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Youth In Revolt


Summer always spells freedom to me. When you're younger a release from the purgatory of the school system. When you're older at least the longer days offer more leniency in your schedule. Perhaps that's why as summer approaches I keep stumbling across photographic essays of youth in revolt that strike such a chord with me. I see these images and something within me just resounds "yes yes yes."

These photographs from Tokyo were taken by Michael Rougier and ran in a 1964 issue of LIFE magazine (that I'm incredibly tempted to try to hunt down via eBay or something). Much of this article about the series is a focus on the nihilism and the "lost youth." They almost sound like a generation of pill-popping Peter Pans. Perhaps the author is accurate in his observations and Rougier witnessed everything firsthand stating, "A large segment of Japanese young people are, deep down, desperately unhappy and lost. And they talk freely about their frustrations. Many have lost respect for their elders, always a keystone of Japanese life, and in some cases denounce the older people for “for having gotten us into a senseless war.” However, when I look at these images I see a sense of freedom--of that generation not lost but breaking free of the confines expected of them. Is it lost to seek an unknown path? There's also so much community in each image--dancing together, riding together, sleeping together--they have left more traditional society, but they haven't found themselves alone and bereft. The text just smacks to me of the generational and cultural gap between photographer and subject. Every older generation thinks the next one is lost and nihilistic...

Still, I'm in deep admiration of the gritty and often intimate photographs. Rougier definitely captured raw emotion with his lens and so many beautiful moments that now link us to this specific time of extreme change and social upheaval. I could stare at many of them for hours absorbing the contrast between fleeting "salary men" in the background and emotive teenagers in the foreground.

In the end, all observations from an outsider are just that--outside. I'd be much more interested in reading an interview or article written from one of the youth depicted either from 1964 or their memories today about what that period of life was like and learn about where they are now. How do you feel when you view these photographs?

6 comments:

ZZ said...

Japanese love to act rebellious, as long as there is a big enough group of rebels, and they are all rebelling in exactly the same way at the same time. And then, withing that group, the standard Japanese maxim still applies: "The nail that sticks our gets pounded down".

Rebecca, The Clothes Horse said...

@ZZ, I don't know I know it's a culture that values conformity, but sweeping blanket statements like yours are too general. It's still a society of individuals and it takes one or two people to start something that grows. Even like Harajuku street fashion--that didn't start with hordes of people dressing up on the weekends, it started with a few individuals and it grew. Lots of rebellions grow, yet no one says that all British people love to go punk and only do it in a big group...

evita nuh said...

beautiful pictures, I don't know how and why but there's always something different when you take pic in Japan, the color and the atmosphere always bring out some kind beautiful but dark photos there's always something mysterious about it

MarieBayArea said...

Love these photos Rebecca. All cultures are fascinating to me.

Sarah said...

What's interesting to me is that they could really be any teenage group from that era rebelling and being seen as "lost." That youth culture seems to reach out and break down cultural barriers, and suddenly, none of them are really lost at all. They're all in this big, giant group and it's kind of lovely.
I just love the feeling of these pictures. There's something so rambunctiously exuberant about them. They're almost cheerful.

Laura said...

I, too want to hear from the youth in these images. Hearing from them today might illuminate what was really going on. The relationship between photographer and subject is fascinating. Thank you for a great post.