As I get older, summers seem to have grown shorter to me — now they are times I try to enjoy as much as possible.
Every time I go to the ocean, memories of days at the sea come back to me. When I go to see the summer fireworks, I am reminded of my family from days long past — their presence, the feeling of them around me.
I wonder why memories of summer always feel so vivid compared to those of other seasons. Perhaps it’s because of how lucidly one can see the breath of life — how the fireflies fly about, their lights flickering, how the cicadas rise from the earth, chirping through the entirety of their ephemeral lifespans.
Spanning over fifty years of his extraordinary life and world travels, Hiroji Kubota Photographer encompasses the best images from Kubota’s life’s work. Rooted in his experience of Japan, ravaged by destruction and famine at the end of World War II, Kubota’s work is characterized by a desire to find beauty and honor in human experience. The exhibition includes examples of all his key bodies of work, including photographs from his many extended trips throughout China, Burma, the U.S., North and South Korea, and his home country, Japan. As Elliott Erwitt states in his preface to the book, Kubota “has produced a remarkable view of our world.”
CV from Magnum’s website:
During a visit by Magnum members to Japan in 1961, Hiroji Kubota came to know René Burri, Burt Glinn and Elliott Erwitt. After graduating in political science from Tokyo’s University of Waseda in 1962, Kubota moved to the US, settling in Chicago, where he continued photographing while supporting himself by working in a Japanese catering business.
He became a freelance photographer in 1965, and his first assignment for the UK newspaper The Times was to Jackson Pollock’s grave in East Hampton. In 1968 Kubota returned to live in Japan, where his work was recognized with a Publishing Culture Award from Kodansha in 1970. The next year he became a Magnum associate.
Kubota witnessed the fall of Saigon in 1975, refocusing his attention on Asia. It took him several years to get permission to photograph in China. Finally, between 1979 and 1984, Kubota embarked on a 1,000-day tour, during which he made more than 200,000 photographs. The book and exhibit, China, appeared in 1985.
Kubota’s awards in Japan include the Nendo Sho (Annual Award) of the Japanese Photographic Society (1982), and the Mainichi Art Prize (1983). He has photographed most of the Asian continent for his book Out of the East, published in 1997, which led to a two-year project, in turn resulting in the book Can We Feed Ourselves?
Kubota has had solo shows in Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing, New York, Washington, Rome, London, Vienna, Paris and many other cities. He has just completed Japan, a book on his homeland and the country where he continues to be based.
2nd on Artnet’s Top 300 List of the Internet’s Most Popular Artists
Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki unseated Andy Warhol for the number two slot in September. Araki, who was recently featured in a controversial faux-massage parlor gallery installation in New York, is just one of several unexpected names in the top ten artists searched, which also includes Joel-Peter Witkin (seventh) and Jock Sturges (eighth). First on the list is Banksy who made international headlines with his “Dismaland” theme park.
As artnet writes:
“Araki, Within (eighth), and Sturges (seventh), and even the better-known Helmut Netwon and Francesca Woodman (ranked sixth and tenth) are all photographers who often feature nudes in their work. In other words, they may be getting a boost from the scintillating nature of their imagery, rather than their market prowess.”
Or in other words, sex doesn’t necessarily sell, but it draws a lot of attention online.
Issei Suda, a Master of Japanese Photography.
Interview by Roland Angst with Ferdinand Brueggemann
“Issei Suda – The Work of a Lifetime – Photographs 1968 – 2006“,
Only Photography, Berlin, 2011
Roland Angst (RA): Ferdinand, you were in Tôkyô for nearly two years – when was that? And what was behind your stay there?
Ferdinand Brueggemann (fb): In the late 1990s, I was there for 18 months as a research fellow at the German Institute for Japanese Studies. The title of the research project I was working on there was «The Influence of the German Avant- Garde on Japanese Photography of the 1920s and 1930s»; and then I was in Japan again in 2000 for several months to do research. Since then, I have been in Japan at regularly.
RA: Your work was already focused on photography due to your research project. How long did it take you to establish personal contacts to Japanese photographers and curators?
fb: That already happened during the first weeks of my stay. I had previously made two shorter visits to Japan, before I went there for my research, and got to know two curators – Hiromi Nakamura, from the Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and Masafumi Fukagawa, from the Kawasaki City Museum. They soon helped me to get in touch with a number of younger photographers. My daily routine during that period of doing research in Tôkyô involved working in the archives during the day and meeting photographers in the evening, there was always something new going on. At openings, exhibitions and award ceremonies, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Japanese photography scene.
RA: As far as I know, there still really isn’t a gallery scene in Japan like the one in the West. Where were you able to see the works of these photographers?
fb: The structure of the Japanese photography scene is completely different from what we are used to in the West. In Europe and in the USA, artists’ careers begin with gallery exhibitions, as a rule, and later progress to shows in museums, accompanied or followed by the first books on their work brought out by public institutions or private publishing companies. In Japan, on the other hand, the photographers first have a publicist or even produce the publications themselves. Another important step is for them to win one of the awards for young photographers. An exhibition at a recognized gallery, or even at a museum, often only comes after that. Yet, despite this fact, there are still countless photography exhibitions in Japan. I recently did some research and found out that on a single day in Tôkyô, exhibitions by roughly one hundred Japanese photographers were taking place. Many of these were, however, in what are known as “rental galleries”, spaces the artists rent for the equivalent of € 2,000 to € 3,000 per week in order to show their work. The one or the other of the Japanese photographers, with whom I had become acquainted, would always take me along to an exhibition opening or some similar event back then, because at that time absolutely no information on these exhibitions was available in English. It was only possible for foreigners to get to know the artists and their work, if another Japanese photographer provided you with the information or took you along with them.
RA: When and how did you first become acquainted with Suda’s work?
fb: It must have been while I was doing research in Tôkyô during the late 1990s. As a rule, I usually saw a photograph in a group exhibition or in some publication and then was so taken by it that I began to collect more extensive information on the artist. I remember that in Issei Suda’s case it was a picture of a snake winding its way up a wooden wall that immediately fascinated me, even if I was also somewhat perplexed by it.
