1951-1952 India – Japan – Korea

Werner Bischof leaves Europe for the first time. His journey in Asia, which lasted two years, begins in India.

Magnum Photos assigned every photographer to select a young man and woman in the country he/she was visiting – interviewing each using the same questionnaire, herein creating a fascinating portrait of a future generation. ‘Generation X’ was published throughout the world. The revenues generated enabled Magnum to undertake other less profitable journalistic projects.

Werner Bischof was given the assignment of photographing the war in Korea. The way there took him through Japan, which was in use by the Americans as a back base for their serviceman’s ‘rest and recreation’. Bischof got his work done in Korea, but it was Japan that won his heart. He stayed for almost a year.

1951 India​

Famine Trilogy, India 1951

Werner Bischof writes to Robert Capa in a letter, February 1951:

“After assessing the situation in Bihar, I think I may present the starvation problem in the form of a trilogy:

  • Hunger in Bihar
  • Steel for the industry
  • Harnessing hydropower

That would give me a way to include the development projects of the Damodar Valley and Jamshedpur and to show the people are taking measures to counter the various natural disasters.”

1951 'Generation X' India

In the 50s Magnum created portfolios for ‘Generation X’. Every photographer was assigned the task of selecting a young man and woman in the country he was visiting. The selected individuals were each interviewed using the same questionnaire, herein creating a fascinating portrait of a future generation.

‘Generation X’ was published throughout the world. The revenues generated enabled Magnum to undertake other less profitable journalistic projects.

Werner’s impression of Anjali Hora (23 years)

“Living in poverty, the dancer Anjali Hora is an unusual and energetic petite woman with an even temperament. Her love for her family has by no means rendered her servile, she is free and makes her own decisions. To study dance in this era was a courageous decision for this is an occupation that was regarded unfavorably until recently.

Early in the morning and evenings following teaching she takes care of her blind mother, cooks, cleans and finds time to jot notes about her own studies and experiences.

Anjali is a positive example of an independently raised girl of the East with the wisdom and intelligence to confront all the issues of life and to draw her own conclusions about the choices, rituals and thought of foreign and unfamiliar cultures.”

Werner’s impression of Ushakant Ladiwala (23 years)

“The spoiled Ushakant Ladiwala sits in a small air-conditioned room and conducts business for his father’s construction material shop.

He is representative of thousands of young business men in India, whose true religion is business and who have had the good fortune to be born into wealth.

Ushakant intends to marry soon, family and financial connections have already been discussed. He is not free to choose according to his desires because, as the oldest son, he stands to become head of his family upon his father’s death, and must therefore respect the wishes of his family even at this time.”

1951 – 1952 Japan​

1951 'Generation X' Japan

Werner’s impression of Goro Suma (24 years)

“As one can well imagine, the economic situation is terrible for students. Most of these men received a military training and experienced firsthand the defeat of Japanese militarism. Now they see things developing along similar lines and they don’t want another war. Every afternoon Goro gulps down his noodle soup in order not to notice the bad taste. He works in the Office of the Labor Union of university employees in order to earn the money to complete his studies.”

Werner’s impression of Michiko Jinuma (20 years)

“According to custom, a woman subserviates herself to the family; during her school years, she familiarizes herself with all the responsibilities of a good mother and a loyal wife. And yet today’s woman also demands the same rights as men. She goes to the theater, to the movies, sits in cafés, goes shopping. In short, she has become modern. 

But is she “Americanized”? No, she takes on certain customs that come from America, she admires an American washing machine or a modern kitchen, but she doesn’t have to have one – and that seems to me to be the critical difference, this self-restraint in character.”

1951 Tokyo

To Rosellina, Tokyo, 17 September 1951

“On a Sunday when the sun just wasn’t finding its way through the clouds, I exchanged my camera for a drawing pencil. You know best how much it means to me and how happy it makes me to come home with a few sketches in hand.

Children are the true paradise in Japan, so fresh, so undemocratic, so apolitical, gazing at everything with big eyes.

Their mothers always draw them away immediately, especially from the street, yet they would so much like to linger and peruse whatever thing has inspired their keen interest. It’s the same anywhere in the world where there are children, I know you share in this joy because you understand this and allow our little boy to linger along the way and meander through the streets…”

“…The trees are quite exquisite in Japan. You know the poems that tell of the wind blowing through the trees and the leaves. In the center of the capital with its ever increasing bustle, I have discovered some tree shapes of breathtaking beauty and have drawn them for you.

I cannot believe that these people will ever stop venerating nature, that a time will come when they no longer shelter trees and flowers in their houses as symbols of what is noble and pure…”

To Rosellina

“How beautiful all the characters are, and alas, how little time I have to devote myself to them.

I yearn more and more to devote my work to capturing beauty rather than the moralizing grime that surrounds me in the form of distinguished men in pressed suits.

Why is that? I think finding joy in nature is the greatest inspiration, rustling leaves that fall from the delicate boughs of trees, rising mist in the morning, the shimmering surface of the water, all of that…

This morning I made some abstract sketches – just taking pleasure in their forms, and then one of the photographers came along and asked me what was the point of that. What am I supposed to say?! …”

1951 Kyoto

“Yesterday, a glorious autumn day, I took a taxi to the emperor’s old country seat. On the way I found the silk washers … washing long streamers of colored silk in the river and hanging them out to dry on tall bamboo poles”

Can you imagine what a wonderful sight that is? All the colored streamers swelling and swishing in the wind, wondrous …

Naturally I couldn’t just drive past, and spent an hour there.”

1951 - 1952 Korea

1952 Reeducation Camp, Koje-do

“The first news from Koje-do. A group of South Korean soldiers fired into the wire enclosure. Twelve people fell. That meant that we had to fly to Koje-do. I was against it, but John thought it very important – so we flew off as if we were going on a Sunday outing. Journalists from all over the world, joking, cheerful. It became really clear to me here that I simply can’t participate in this.”

“For the first time in history, an attempt is being made at mass rehabilitation in wartime: 110,000 North Korean and 17,000 Chinese captives. The captives’ ages vary enormously, boys of six and men of sixty-three live together behind barbed wire.”

“In Koje do everything had been laid out, everything explained, the men involved were paraded in front of us, ‘news pictures’ were posed for. I keep asking myself, is this really life? Is this really so important that we need to broadcast a reconstruction to the world?”

Werner Bischof Estate
Am Wasser 55
CH-8049 Zurich

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