Tenmei Kanoh Strips Down Sexual and Moral Order

In 'FUCK', published in 1970, the photographer sent an explicit message to society and its moral laws in a necessary act of provocation.


WordsHenri Robert

“Fuck” - 1969 - Tenmei Kanoh

Created in 1969 in the New York studio owned by the contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama during an ‘orgiastic event’, the series FUCK by Tenmei Kanoh was published in 1970, with a new edition then released in 2012.

A photographer, writer, DJ, and actor born in Nagoya in 1942 and a graduate of Nagoya City Industrial Arts High School, Tenmei Kanoh began his career as an assistant to photographer Toichi Ogawa, then to Takashi Kijima. He entered the worlds of fashion and advertising and, in 1969, began collaborating with the men’s magazine Heibon Punch before creating his own magazine with Takeshi Kitano and Nobuyoshi Araki. The Tenmei achieved huge success between 1993 and 1995, selling 80 million copies. The venture came to a sudden halt in 1995 when the photographer and publisher were arrested, accused of breaching decency standards—mainly by showing pubic hair.


The photographer representing every struggle

Causing provocation in order to break taboos and move beyond them; Tenmei Kanoh’s work needs to be considered in the context of the wave of protests seen in the 1960s, when artists campaigned for a sexual and moral revolution. ‘For me, photography is ultimately just a tool with which to attack and protest against an era’, Tenmei Kanoh declared at the start of his career.

In the series, the artist showcases his models through skilful use of colours, sensualising naked bodies. He presents nude scenes between men and women, or between two women, in sensual or sexual poses.

In 2000, the magazine Egg published the results of a survey that named Tenmei Kanoh as the second most famous photographer, behind Kishin Shinoyama and ahead of Nobuyoshi Araki. Revealing another (but equally political) facet of his work, the book Sanrizuka1972, published by Zen Foto Gallery, is dedicated to the protest led by farmers, labourers, and students in the late 1960s against the construction of Narita International Airport. This event is known as the Sanrizuka Struggle.


FUCK (2012), a book of photographs by Tenmei Kanoh, is published by Akio Nagasawa Publishing.

'Fuck' - 1969 - Tenmei Kanoh

'Fuck' - 1969 - Tenmei Kanoh

'Fuck' - 1969 - Tenmei Kanoh

'Fuck' - 1969 - Tenmei Kanoh

'Fuck' - 1969 - Tenmei Kanoh