Nikon Bows To Extreme Right

In January this year the Shinjuku Nikon Salon in Tokyo agreed to show the project Layer by Layer of South Korean photographer Ahn Sehong, with the show due to open on June 26 and to run until July 29, 2012.  The pictures were also to be displayed at the Nikon Salon in Osaka  for a week in September. As a part of the pre-show publicity, Sehong gave a lecture in Nagoya, Japan on 19 May, and the lecture and show were covered in a long article in the local edition of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

When the Japanese Imperial Army occupied China in the 1930s and 1940s, a number of women, mainly from Korea, were abducted by the military, taken there and forced to provide sexual services. At the end of the war these so-called ‘comfort women’ were abandoned in China.

On his web site in the project Layer by layer Sehong writes:

When the survived Korean Comfort Women were forced to stay in China in 2001, the contact with them made me understand much better their situations. I saw the individual women selling things on the bus, or on the train, or on the ship for living. Such a miserable way of living seemed to mirror their past lives as the displaced. This harsh reality made me visit to China five times to find out them.

It’s worth reading his text there in full, and also looking at the fine set of black and white images. The women were all in their 80s and 90s when he met and photographed them, and his images reflect their stories with a great sense of intimacy and compassion.  He began photographing ‘comfort women’ in 1991, ten years  earlier, but although his pictures have been published in Japanese magazines, the Nikon show would have been their first exhibition in Japan.

The Ashahi Shimbun reports that from May 21, two days after his lecture, their were frequent postings condemning the exhibition on the Internet, with one describing it “as propaganda by a foreign nation, while another said it was an act of betrayal that would only serve to falsify history” and calls for people to protest about the show to Nikon.

The following day, an official from Nikon phoned Sehong and told him the show could not go ahead. Nikon have refused to give him or anyone else a reason. A Nikon official told The Asahi Shimbun “While it is a fact that we received several phone calls protesting the holding of the photo exhibition, the cancellation was decided on after comprehensively considering various circumstances.”

On the Nikon Salon site it says “Ahn Sehong’s photo exhibition has been cancelled based on a number of reasons. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this has caused concerned parties.”

The English Edition of Hankyoreh comments on the increasing activity of the Japanese extreme right in recent months since last December when the South Korean urged that the issue of the ‘comfort women’ be resolved. They deny that there was any abduction and continue to hold frequent protests outside the Korean embassy in Tokyo.

The Japan Daily Press links the cancellation to a refusal by the residents of Palisades Park, New Jersey which has many Korean living in the area to take down a memorial to the ‘comfort women’.

Japanese government officials requested that the monument be taken down, as it was reflective of behavior from a long time ago, and no longer represents the Japan of today. As expected, the town declined and its residents were furious with the request. As result, there was a small amount of protesting in Japan about Ahn’s planned photo exhibit.

You can read more about the Japanese reactions to the cancellations in The Japan Times, which reports that the Japan Visual Journalist Association is preparing a statement (and someone from it comments “This is basically Nikon’s self-censorship. Is it all right for a large corporation like Nikon to permit such a wimpy reaction?” ) They also report the statement of the campaigning group ‘Military Sexual Slavery by Japan During the Second World War’:

Ahn Sehong does not accept the cancellation of the photo exhibition, which (Nikon) cannot explain the reasons for. The world-renowned Nikon’s reaction damages one photographer’s honor and will be known by the global media.”

As reported there and elsewhere, there is to be a showing of Sehong’s work in Japan on the afternoon of June 10 in a community hall in Yokkaichi. But it deserves a much wider showing both in Japan and elsewhere. Nikon should certainly be ashamed of their part in this affair, and I hope the photography community worldwide will make its views clear to them.

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