RA: In the West, there is a tendency to associate Japanese postwar avant-garde photography only with names like Araki, Moriyama and – to a greater or lesser extent – the Provoke Group. Suda, as well as a few other important photographers, are, for the most part, only known to insiders. What do you think is the reason for this?
fb: It is a result of the way Japanese photography has been received in the West, it hasn’t progressed along a straight line in parallel with historical developments, it hasn’t been a case of first becoming familiar with the great masters and then branching to explore others. Instead, there was an initial tendency to concentrate on a very few photographers; hence, Nobuyoshi Araki was the first photographer to become well-known in the West, along with one of his contemporaries, Hiroshi Sugimoto, although the latter represents a completely different position. Nearly ten years later – in the wake of an exhibition that toured the world 1999 – the name Daidô Moriyama was added to this list. The focus in the cases of Moriyama and Araki was primarily on the Provoke era of the late the 1960s and early 1970s, while Sugimoto is still seen as a singular phenomenon to this day. Early on, there was little interest in how artists fit into a particular context in terms of the history of photography. This was, in part, a result of the fact that these artists fulfilled certain Western fantasies in relation to Japan. Araki stood, and still stands, for obsessive, excessive sexuality and its depiction. While the early work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, the Seascapes, were seen in connection with the philosophy and aesthetics of Zen Buddhism. The projection of Western fantasies onto the “Orient” is an essential aspect of the centuries’ old discourse on Orientalism. The West was always projecting images onto the Orient, particularly fantasies and topics considered taboo or unfulfilled in the West. While Araki clearly catered to some of these on a sexual level, Sugimoto – particularly in his early work – catered to completely different fantasies, namely those of a pre-industrial Japan, a land of geishas, Zen Buddhism and the tea ceremony. The West only began to take a notable interest in the history and underlying context of Japanese photography after we entered the new millennium. Issei Suda occupies a unique position in Japan, since he is not associated with any particular school. This is probably also the reason for his having received so much less attention than artists such as those in the Provoke Group, which formed around Daidô Moriyama, Nakahira Takuma and Yutaka Takanashi. His books are also not as well known in the West. Books by photographers are second only to photography exhibitions in terms of their importance for the reception of Japanese photography. Books by photographers are of much greater importance in Japan than in the West. In Japan, artists have traditionally presented their works to the public by means of their books and magazines and – as was previously mentioned – young artists are still more likely to have a publisher than a gallerist.
RA: Ferdinand, can you tell me, briefly, what role Issei Suda played in Japanese postwar photography and whether he had as much influence on his contemporaries and the following generation as the Provoke Group did?
fb: While Issei Suda’s position within Japanese photography is certainly an original one, he was not the only one taking photographs in this manner: with a medium format camera, precisely observing his subjects, producing prints of the highest quality, and painstakingly describing what he saw. We already discussed the fact that the Provoke Group was extremely influential – within and, especially, beyond Japan. Shortly before the Provoke Movement was established in the late 1960s, another group was founded under the name “Kompora”, and it can be seen as the diametric opposite of Provoke. The term “Kompora” is a typically Japanese composite created from English words; it was a combination of the Western terms “contemporary” and “photography”. The term was derived from the title of the exhibition Contemporary Photography: Towards a Social Landscape at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Both movements, “Provoke” and “Kompora” were formed as a means of countering journalistic photography, which was predominant at the time and which they charged with encountering reality through its ideological preconceptions. While the Provoke Group’s grasp of reality extremely radicalized photography by refusing to adhere to a traditional visual grammar; instead they held the camera at an angle, caused blurring, captured hard contrasts and grainy shots, while the Kompura Group pursued the opposite path by saying, “We must divorce ourselves from all ideology and approach reality in a coolly objective and unemotional manner, working as precisely as possible, while concentrating on common, everyday images and events.” One does not, however, find this form of cool description in Issei Suda’s work. Although he develops each of his shots with incredible precision, his images also always describe reality with some form of subtle distortion. His works operate in a highly charged space somewhere between the objective depiction of everyday occurrences and often quite unusual views of everyday life that seem to embody some sense of mystery.
RA: In your view, is there a certain group of works that you would single out, or is there a particular series within his oeuvre of forty years that you would highlight?
fb: Generally, the quality of his work is impressively consistent. Nevertheless, I would highlight the series called Fûshi kaden, which he published in 1978. Fûshi kaden is a discourse on tradition and modernity – and this was conducted with particular intensity in Japan – and some artists were, on the one hand, interested in the modern metropolis, particularly Tôkyô, while others were simultaneously moving back to rural areas and concentrating on the old Japan, which was in a state of decline. It was mainly Japanese photographers who depicted this contrast, the radical tension between the burgeoning hypermodernity of major cities and the often still very traditional life in rural areas. Suda traveled through rural areas for Fûshi kaden and many of his photographs were of traditional festivals – called matsuri. The title, Fûshi Kaden, is difficult to translate. It is a reference to a book from the early fifteenth century, a theoretical treatise on Nô theater, written by one of the most important figures in Nô, the Grand Master Zeami. As a rule, Fûshi Kaden is translated as “transmission of the flower in acting style.” This translation does not really provide much help, because the translation includes the central concept of the “flower” derived from Zeami’s theory of Nô theater, which seems rather foreign to us: Zeami tells us that the flower is a symbol of beauty, whereby in Zeami’s view, the ideal of beauty – the “flower” – can be found in 7- to 8-year-old children who, because they have not yet fully blossomed, embody the greatest beauty. On the other hand, the term “flower” refers to a manner of acting in Nô theater. Zeami called upon actors to intensely combine their innermost feelings with the most precise perception of their surroundings, yet to never reveal everything in their acting, thereby retaining a secret of their own. Issei Suda seems to have applied this connection between the inner and the outer, between self-perception and the perception of one’s surroundings, as well as Zeami’s idea of beauty, to his photography. A recurrent theme in Suda’s work are young people, particularly young girls, often photographed in traditional clothing, in the summer kimonos that are worn to festivals. One gets the impression that he is not interested in providing a description of the people in his photography, but that he instead turns them into actors in a play, about which they know nothing. Ultimately, it is the theater of everyday life that serves as a model for Issei Suda’s precise and, at the same time, mysterious images. Another important aspect in this series is Suda’s eye for the beauty of graphic patterns, structures that he discovers along the way, whether in the pattern of a curtain or of some piece of clothing worn by his actors.
