Born in Tokyo in 1938, Masatoshi Naito graduated from Waseda University in applied sciences and trained as a research scientist. A keen interest in the folkloric traditions of Japan led him to pursue a career in photography. His work on the ethnological customs of the region of Tohoku became the focus of his seminal 70’s series: Ba Ba Bakuhatsu (Grandma Explosion).
Early on in his career, Naito photographed the mummies of Buddhist priests who had died fasting for the salvation of starving farmers in Dewa Sanzan and then started making photographs that focused on the folk religions and ethnology of Tohoku. In this body of work (1968-1970), Naito portrays female shamans “Itako” who invoke the spirits of the dead. Female Shamanism used to be a widespread phenomenon within Japan, today it is limited to this region where the more esoteric sides of Eastern religion are still practiced. These female shamans photographed starkly by Masatoshi Naito are celebrating death. They mourn the dead by performing rituals and dancing all night to evoke the spirits of the deceased. These women are exuberant and celebrate death not life. Naito pays homage to this time-old tradition with his bright flash, graphically illuminating the characters he depicts. As Naito observed: “The vitality of women comes from the earth. They embrace everything like goddesses and the title Ba Ba Bakuhatsu (Grandma Explosion) came to my mind naturally.”