New Photography From Japan

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Images by Mayumi Hosokura (left) and Hiroshi Takizawa. Courtesy Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery

Japanese photography has been my photographic bailiwick for some years now. It evolved from a great interest in the work of Minor White and his school, in particular their folding in of zen philosophy into the work. The “Provoke” era photographers with their attempts at photographing things that were “beyond language” attracted me greatly. I have amassed a small collection of Japanese photobooks and histories. While not making me an expert it does give me some breadth knowledge with which to discuss this topic with some small amount of authority.

I was delighted to hear from Russet Lederman about her curated show at Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery; “New Photography From Japan”. It is a small show exhibiting a handful of images from five contemporary photographers from Japan. All of the photographers are young and just starting to make a splash in the Japanese photography scene. The images are all very concerned with “process”. Some, like Taisuke Koyama who uses a small, hand held scanner to scan the light coming from a second scanner, make the process the entire point of their work. The patterns produced are visually interesting only for a few minutes but bring up important questions about the physicality of digital photography. Kenta Kobayashi plays with photography as a social process, taking raw and acid colored images and distributing them to friends via social media. Photography as “Happy Hour”. Some of his images were eye catching I must admit. Hiroshi Takizawa plays with photography as sculpture. His images of cement surfaces printed and then twisted and framed highlights the fragility of photographs as objects.

KCY 3858 Flash smudge 2015 inkjet print 33 x 23 in
© Kenta Kobayashi

Daisuke Yokota and Mayumi Hosokura, use darkroom processes to enhance their erotic and atmospheric images. These images are visually arresting and to me, the best in the show. Yokota’s process achieves a beautiful degraded, almost, dare I say it, a more advanced form of the Provoke era’s Are, Bure, Boke aesthetic.  Hosokura’s use of false colors gives her images of androgynous individuals a heightened sense of other worldliness.

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© Daisuke Yokota

It’s a shame that this show is so limited. They are many talented and young Japanese photographers at work presently. Photographers such as Yuji Hamada, Wataru Yamamoto, Mika Ninagawa, Yusuke Yamatani that show a greater range of concerns. And some slightly older photographers who have a special world view, Masao Yamamoto, Mikiko Hara are but two of these little known (outside Japan) but great photographers. An expanded show at a larger venue would certainly be warranted and a treat.

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© Yuji Hamada, Pulsar

Note: Shortly after posting this I remembered this set of interviews from Amana Art Photo. These four are really interesting young photographers. I mentioned two of them above.

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New Photography From Japan

Once Was Here

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Like many photographers I have lots of ideas swirling around in my head. I collect interesting sounding phrases and meditate on them. I try to get at the meanings of the words individually and then as a whole phrase. If I find it interesting enough it becomes a sort of model for my image making. And I work on several idea models at one time. There are a few idea models actively working away on my perception at this very moment! It gets hairy some times ;)…

There are a couple of idea models that I have been toying with for awhile. One is, “Private Compass”. Basically photographs that explicate the way I see the world. Another idea phrase currently active is, “Once Was Here”. I am not quite sure if I made this up or heard it somewhere, but it evokes both geography and history; nostalgia and evidence. The underlying structure is that Zen concept of looking at an object and seeing not only it, but it’s history; how it came to be, all the processes and beings and circumstances that caused it into being. I feel this conceptually most when I walk through City Parks and think of what the region would have looked like before people or before cities and also what will it be like after people, after abandonment. At these moments everyday critters become magical, little black birds are spirits and messengers from  the incorporeal realm much like they were to my Native American ancestors.

It is so easy now to make a technically good photograph. Have you seen those Apple ads touting, “Made with an iPhone 6”? A phone can make an image good enough to print full bleed in a major magazine. This is truly the age of the PhD photographer (Push here Dummy). Now more than ever the imagination, the mind behind the camera becomes of utmost importance. But hasn’t it always been this way? There is an Elliott Erwitt quote that goes something like this; “You do not take a picture with a camera, you take a picture with your mind”. So while this is not exactly a radical and new concept I think it has become  essential to anyone wanting to be creative with a camera today.

“Photography is a craft. Anyone can learn a craft with normal intelligence and application. To take it beyond the craft is something else. That’s when magic comes in. And I don’t know that there’s any explanation for that.” – Elliott Erwitt

Once Was Here

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If you listen to Cosmologists, the age of the Universe is 13.8 billion years old and if you listen to Einstein, who was not necessarily a cosmologist, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. One can then fairly conclude that the oldest light that can reach us here on Earth is 13.8 billion years old. We can never know about anything that is older.

The Universe is also expanding as discovered by Edwin Hubble.  At some point there will be or has been information that has gone passed the point of observability and has been lost to us. What if this has already happened? Then we are working with incomplete information. We will never truly know everything about the Universe because data has been lost. Our understanding of the Universe and reality will forever be incomplete.

Add to this the concept of Dark Energy where what we can actually see is only about 4% of the Universe. The rest of the matter that makes up the Universe is stuff that not only can we not see, we can’t really interact with it. As far as our understanding, we are living in a 4% Universe.

How does someone represent this visually? How can this concept be represented in a photograph or a painting? That is what I am grappling with currently in my photography.

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Incomplete Information