RA: Is it correct to say that Suda succeeds – despite the strong influence of Japanese history and tradition on his perceptions and his choice of motifs – in creating a modern image of Japan, albeit one that is more classic than provocative, as in the case of the Provoke Group?
fb: In Suda’s case, we see things coinciding, and this is always an essential factor in making Japanese art so unique: the fact that the Japanese draw from different sources. I already mentioned this in relation to the topics chosen by Japanese photographers in the 1960s and 1970s: the tense relationship between tradition and modernity: this is also a conflict in the life and work of artists from this period, and it is most radically reflected in the life of the author Yukio Mishima, who, as a representative of the avant-garde, took his own life through «sepukku», the traditional form of suicide, in 1970. Before he became a freelance photographer, Issei Suda was a theater photographer working for Shûji Terayama’s “Tenjô Sajiki” acting troupe. Terayama was one of the central figures in the Japanese avant-garde of the 1960s and had contact to a wide variety of artists from this period. Terayama worked with Tadanori Yoko’o, for example, one of the most important graphic designers in Japan (and he in turn worked with the photographer Eikô Hoso’e). There are also a number of early photographs of Daidô Moriyama taken within the context of this theatre troupe. Hence, there was an extremely lively and intensive network within the Japanese avant-garde that served to connect all of the arts during this period. Returning to the confrontation between tradition and modernity in Issei Suda’s work: after the period he spent as a theater photographer, it was not surprising that his first book drew its title from a work on the theory of acting. Yet it is also important to note that he chose a title from the Japanese Middle Ages, the title of a book by one of the founders of the Japanese theater tradition. His choice of this title is a reference to the fact that Issei Suda apparently sees reality with two different eyes. He bears witness to the changes in Japan, to its having been propelled into modernity, yet refers to an aesthetic style that is centuries old; and in doing so, he makes use of a visual medium that was, in turn, introduced to Japan from the West. This, in my opinion, is what is so special about Suda: this tension between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between tradition and modernity. This precise observation and description, whereby the unusual tension in these images, which always embody a sense of mystery, is what makes the work that Suda was doing so different from that of other artists in this period. The Provoke photographers, whose best works hit the viewer like a slap in the face, fail to demonstrate this subtlety.
RA: Was Suda integrated into the Japanese photography scene? And when was he first noticed by Japanese museums?
fb: In general, there has always been a very strong network within the photography scene in Japan. Personal contacts, magazines and exhibitions always provided a basis for a very close-knit network. One reason for this was that in the early decades photographic artists received very little support from outside of the photography scene; moreover, up until a few years ago, there was not much of a market for photography, nor were photographs discussed in magazines or newspapers outside of the photography scene. People tended to work for themselves and their colleagues within the scene, and to provide support for each other in realizing projects and staging exhibitions. Yet, in his work, Suda really seems to be original; he also denies having been influenced by others, although he was certainly, albeit unconsciously, affected by the “Kompora” movement, particularly since an intense discourse regarding the medium of photography was being conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly in photography magazines and books by photographers. Unlike the Provoke artists, Suda did not establish a trend in photography, although his manner of seeing sometimes seems to shine through in the work of other photographers. Regarding Suda’s presentation in Japanese museums, I was surprised to realize that he has never had a solo exhibition in a Japanese museum, although his works can be found in many Japanese museum collections. Moreover, his work was first exhibited at Western institutions, such as the ICP in New York and the Forum Stadtpark in Graz. This is, on the one hand, due to historical reasons. Japanese museums did not establish photographic collections until the late 1980s or early 1990s. On the other hand, Japanese museums are very cautious about presenting Japanese artists. Quite often, Japanese artists are only appropriately recognized after they have had successful solo exhibitions in Western museums. Kusama Yayoi, the important Pop-Art artist, and Nobuyoshi Araki, as well as the current case of Rinko Kawauchi, are examples of this.
RA: Is it true that you, as the director of the Galerie Priska Pasquer, were responsible for introducing Suda in the West?
fb: I believe that the presentation of his work in our gallery marked an important step in acquainting Western collectors and curators with Issei Suda.
RA: Has Suda’s work been represented in the very few group exhibitions on Japanese photography staged in recent decades?
fb: Issei Suda’s work was shown in the important exhibition The History of Japanese Photography in Houston, Texas, in 2003. The catalogue from the exhibition can now be used as a reference work on the history of Japanese photography. It made an essential contribution to our knowledge of Japanese photography, particularly due to its in-depth research. Issei Suda’s work was also presented in earlier exhibitions. We have now largely forgotten that Japanese photography was already shown in the 1970s. There were three important exhibitions: New Japanese Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, organized by John Szarkowski in 1974; Japan: A Selfportrait at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York in 1978 – in which Suda also participated; and Neue Japanische Fotografie in Graz, in 1977. They seem to have had little effect back then. They were, unjustifiably, not recognized in the West as extraordinary moments in exhibition history.
RA: As you correctly pointed out, Suda engaged with Japanese history – particularly with Nô theater. How do you assess his decision to turn to images of modern urban Japan, particularly to Street Photography, within the context of his overall oeuvre?
fb: Along with Fûshi kaden, I see the book Human Memory, which was created during the 1980s, as an important milestone in his work. In it you can really see a change taking place, Suda has returned to the city. He photographs everyday scenes – but not necessarily scenes from the vibrant centre of the metropolis of Tôkyô, he instead shows side streets and areas that seem more like small towns. While in Fûshi kaden Suda repeatedly showed people in groups, couples and cliques, or people celebrating, sometimes assuming exaggerated poses, one notices that many of his photographs in Human Memory depict a sense of isolation.There is still the strange tension in Suda’s images, which is based on the depiction of the unusual in everyday life – which seem, however, somehow muted. The focus is more on the scenes in which people appear as isolated individuals in an urban context.
RA: Does that mean that he is reacting to what was then a contemporary trend, one that was surely quite confusing for the more traditional and family-minded Japanese?
fb: He is indeed examining – consciously or unconsciously – a social trend that became quite pronounced in Japan in this period. The major cities – above all the Tôkyô metropolitan region, which is now inhabited by over 32 million people – exerted a tremendous attraction; people moved to the cities and were thus torn out of their village communities. In the cities, the people now appear as isolated individuals. Tôkyô’s rise, the rapid changes in the appearance of the city and the radical transformation of the social structure play a central role in the discourse in Japanese photography during this period.
RA: Ferdinand, I thank you for speaking with me.
This interview with Ferdinand Brüggemann was conducted by Roland Angst on October 11, 2011 at the Galerie Priska Pasquer in Cologne.
Ferdinand Brueggemann Photo historian and Director of Galerie Priska Pasquer in Cologne, where he is responsible for Japanese photography and, since 2001, solo exhibitions on Shômei Tômatsu, Eikô Hosoe, Ikkô Narahara, Daidô Moriyama, Issei Suda, Rinko Kawauchi, Asako Narahashi and others. He has worked in the Department of Photography at the Museum Folkwang in Essen, as a research intern at the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, as a research fellow at the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tôkyô, as a guest lecturer on Japanese art and photography at the University of Frankfurt, and as an author, lecturer and speaker on Japanese photography.
