Kōbō Abe as Photographer

Kōbō Abe as Photographer presents the lesser known aspects of Kōbō Abe's creative endeavors.

Kōbō Abe was a giant of postwar Japanese literature, but his creative genius was not limited to writing. Preoccupied with the human condition in modern urban society, the themes of alienation and isolation run through all his writings as well as his films and photography. He kept a camera close at hand through most of his adult life, and his superb photography—revealing a keen eye for the essence of contemporary urban existence—was considered revolutionary in Japan during the early postwar period. As a man of the theater, Abe was fascinated both by dramatic storytelling and by non-linguistic means of human expression as represented in film, dance, and abstract stage movement. During the 1960s and 1970s, he wrote more than a dozen plays and often directed his own theatrical works as well as Japanese productions of the plays of Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, and other European and American playwrights. From 1973 to 1979, he directed what was known as The Abe Studio, a group of actors and other artists seeking new forms of theatrical expression through experimentation with language, movement, and innovative stage techniques. The Abe Studio toured the United States in 1979 with Abe's play, The Little Elephant is Dead.

Kōbō Abe's ties with Columbia University have been particularly close. He was a longtime friend of Professor Donald Keene, America's foremost translator and specialist in Japanese literature and culture, who has taught at Columbia for four decades. In the early 1980s, Abe was instrumental in raising funds in Japan that made possible the creation of The Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia, and he was awarded a special honorary degree by the University in 1975.