On 26 December 2018, seven women came forward to claim that they had been sexually harassed by renowned photojournalist Ryuichi Hirokawa. A report published by the Japanese weekly tabloid magazine Shukan Bunshun included accusations that Hirokawa had demanded sex and nude photo sessions from the women, one of whom was said to have been working part-time on Days Japan, the magazine he founded in 2004.
The photographer initially denied the allegations, stating that he had not misused his position because he had believed that the women were attracted to him. But two days later he posted a statement on the Days Japan website, apologising and announcing that he had been dismissed as director of the magazine. “At the time, I was unable to realise the feelings of those that were interviewed in the report,” he wrote. “I did not realise that I was hurting them…I apologise from the bottom of my heart.”
Hirokawa is known for documenting the nuclear meltdowns in Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima Prefecture in 2011, and the lives of Palestinians in Gaza Strip and West Bank. After his dismissal from Days Japan, the Kumejima Museum in Okinawa cancelled an exhibition of his work which had been scheduled to go on show on 04 January. BJP has contacted Days Japan for further information on this story but has not received a response to date; we have also not been able to confirm whether a police investigation is under way.
Hirokawa’s case came at the end of a tumultuous year for photography, which saw photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil leave VII and picture editor Patrick Witty leave National Geographic after allegations of misconduct. On 22 December 2018, NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, co-founder of the Nepal Picture Library and director of Photo.circle and Photo Kathmandu, was moved to circulate a “Joint Statement on Safe Spaces Within the South Asian Arts Community” signed by 275 notable figures including Dayanita Singh, Shahidul Alam, Sohrab Hura, Munem Wasif, Guerrilla Girls, Martha Rosler, Adam Szymczyk (artistic director, documenta 14, Athens/Kassel), and Frances Morris (director, Tate Modern, London).
“As active stakeholders in the South Asian arts community, we are concerned by the growing number of allegations of sexual harassment and reports of hostile work environments,” the statement reads. “These are serious concerns that need to be addressed with urgency.
“The art world is amorphous in nature: social mobility is dependent on informal networking and personal and professional spaces cannot be easily separated. Survivors who publicly tell their stories face serious forms of retaliation. They are reluctant to disclose their identities because they fear losing work. As a community, we commit to ensuring that people who are speaking out are protected, and that professional opportunities are not denied to them. We respect the truth and stand in solidarity with those who come out with their stories.
“We strongly object to the use of defamation as a method to intimidate and silence survivors and those who represent their interests. We call on all our peers; artists; curators; gallerists; collectors; writers; and heads of both public and private institutions to commit to the safeguarding of survivor accounts. We request them to rigorously advocate for open and supportive spaces that allow women, trans people, queer people, and those who have been disenfranchised by caste and class structures to voice their concerns and find support.
“We pledge to collectively reflect, ideate and act on developing the necessary legal and informal support mechanisms to address these challenges. We will do our best to protect spaces for open conversations, and uphold basic codes of professionalism.”