Pale Pink and Light Blue
Japanese Photography from the Meiji Period (1868-1912)
Zartrosa und Lichtblau
Japanische Fotografie der Meiji-Zeit (1868-1912)
Museum for Photography, Berlin
September 4, 2015 – January 1, 2016
There is a very nice introductory text at the museum’s website:
In the latter half of the 19th century, Japanese society underwent a process of rapid modernization along European lines, which was encapsulated by the governmental slogan ‘civilization and enlightenment’. Emperor Mutsuhito (throne name Meiji) became the symbol of the political upheaval of this period. His reign saw the abolishment of the feudal system of the Edo Period and the 270-year-long military rule of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Alongside the steam engine, gas lights, and the hot-air balloon, photography was one of the seven key hallmarks of the country’s ‘unconditional Europeanisation’. First introduced by the Americans and the British, photography was seen as the absolute embodiment of Western technology and progress among those sections of society keen for Japan to open itself up to the world and embrace the modern age. After several foreign-owned photographic studios set up for business, Japanese photographers soon followed suit by opening their own. The clientele for both kinds of studios were typically long-term visitors and tourists, and there was a great surge in photography between 1868 and 1912.
The exhibition features some 200 images from the most important commercial-photography centres in Japan. The display opens with works by Ueno Hikoma and Uchida Kuichi from Nagasaki, followed by work by Yokohama-based photographers Felice Beato, Baron Raymond von Stillfried-Rathenicz, Adolfo Farsai, and Kusakabe Kimbei, as well as Ogawa Kazumasa of Tokyo. The show offers a comprehensive survey of the major themes and stylistic devices of the Meiji Era. The featured works range from ethnographic typologies and staged genre scenes to artfully stylized portraits, nature studies, and architectural photographs. They form a canon of photographic travel shots, intended for visitors on a Far-Eastern ‘Grand Tour’ as souvenirs of their trip for universities and colleges back home, or as visual records to bolster and fuel the exotic imagination. Geishas playing and dancing to the shamisen, samurai, sumo wrestlers, kabuki actors, temples in Tokyo, or Nikko, or on Mount Fuji embody the stereotypes of the paradisal land of the cherry blossom that had been widely perpetuated in the West since the 16th century. The photographs exploit these clichés. At the same time, they often seem to cast doubt on the authenticity of the depicted experience.
The exhibition features images taken from the collections of the Kunstbibliothek, Ethnologisches Museum, Museum für Asiatische Kunst, the Staatsbibliothek, and the archives of the former state of Prussia (Geheimes Staatsarchiv). Largely hitherto unpublished, the photographic material is now being presented to a broad audience for the first time. The show also includes historical books and travel reports, as well as coloured woodblock prints by such well-known artists as Kitagawa Utamaro, Utagawa Hiroshige, and Katsushika Hokusai. These woodcuts form a fascinating dialogue with the photographs they often inspired. The diversity of media on display illustrates, on the one hand, Japanese pictorial traditions and influences, while simultaneously revealing the fundamental Western influences on the photographic interpretation of the Meiji Era.
Die Webseite des Photomuseums hat eine sehr gute Einführung zur Ausstellung:
In der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts erlebte Japan unter der Losung “Zivilisation und Aufklärung” eine rasante Modernisierung nach europäischem Vorbild. Zur Symbolfigur für den politischen Umbruch wurde Kaiser Mutsuhito (Thronname Meiji). Unter seiner Regentschaft wurde das Feudalsystem der Edo-Zeit abgeschafft und die fast 270-jährige Militärherrschaft der Tokugawa-Shogune beendet.
Die Fotografie galt neben der Dampfmaschine, dem Gaslicht oder dem Heißluftballon als eines der sieben Standardwerkzeuge zur “unbedingten Europäisierung” des Landes. Zunächst von Amerikanern und Engländern eingeführt, verkörperte sie für die an einer Öffnung des Landes interessierten Kreise die westliche Technik und den Fortschritt schlechthin. Schon bald etablierten sich neben den ausländischen Studios auch japanische Ateliers. Beide arbeiteten hauptsächlich für Langzeit-Gäste und Touristen, wobei es zwischen 1868 und 1912 zu einem enormen Aufschwung der Bildproduktion kam.
Die Ausstellung präsentiert rund 200 Bilder aus den wichtigsten kommerziellen Fotografie-Zentren Japans. Angefangen mit Ueno Hikoma und Uchida Kuichi aus Nagasaki über Felice Beato, Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Rathenicz, Adolfo Farsai und Kusakabe Kimbei in Yokohama bis hin zu Ogawa Kazumasa in Tokyo, bietet die Schau einen umfassenden Überblick über die wichtigsten Themen und Stilmittel der Meiji-Zeit. Ethnografische Typologien und inszenierte Genreaufnahmen stehen neben kunstvoll stilisierten Porträts, Naturstudien oder Architekturdokumentationen. Sie bilden einen Kanon reisefotografischer Aufnahmen, die als Souvenir für Absolventen der Grand Tour dienten, als Beleg für Bildungseinrichtungen oder der exotischen Imagination. Geishas bei Shamisenspiel und Tanz, Samurai, Sumo-Ringer, Kabuki-Schauspieler, Tempel in Tokyo oder Nikko sowie der Fuji verkörpern geläufige, seit dem 16. Jahrhundert fortlebende Stereotypen vom Paradies im Land der Kirschblüte. Die Fotografien bedienen diese Klischees. Zugleich stellen sie die Authentizität des Erlebten vielfach in Zweifel.
Die Ausstellung zeigt Exponate aus den Sammlungen der Kunstbibliothek, des Ethnologischen Museums, des Museums für Asiatische Kunst, der Staatsbibliothek und aus dem Geheimen Staatsarchiv. Bislang weitgehend unveröffentlicht, soll das fotografische Material erstmals einem breiten Publikum vorgestellt werden. Dabei treten die Aufnahmen, ergänzt durch Buchobjekte und Reiseberichte, in einen faszinierenden Dialog mit Rollbildern und Farbholzschnitten bedeutender Künstler wie Utagawa Hiroshige, Kitagawa Utamaro und Katsushika Hokusai. Diese mediale Vielfalt stellt einerseits den Bezug zu japanischen Bildtraditionen und Einflüssen her, andererseits verdeutlicht sie die grundlegenden westlichen Einflüsse auf die fotografische Interpretation der Meiji-Zeit.
by Ferdinand Brueggemann
This is part three of of my essay “Yutaka Takanashi – Towards the City” for the “Yutaka Takanashi” exhibition catalogue, accompanying the show at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.(1)Essay: “Towards the City” [French/English]. in: Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City and Toluca Éditions, Paris. Published on occasion of the exhibition Yutaka Takanashi, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, May 10 – July 29, 2012
Scrap Picker and Hunter of Images
In 1966, when his series Tokyo-jin was being published, Yutaka Takanashi formulated his fundamental attitude to the medium of photography. As a photographer, he moved between two extremes – on the one hand, a “hunter of images” who aims to capture the invisible; on the other, a “scrap picker” who only picks up what is visible.(2)Yutaka Takanashi, in: Camera Mainichi, no. 1, January 1966, p. 13. Translation in: reference as above Masuda: Field Notes of Light, p. 144.
