikuji, Kimura Ihei, Moriyama Daido, Narahara Ikko, Sako Kōichi, Yasui Nakaji, as well as writings by Tanikawa Shuntarō, Terayama Shūji, among many others. Each of the featured magazine stories are accompanied with authoritative historical information, which, as a whole, provides the reader with a balanced and nuanced survey of this history of Japanese photography. This gives the reader a grounding into the core concepts and vocabulary for understanding the definitive characteristic of photography from Japan. Almost all of the stories that are featured in this volume are reproduced in their entirety, making this volume an invaluable resource for researchers, collectors, general readers, and photography fans.


Japanese Photography Magazines, 1880s to 1980s
by Kaneko Ryūichi, Toda Masako, Ivan Vartanian
with contributions by Fujii Yūko, Inokuchi Yoshio, Nariai Hajime, Soeno Tsutomu

28 x 25 cm (11.02 x 9.84 inches)
500 Pages
1,314 color images
Printed Hardcover


RYUICHI KANEKO was one of the founding curators of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. As an expert on Japanese photography and Japanese photobooks, he authored numerous books and contributed to many publications and exhibitions internationally. Kaneko was a contributing author to The History of Japanese Photography (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2003) and author of Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s & ’70s (Aperture, 2009), Ueda Shoji: Photography Technique / We are all Amateurs! (Korinsha, 1999). He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology Shomei Tomatsu: Writings (Goliga, 2023).

MASAKO TODA is a photo historian, author, and curator of Japanese photography. She holds a masters from The University of Tokyo, Department of Humanities and Sociology. Toda is a lecturer at Musashino Art University, Tokyo College of Photography, among others. In 2006, she was awarded the incentive award by the Japan Society for Arts and History of Photography. Toda’s field of expertise is the history of modernism as well as postwar Japanese photography. She is the author of the photography monograph Hisae Imai, published by Akaaka Art Publishing, 2022.

IVAN VARTANIAN has edited and authored numerous books on photography and art, including Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s & ’70s (Aperture, 2009), Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers (Aperture, 2005), among others.

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Music: Algiers, with their full permission
Editing: Adam Mead
Photograph Credits: Ivan Vartanian for Goliga
Executive Producer: Brad Feuerhelm

Rights are reserved for Nearest Truth. No copies of this content are permitted without express permission from Brad Feuerhelm.

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