Chewing Gum and Chocolate is a collection of Shomei Tomatsu’s photographs made throughout Japan, and mostly in and around Okinawa, between 1959 and 1981, with the vast majority coming in the 1960s. It’s not really a greatest hits collection, and not really a proper, unified monograph either, and I probably came across it while working on my review of the Provoke book back in 2020.
Tomatsu was the sort-of older-brother/favorite uncle figure for the Provoke-era photographers, and more or less pioneered many of the techniques and shooting styles that figured largely in the magazine (and that continue to figure largely in some of the Twenty-First Century work of some of its members). A few pictures—the pair on the front and back covers; the one of the girl blowing up the balloon—totally knock me out.
The plates begin almost immediately, subdivided by selections from Tomatsu’s writing from various journals, zines, and earlier photobooks. Negatives or earlier prints of several images that the editors wanted for the book could not be found in Tomatsu’s archive, and are reproduced as spreads or individual pages from his earlier books. I found it not overly distracting, and will keep my eyes open for some of his proper monographs. The sequence works with them probably about as well as it would with full images, and it all flows better than it might if it were purely a retrospective-type book.
According to a quote Jörg Colberg shares from a private email with Lesley Martin, “Tomatsu was involved in the edit and selection of the images up until the time of his death…” and had veto power over some images that Leo Rubinfien and John Junkerman, and the team at Aperture, respected as they continued work on the book. Still, and even if the sequence works well, this is a posthumous book and therefore has something of a retrospective fee, especially since it deals entirely with the time when the US remained a major presence in Japan, even after formally returning sovereignty to the Japanese (in 1952), and mostly in places like Okinawa where Americans remained a major presence through the 1960s and well into the 1970s.
Tomatsu is ambivalent about this in his writing: wholly against the occupation, of course, and also sympathetic to the view of the Americans as some sort of strange liberators force, bringing democracy and all that American democracy brings with it. Chewing gum and chocolate are delicious, after all, despite the health implications. The snippets of his writing make this clear, as do the longer pieces collected together at the end, following an essay by Rubinfien thatI maybe should read more closely than I have. That said, the pictures speak for themselves, and well.
Great pictures and writing, and a collection of Tomatsu’s work from the mid-20th Century in a new-ish edition for a reasonable price? Go Go. My copy creaks and makes cracking noises every now and then, but nothing to be alarmed about, and overall, I rate Chewing Gum and Chocolate a solid 4 stars.
I don’t know how many of these Aperture printed, but they still have first edition copies available nearly a decade (8 years at time of writing) after its publication. If you’re interested in Provoke-era Japanese photography, you could do worse than looking at work from the group’s elder statesman, and Chewing Gum and Chocolate is a good place to start.