“[…] two conflicting creatures seem to have settled into my body. One is a ‘hunter of images’ aiming exclusively to shoot down the invisible, and the other is a ‘scrap picker’ who can only believe in what is visible.”
In the Tokyo-jin series, Takanashi was working primarily in “scrap picker” mode, photographing the visible elements of Tokyo, although the “hunter of the invisible” manifested itself in a number of pictures, such as Hachiko Square, Shibuya Station, Shibuya-ku, 1965, in which a girl appears to be reflected in the back of a man in a dark sports jacket leaning on a pane of glass opposite which she is standing.
The arrival of the 1970s saw Yutaka Takanashi assuming the role of the “hunter” to a greater extent, this time in the greater Tokyo area. Driving through Tokyo and its surrounding area, he shot industrial wastelands, fields and power stations, inner-city buildings and highways – all true to the Provoke aesthetic. The images are sombre, frequently canted and occasionally blurred, often with very stark contrasts, whereby it is the blackness of the pictures rather than the light that seems to hold sway.
These new shots, together with works from Provoke magazine and the Tokyo-jin series from the mid-1960s, form the basis for Yutaka Takanashi’s first independent publication, Toshi-e (Towards the City).
Toshi-e was designed by Kohei Sugiura, considered to be one of the leading photo book designers of the 20th century. Among the photo books designed by Sugiura are Barakei/Killed by Roses (1963) by Eikoh Hosoe, The Map by Kikuji Kawada (1965) and The Lines of my Hand (1972) by Robert Frank. (Roger S. Keyes describes Kawada’s The Map as “the most brilliantly designed Japanese book of its century”. Roger S. Keyes: Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan, New York Public Library, New York 2006, p. 256.)
The intricately designed publication consists of a black box and two books: a small “notebook” of yellowish paper and, on top of it, a magnificent volume of photographs in a black clothbound cover adorned with a polished metal plate. The grainy photographs are printed in gravure on heavyweight paper.
The “notebook” – entitled Note Tokyo-Jin – contains Takanashi’s long-awaited Tokyo-Jin series from the 1960s. In both form and content, Note Tokyo-Jin forms the foundation for the Toshi-e book placed upon it in the box. (According to Ryuichi Kaneko, people who purchased Toshi-e were disappointed that the Tokyo-Jin series was not published in a more elaborate form. See: Ryuichi Kaneko, Ivan Vartanian: Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ‘70s, New York 1999, p. 170.)
While Tokyo-Jin is defined by its clear reference to urban life in the Japanese capital, Toshi-e, featuring photographs from the late 1960s and early 1970s, sees Takanashi cutting his ties with Tokyo, citing no specific times or specific places. Unlinked to any particular locations, the unnamed shots combine to create an image of a country that has metamorphosed into a dehumanised, life-choking environment. All of Japan appears to be in the throes of urbanisation or changing into an industrial landscape. People now only appear in the wings and, if seen at all, look like aliens in futuristic clothing.
In spite of the vast differences in designs, the boundaries between Tokyo-Jin and Toshi-e are fluid. Toshi-e contains a number of images from Tokyo-Jin and both series see Takanashi touch upon the same subtheme – often through the barest insinuations – namely the encroachment of US consumer culture on everyday Japanese life. We see for instance a solitary man sitting by the sea with, on closer inspection, a Coca-Cola logo on his T-shirt; or a girl standing in front of a temple sporting a pair of Ray-Bans.
Today, Toshi-e is seen as both the peak and the endpoint of the Provoke era. It is well worth noting that, with the gloomy vision of the future conveyed in Toshi-e, Takanashi flew in the face of the 1970s zeitgeist. The critical debate that took place in the 1960s about the collision – nowhere more apparent than in Tokyo – between tradition and modernity and between homegrown and Western culture was, in the following decade, drowned out by a consumer culture that crept into all areas of life. Yutaka Takanashi’s photographer colleagues turned their attention to other themes. By as early as 1969, Shomei Tomatsu had already turned his back on Tokyo in favour of Okinawa (photo books Okinawa Okinawa Okinawa, 1969, and Pencil of the Sun, 1972). In his masterpiece Bye Bye Photography (1972), Daido Moriyama explored the possibilities and boundaries of photography as a medium and published, among other things, shots taken on a trip to North Honshu in Tales of Tono (1976). The general focus of Japanese photography was now on rural Japan with its villages and small towns: among other things, Kazuo Kitai’s Mura-e [Towards the Village, 1980(3) In 1975, Kazuo Kitai received the newly created Kimura Ihee Award for Mura-e.] took up the counterposition to Toshi-e, Hiromi Tsuchida’s debut “Gods of the Earth” (1976) focused on people in Japan’s hinterland, and Issei Suda’s “Fushi Kaden” (1978) showed people at traditional festivals in various prefectures.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Essay: “Towards the City” [French/English]. in: Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City and Toluca Éditions, Paris. Published on occasion of the exhibition Yutaka Takanashi, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, May 10 – July 29, 2012|
|2.||↑||Yutaka Takanashi, in: Camera Mainichi, no. 1, January 1966, p. 13. Translation in: reference as above Masuda: Field Notes of Light, p. 144.|
|3.||↑||In 1975, Kazuo Kitai received the newly created Kimura Ihee Award for Mura-e.|
by Ferdinand Brueggemann
This is part two of my essay “Yutaka Takanashi – Towards the City” for the “Yutaka Takanashi” exhibition catalogue, accompanying the show at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. (Essay: “Towards the City” [French/English]. in: Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City and Toluca Éditions, Paris. Published on occasion of the exhibition Yutaka Takanashi, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, May 10 – July 29, 2012)
[Part 1 here]
The “Provoke” era
The economic upturn of the 1960s, which established Japan as the third-largest economic power on Earth, took its toll on Japanese society. Particularly in the major cities, the boom led to the decline of traditional structures which in turn left a feeling of uprooting and perspectivelessness among the younger generation.
