Zen Foto Gallery is pleased to present “Lotus”, an exhibition of photographs by Hitomi Watanabe from 26 April to 18 May. This will be Watanabe’s fourth solo presentation at Zen Foto Gallery, following her previous exhibition “Tenjiku in Colour” (2022). The exhibition will also celebrate the recent publication of her latest photography book, under the same title, published by Yasosha on 8 April. Watanabe began travelling in Asia during the early 1970s, just as the student movement was coming to an end. Until then, she had been taking photographs to document the “Todai Zenkyoto” — student protests organized by the All-Campus Joint Struggle Committees at the University of Tokyo. This body of work is one of Watanabe’s most representative works and is currently on display in the “Absolute Chairs” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Saitama through 12 May. Upon returning to Japan, Watanabe began taking photographs of lotus flowers that symbolize her encounter with the original home of her soul during the journey. This exhibition showcases a carefully curated selection of images from her photobook, a compilation of the series she spent many years capturing.

Once upon a time, in Bodh Gaya, India —
Hot season, hot place where the temperature reaches 50°C during the day.

One early morning in May,
I was sitting by a lotus pond in the grounds of a temple.
I could faintly hear the sound of petals opening —
There was also a gentle fragrance in the air.

As I was enveloped by the faint fragrance,
The lotus forest in front of me shook heavily.
A village girl appeared, paddling a long, narrow canoe.
I wondered if she had come to offer flowers —
She picked the flowers that were still in bud,
As if she was weaving her way through the lotuses —

Years have passed since then —
When I first saw the native lotus at the Usa Jingu Shrine,
Memories submerged at the bottom of the water began to overflow —
I heard the signal for the beginning.

— Hitomi Watanabe

Artist Profile


Hitomi Watanabe graduated from Tokyo College of Photography [Tokyo Sogo Shashin Gakko] in 1968. She presented her works titled “World of the Street Hawkers” in her graduating exhibition, and continued photographing and publishing the series in magazines such as “Shashin Graphic” and “Shashin Eizo”. Around the same time, when she was taking photos in the streets of Shinjuku, she encountered and began documenting the Zen-kyoto student movement. In 1972, she began travelling through Asia. During her visit to India and Nepal, she felt she had found the home of her soul, and decided extend her stay. Since returning to Japan, her photography has become essentially a spiritual documentation aimed at conveying a message to the living spirits. Her publications include “Tenjiku” (Yasosha, 1983), “Mohita’s Dream Journey” (Kaiseisha, 1986), “The Era of Monkeys” (Shinchosha, 1994), “Myths of the West” (Chuokoronsha, 1997), “Open, Lotus” (Shuppanshinsha, 2001), “The Monkey Philosopher” (Shuppanshinsha, 2003), “Photo Documentation: Todai Zenkyoto 1968–69” (Shinchosha, 2005), “1968 Shinjuku” (Machikarasha, 2014), “Tokyo University 1968–1969—Behind the Blockade” (Zen Foto Gallery, 2015), “Tekiya” (Jiyusha, 2017), and “Lotus” (Yasosha, 2024). Watanabe’s solo exhibitions “Early Works: Seasons of Zenkyōtō” were held at Nikon Salon Ginza and Nikon Salon Osaka in 2007. She participated in different group exhibitions including “1968 in Japanese Photography” at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in 2013; “1968: A Time Filled with Countless Questions” at National Museum of Japanese History in 2017; “1968: Art in the Turbulent Age” at Chiba City Museum of Art in 2018; “Provoke: Opposing Centrism” at Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts; “Absolute Chairs” at Museum of Modern Art, Saitama. Her works will be shown at the exhibition “I’m So Happy You Are Here — Japanese Women Photographers from the 1950s to Now” in the Arles International Festival of Photography in summer 2024.

Publications & Prints