Tomatsu was born in 1930 in Nagoya, Japan. While still a student, he already had his photographs published by the major Japanese photography magazines. He took a job with a Japanese publishing company but left after two years in order to freelance.
Shomei Tomatsu helped found an agency called Vivo, a group of young photographers who reached a broad public during the 1950s and 1960s by publishing their 35mm black and white images anonymously in magazines. Vivo’s members also exhibited their work in galleries as individual artists. Thus Tomatsu’s name and work came to be indelibly associated with postwar Japanese photography; for many years his images were created within Japan for a Japanese audience. After his initial engagement with the devastation and military occupation of post WWII Japan, he recorded impressions of counterculture as the country made an incredible recovery in the 1960s.