Especially in the universities, a fundamental opposition developed against the new political, economic and cultural structures that had emerged in the post-war period. In 1968, the resistance manifested itself once again in student protests against the pending extension of the “ANPO” security pact and the Vietnam War.
The sense of alienation and rootlessness felt by the young generation found artistic expression above all in photography from the end of the 1960s. (See also: Charles Merewether: “Disjunctive Modernity. The Practice of Artistic Experimentation in Postwar Japan”, in: Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art. Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950-1970, Los Angeles 2007, pp. 24-29.)
This phase of the upheaval was documented by Shomei Tomatsu in his photo book Oo! Shinjuku. A resident of the Shinjuku district, he zoned in on the public and private lives of the young generation and the student protests which began in Shinjuku.
In the 1960s, Tomatsu had risen to become Japan’s leading photographer and, since his time at VIVO, was both mentor to and role model for the up-and-coming generation of young photographers. In 1968, Shomei Tomatsu took over the organisation of the first major retrospective exhibition of Japanese photography entitled “One Hundred Years of Photography: A Historical Exhibition of Japanese Photographic Expression”.(1)In this regard, a leading role was assumed by the Japan Professional Photographers Society. 1,500 photographic works were chosen out of some 500,000 submissions, and were exhibited in the Seibo Department Store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, in June 1968. Among others, Tomatsu engaged Koji Taki and Takuma Nakahira, the young editor of the Gendai no me (Modern Eye) magazine, to work on this exhibition. Under Tomatsu’s influence, Nakahira had begun to practise photography in the mid-1960s, learning the required techniques with the aid of Daido Moriyama. (Ibid. p. 56, and see Akihito Yasumi: “Journey to the Limits of Photography: The Heyday of Provoke 1964-1973”, in: Christoph Schifferli (editor): The Japanese Box, Paris/Göttingen 2001, p. 12.) However, in the course of the preparations for the exhibition and the attendant discussions about the state of Japanese photography, Nakahira, Taki and others began to distance themselves from Shomei Tomatsu’s documentary yet symbolically charged approach to photography. (Ibid. p. 55.)
The exhibition on the history of Japanese photography opened in June 1968; shortly afterwards, in October of the same year, the youth revolt culminated in the anti-war demonstrations, which involved severe clashes. November 1968 also saw the appearance of the first issue of photo magazine Provoke, with which photography established itself as the medium of artistic expression at the end of the 1960s. (See. Charles Merewether: “Disjunctive Modernity. The Practice of Artistic Experimentation in Postwar Japan”, in: Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art. Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950-1970, Los Angeles 2007, pp. 24–29.) The work of the photographers involved in the magazine was so powerful that its aesthetic approach is still used to this day by Japanese and Western photographers, notable examples being the works of Osamu Kanemura and Antoine D’Agata.
Provoke was founded by Takuma Nakahira, his friend Yutaka Takanashi, critic Koji Taki (1928-2011)(2)Obituary on Koji Taki at Art It online magazine, 2011., and poet and critic Takahiko Okada (1939-1997). The first issue began with the Provoke Manifesto, signed by the four founders and postulating the alienation of language and reality and identifying photography as the medium that was capable of conveying reality – even if “only a fragment”. For the Provoke artists, the photographic image existed as “provocative documents of thought”, transcending language and ideological baggage:
“Today, when words have lost their material base – in other words, their reality – and seem suspended in mid-air, a photographer’s eye can capture fragments of reality that cannot be expressed in language as it is. He can submit those images as documents to be considered alongside language and ideology. This is why, brash as it may seem, Provoke has the subtitle ‘provocative documents of thought’.” (Provoke No. 1, p. 1. Translation from: Gerry Badger: “Image of the City – Yutaka Takanashi’s Toshi-e”, in: Yutaka Takanshi. Toshi-e (Towards the City). Books on Books 6, New York 2010, unpaginated.)
At Nakahira’s invitation, Daido Moriyama came on board for the second edition. Only three issues of the magazine were published in 1968 and 1969 in a small print run, and the group disbanded in early 1970. However, there followed three books by Takuma Nakahira (For a Language to Come), Daido Moriyama (Bye Bye Photography) and Yutaka Takanashi (Toshi-e – Towards the City), cementing the status of the ephemeral Provoke movement as a milestone in photographic history.
The magazine helped to establish a style which deliberately broke all the rules of traditional documentary photography. True to the concise Japanese description “are, bure, boke”, the photographs of streets, people and landscapes are indeed “grainy, blurred and out of focus”, canted images with stark contrasts. The primary purpose of these photographs is no longer to communicate information, but rather to convey atmosphere and raw energy.
To begin with, Yutaka Takanashi was shocked by the radical new aesthetic, which was propagated above all by Takuma Nakahira and Daido Moriyama. (See Rei Masuda: “Field Notes of Light”, in: Yutaka Takanashi. Field Notes of Light, exh. cat National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo 2009, pp. 144-149, here p. 145.) However, as he himself was unhappy with the artistic options that had existed to date and was actively looking for a new aesthetic, Takanashi assumed the raw style of his two fellow artists:
“Photography was too explanatory, too narrational for me. […] It was natural for me to join Provoke. […] They said they were photographing atmosphere. But I was very precise and careful. […] But my work changed after I saw how they worked. I saw that I could not control everything. I understood that photography is only a fragment. I used to be a photographer who interprets things via language. And then Provoke changed me.” (Yutaka Takanashi, in: Déjà-vu, no. 14, Tokyo 1993.)
Nonetheless, Takanashi continued to see the photograph as conveying more than mere atmosphere and even after adopting the Provoke style, his works retained a rational, intellectual component.
