The Museum of Fine Arts has acquired 87 prints and the accompanying negatives from Kikuji Kawada’s landmark book about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, “The Map/Chizu.” The acquisition also includes the photographer’s notes for the project, binders with contact sheets, and a first edition of the book. Kawada, 89, is one of Japan’s most celebrated photographers.
In a statement, MFA director Matthew Teitelbaum said that the museum was “pleased” Kawada “has chosen the MFA as the primary home for this monumental work.” Teitelbaum added that the strength of the museum’s holdings in both photography and Japanese art put it “in a unique position to tell the story of Japanese photographers.”
Kawada, a founder of Japan’s short-lived but influential VIVO photography collective, first visited Hiroshima in 1958. Over the course of several years, he photographed the still-visible effects of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, evoking its psychological and emotional consequences. “The Map/Chizu” was published on Aug. 6, 1965, the 20th anniversary of the bombing. The book’s text is by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist and short story writer Kenzaburō Ōe.
In 2015, Kawada’s work was part of “In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11,” an MFA exhibition devoted to the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Kawada, in a statement released by the museum, mentioned how affected he’d been by the “intellectually luminous analysis” offered by the exhibition and its curators, Anne Nishimura Morse and Anne E. Havinga.
In that analysis, Kawada said, “I detected a subtle voice” that took “The Map/Chizu” “into a new direction. I have ever since envisioned the MFA as the place where the [book’s] images and history . . . may be retained and regenerated today and in the future.” He added that he felt “ever indebted and grateful to the MFA, its curators and to everyone involved in this extraordinary endeavor.”
The Kawada purchase is the latest in several notable additions to the MFA’s photography holdings in recent years. Others include its acquisition of the nearly 450 images in the Howard Greenberg Collection, assembled by the New York gallery owner, and more than three dozen prints by the Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. Both acquisitions, which took place in 2018, were accompanied by major exhibitions.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.