Masatoshi Naitō was amongst the only photographers to capture the legendary female shamans, known as itako, who invoke the spirits of the dead. Female Shamanism was formerly a widespread phenomenon within Japan, however, it is limited today to this region where esoteric traditions of Japanese folk religion are still practiced. The female shamans photographed are celebrating death, exuberantly mourning by performing celebratory rituals and dancing all night to evoke the spirits of the deceased. (via Michael Hoppen Gallery)

Born in Tokyo in 1938, Naitō Masatoshi graduated from Waseda University in applied sciences and trained as a research scientist. A keen interest in the folkloric traditions of rural Japan led him to pursue a career in photography, recording the customs and beliefs which first piqued his interest in developing a documentary practise.

Naitō’s time spent recording the ethnological practises of Tōhoku region in the north of Japan became the focus of his seminal series, Baba Bakuhatsu (‘Grandma Explosion’, 1970). In 1974 Naitō was invited to participate in John Szarkowski’s ground-breaking exhibition, New Japanese Photography, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and was subsequently included in the Barbican’s important survey exhibition, Beyond Japan (1991).