This was evident in 1974 in his principal work Toshi-e (Towards the City), on which he worked in the years after the end of the Provoke group in 1970. Both internal and external reasons can be said to have led to the disbanding of Provoke. From the outset, it was a group of individuals brought together by a new idea for the medium of photography, but who set off in different directions again after working
(3)In the foreword to the third and last issue of Provoke magazine, Koji Taki wrote: “The photographs by the four photographers shown here are very different, and they share nothing, methodically speaking. On the contrary, they clearly conflict.” In: reference as above: Yasumi: Journey to the Limits of Photography, page 17. At the beginning of 1970, the social and political crisis had come to an end, and with it the era of change in Japanese society. The student demonstrations had been quelled by the Japanese authorities, the “ANPO” security pact between Japan and the USA was to be extended, and the New Left withdrew in frustration.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||In this regard, a leading role was assumed by the Japan Professional Photographers Society. 1,500 photographic works were chosen out of some 500,000 submissions, and were exhibited in the Seibo Department Store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, in June 1968.|
|2.||↑||Obituary on Koji Taki at Art It online magazine, 2011.|
|3.||↑||In the foreword to the third and last issue of Provoke magazine, Koji Taki wrote: “The photographs by the four photographers shown here are very different, and they share nothing, methodically speaking. On the contrary, they clearly conflict.” In: reference as above: Yasumi: Journey to the Limits of Photography, page 17.|
by Ferdinand Brueggemann
In the past years Priska Pasquer has been introducing the photographic work of Yutaka Takanashi to the West. In 2009 Priska Pasquer and I co-edited the the first Western monograph on the artist: “Yutaka Takanashi. Photography 1965-74″, (to which I contributed the essay “Takanashi’s Magnetic Storm“.)
In 2012 Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson held the first Yutaka Takanashi museum exhibition outside Japan. On this occasion I wrote the this more extended essay “Towards the City” for the catalogue to the show. (Essay: “Towards the City” [French/English]. in: Yutaka Takanashi, published by Éditorial RM, Mexico City and Toluca Éditions, Paris. Published on occasion of the exhibition Yutaka Takanashi, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, May 10 – July 29, 2012) This essay concentrates on Takanashi’s series Toshi-e as well as his subsequent series Machi (Town) and the (unpublished) series on bars in Shinjuku, Tokyo. And since Yutaka Takanashi was the co-founder of the legendary Provoke group it includes a short history of the Provoke era. (A detailed description of the history of the Provoke era isn’t available outside Japan yet…)
The metropolis of Tokyo is the central theme of 20th century Japanese photography – from the artistic elevation of the city in pictorial images in the early days of the century to the dynamic representation of architecture and urban life based on the “new photography” (a literal translation of the Japanese “shinko shashin”) to the photographic documentation of destruction and reconstruction in the post-war period. In all of its facets, the city of Tokyo reflects the radical change that Japan underwent on its way to becoming an industrial society; it is a breeding ground for social change that also symbolises the collision of tradition and modernity.
Tokyo and its people are also the central theme in the work of Yutaka Takanashi, whose first significant series on the metropolis – Tokyo-jin (“People in Tokyo”) – was presented in Camera Mainichi magazine in 1966. By this time, Yutaka Takanashi had already made a name for himself as a professional photographer. After completing his studies in Photography at Nihon University and his exams at Kuwasa Design School, he worked as a commercial photographer at Nippon Design Center, one of Japan’s leading advertising agencies. In 1964 and 1965, he received an award from Tokyo Art Directors Club ADC for his advertising photography; in 1965, he was also presented with the Newcomer Award from Japan Photo Critics Association for his series of studio portraits entitled Otsukaresama.
The Tokyo-jin series from 1965 is Yutaka Takanashi’s first great non-commissioned work. It depicts people in public spaces – on the street, travelling to work on the metro, shopping and engaged in leisure activities – creating a kaleidoscopic picture of downtown Tokyo.
One striking aspect is that virtually only people of working age are depicted in the series, with children and old people very much confined to the margins. With this series, Yutaka Takanashi unveils a whole new image of Tokyo. It is no longer the city of “little people”, as it had still been conveyed in the 1950s, for example by Japanese documentary photographer Kimura Ihee. Ihee’s photographs show Tokyo as a city in which life is played out in the shitamachi suburbs, where ordinary people live and work and where much of life takes place on the street in front of the low-rise residential buildings, small shops and businesses.
By contrast, Yutaka Takanashi shines a spotlight on life in the urban canyons between the concrete and glass walls of the new buildings in Shinjuku, the most densely populated district of Tokyo, which transformed itself into the modern heart of the city during the post-war reconstruction period after 1945. One aspect shared by all of Takanashi’s protagonists is that, whether in large crowds or small groups, they generally appear isolated and out of touch with their environment.
Yutaka Takanashi illustrates the far-reaching change that Tokyo underwent following the Second World War. As Japan rose to become a global economic power, its capital city became a magnet for young, mobile people from all over the country, who – frequently without family ties – aimed to join the new middle class and participate in the emerging consumer culture. Western business attire now dominated the streets of downtown Tokyo, with businesses and offices now populated by “salarymen” and female employees, saleswomen and “office ladies”.
In his photographs, Yutaka Takanashi repeatedly makes more or less subtle references to Western culture – for instance the Coca-Cola symbol on a T-shirt worn by a solitary man sitting on a wall – a testimony to the influence of the occupying US forces since 1945, something that has helped to shape everyday life in Japan since then.
The Tokyo-jin series made great waves in the Japanese photography scene and there was speculation that it would soon be published as a book. (Ryuichi Kaneko in: Ryuichi Kaneko and Ivan Vartanian: Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ‘70s, New York 2009, p. 170.) However, this did not take place until the 1970s, and in a wholly unexpected form.
Takanashi’s series Tokyo-jin was produced at a time of radical political upheaval in Japanese society, a fact that was also reflected in the photography. One of the first high points for post-war Japanese photography came in 1959 with the founding of the VIVO group, which also acted as an agency until it disbanded in 1961. Bringing together important Japanese photographers such as Ikko Narahara, Shomei Tomatsu, Eikoh Hosoe and Kikuji Kawada, VIVO became the “epicentre” of Japanese photography in the early 1960s. (See Kotaro Izawa: “The Evolution of Postwar Photography”, in: The History of Japanese Photography, edited by Anne Wilkes Tucker et al Exh. cat Museum of Fine Arts Houston, New Haven/London 2003, pp. 208-259, here p. 217.)
The outlook of the agency and its member photographers was shaped by an underlying debate on the direction of photography at the beginning of the 1960s. This culminated with a dispute between Yonosuke Natori, one of the co-founders of modern Japanese photojournalism in the 1930s, and Shomei Tomatsu, soon to rise to fame as Japan’s leading postwar photographer. Natori claimed that the primary aim of documentary photography was to tell a story, and that the content, form and static detail should be chosen with a view to rendering this story as easy as possible to understand, and that the photographer was subordinate to the picture. However, the VIVO photographers did not subscribe to this view: they rejected classical photojournalism, linear narratives and the apparent objectivity of the mechanical representation of reality. They saw photography above all as a medium for individual expression and sought to use and expand its inherent artistic possibilities. For them, the image conveyed meaning far beyond the objects depicted, causing the VIVO photographers also to be known as the “Image Generation”.
