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The Memories of Others - Akihiko Okamura

The Memories of Others - Akihiko Okamura

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The Memories of Others - Akihiko Okamura.

Published by Atelier EXB (Editions Xavier Barral) and Photo Museum Ireland is co-published in English by Prestel. It features essays by Pauline Vermare, Masako Toda. Sean O’Hagan and texts by Kusi Okamura and Trish Lambe.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, renowned Japanese war photographer Akihiko Okamura (1929-1985) created a remarkable, compelling and largely unseen body of work in Ireland, north and south. This exhibition will launch a major programme which will include a documentary film and the first publication on Okamura’s Irish work. 

After covering the Vietnam War, Akihiko Okamura went to Ireland in 1968 to visit the country of JFK’s ancestors. Soon after, in 1969, he decided to move to Ireland with his family. From then on, he continually photographed the Troubles in the North and his life with his family in the South, until he suddenly passed away, in 1985. His photographs of Ireland, which have barely been seen before, demonstrate a unique artistic vision. This uniqueness is partly due to the fact that Okamura chose to live in Ireland: of all the international photographers active during those years, he was in this sense a singular case of absolute commitment to Irish and Northern Irish history. This fusion with his subject matter led him to create images which were innovative both in terms of his own practice and of the photographic representation of the Troubles. His profound, personal relationship with Ireland allowed him to develop a new method of documenting conflict: poetic and ethereal moments of peace in a time of war. 

Unlike other representations of the North of Ireland at that time, Okamura’s photographs are almost all in colour. Made in the North as well as in the South of Ireland, his photographs broke from the photojournalistic tradition, creating a series of still lives and abstractions. Their gentle, muted palette operates in counterpoint to the violent situation in which they were produced; they are remarkably out of sync with the conventional, black and white, “heroic” photographic representations that have come to define this period. Okamura’s work reveals a more subjective perspective, often going beyond conventional photographic representations of riots, burning cars and bombed buildings, to capture quieter, intimate, quasi-surreal moments that reveal his empathetic concern for the communities he photographed. This intuitive narrative choice was intimately connected to the depth of his attachment to Ireland and the Irish people. 

While Okamura remains highly respected in Japan, his Irish work and experience, crucial to both his oeuvre and his personal life, had never been studied until now. 

This exhibition is produced by Photo Museum Ireland in collaboration with the Okamura Archive, Tokyo, and the Estate of Akihiko Okamura, Hakodate.

Akihiko Okamura’s biography:
Photographer Akihiko Okamura was born in 1929 in Tokyo. He began training in medicine but dropped out, joining the editorial team at New Weekly in 1961. Assigned to a story in Bangkok, he turned to photography, going on to record international conflicts. He distinguished himself as a very important war photographer in Vietnam in the 1960s. There, he photographed, among others, the prisoners of war held by the Vietcong after he himself was held by them for 53 days. His work appeared in Life and other major publications at the time. Constantly striving to tell the story of conflicts and of human rights violations, Okamura’s photojournalism took him to conflict zones from Ethiopia to Biafra, and Northern Ireland. He cited his own “dark memory” of childhood terror in Tokyo under second world war bombing attacks as the source of his urge to tell the story of conflicts through pictures. Akihiko Okamura settled in Ireland with his family in 1969 and lived
there until he passed away in 1985.

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