As well as being a year of conflict about the future of photography, 1960 was also the year in which the political struggle in Japan reached its high point. This had a lasting politicising effect on 1960s art and cultivated the development of artistic movements that consciously opposed the establishment. This was triggered by the security pact negotiated between Japan and the USA (“antei-ho”, or “ANPO” for short), which had been signed at the same time as the (partial) peace treaty of 1952 and was due to be revised in 1960. The Japanese left fought vehemently against the revision and subsequent extension of the treaty, which it saw as a symbol of the growing negative US influence on Japan. This also increased political awareness among artists, who cast a critical eye on the changes seen by Japan during the strong economic growth of the 1960s. Photographic projects spawned by this included Kikuji Kawada’s bleak vision of Japan published under the title The Map, or Shomei Tomatsu’s no-holds-barred documentation of the consequences of the Nagasaki atom bomb, 11:02 Nagasaki.
Although the open, non-narrative form of Yutaka Takanashi’s Tokyo-jin series owes a debt to Shomei Tomatsu’s subjective documentary approach, his photography can by no means be seen as being political. Rather, the series is a restrained, broad-based commentary on the realities of urban 1960s Japan, which contains references to the influence of US consumer culture.
Part 2 Here
The Women’s Decade
Das Jahrzehnt der Frauen
by Ferdinand Brueggemann
The first decade of the new millennium saw a number of young female photographers take the Japanese photography scene by storm, adopting original positions, developing individual imagery and looking at the world from entirely new perspectives.
One specifically Japanese phenomenon in the 1990s was “girly photography”. With its diary-oriented snapshot aesthetic, this approach documented in its entirety the life and attitude of young urban women of the time. Against the backdrop of the economic crisis and lack of career opportunities, the photographic works of the girly photographers were an important expression of female self-identification in a society that still very much retained its hierarchical and patriarchal structure. Even though many of these photographers went on to become national stars, the movement’s self-absorbed and limited thematic outlook soon also led it to be criticised as narcissistic. Ultimately, most female photographers of this generation were unable to secure a lasting foothold in the photography scene.
At the same time, however, it was instrumental in giving young women access to the medium – young women who, in the years that followed, succeeded in establishing themselves as professionals of equal standing in the world of Japanese photography. This trend, entirely unique to Japan, led to an upsurge in the number of female photographers at its photographic academies and universities: at the beginning of the 2000s, around 50% of people training as photographers were women. Before long, photographers from this new generation were being singled out for the most important awards for young photography, such as the Canon Contest of Photography. The two best-known veterans of “girly photography” today are HIROMIX, who has devoted herself to photographing commercial portraits of stars and starlets, and MIKA NINAGAWA, who is now one of the most successful photographers in Japan.
As well as publishing well over 30 photo books, MIKA NINAGAWA has produced music videos for one of the best-known Japanese pop groups, produced two feature films, worked together with international fashion brands and held major solo exhibitions in Japanese museums. The spectrum of her motifs ranges from portraits of Japanese and international stars to fine art works with traditional subjects such as fish or flowers. Stylistically speaking, she performs a skilful balancing act on the thin line between art and pop.
With her strong sense of colour and popular motifs, MIKA NINAGAWA’s photographs often give the impression of being pure kitsch. In actual fact, they are aimed squarely at satisfying the senses and the emotions. These pictures lack the discerning subtext: “Look, I use elements of pop culture, but what I do is art, not pop!”. With this concept, MIKA NINAGAWA reaches a very wide audience in Japan, far beyond the art scene. Her books have since sold well over 200,000 copies. However, some of her application-oriented works are far more than just pop: the goldfish she photographed in gaudy colours look like grotesquely bred creatures or mutants, while the overpowering presence and colours of the flowers in her Acid Bloom series give them a highly artificial appearance.
With this approach, MIKA NINAGAWA moves within the tradition of classical Japanese art, which made no distinction between applied and fine arts. The basic idea of “fine arts” that was developed in Europe only found its way into Japanese culture in the 19th century. This means that NINAGAWA’s portraits of Japanese pop and film stars can certainly be seen as being part of the tradition of 19th century Japanese coloured woodcuts. Created with exceptional craftsmanship, these woodcuts depicting actors, courtesans, sumo wrestlers or other famous figures were produced en masse for a wider public. In the West, they were – and continue to be – presented as examples of Japanese high art and exerted key influences, notably on the development of Impressionism in France.
Although born in the same year as MIKA NINAGAWA, RINKO KAWAUCHI does not belong to the “girly photography” generation. In 2001, she entered the Japanese photography scene with three new books at once. Even for Japan with its highly developed photo book culture, this was a sensational debut. In 2002, one of the publications, Utatane (Nap), won the most prestigious Japanese photography award, the Kimura Ihei Award.
While “girly photography” typically limited itself to the artist’s own life, RINKO KAWAUCHI’s works do not address her own life, but rather life in general. Here, she concentrates on the small, unprepossessing things that surround us in everyday life – flowers, animals, people, water, light. She takes her photographs with a traditional manually operated medium format camera, choosing fields of view that lend the photographed objects an intrinsic beauty. Her photos have a light, solid sense of colour and an exceptionally intimate character that highlights the fleeting nature of perception. Her pictures contain elements of becoming and disappearing, of birth and death. Ultimately, her work can be seen as poetic descriptions of the essence and transience of life.
It is no accident that comparisons are drawn between RINKO KAWAUCHI’s photography and traditional Japanese haiku poetry. This very short form of poem aims to conjure up a brief, fleeting yet highly sensual image. One of the most famous haikus stems from MATSUO BASHO: “Old pond – frogs jumped in – sound of water”. The act of reading evokes – instinctively and spontaneously – the image of an old pond, a jumping frog and the sound of splashing water. However, having been conjured up in an instant in the mind of the reader, it disappears again just as quickly. This notion of a fleeting moment pared down to its essence can also be found in RINKO KAWAUCHI’s photographs, which give a glimpse of the brief emergence of things in the river of life.
In this way, RINKO KAWAUCHI has developed a new photographic aesthetic: “Just when it seems that everything has been photographed, in every possible way, along comes a photographer whose work is so original that the medium is renewed. Such a photographer is RINKO KAWAUCHI, who makes simple, lyrical pictures, so fresh and unusual that they are difficult to describe or classify. Her images document everyday things, yet could not be described as documentary. They are generally light in tone, yet somehow dark in mood. They are almost hallucinatory, yet seem to capture something fundamental about the psychological mood of modern life.” (Garry Badger in Martin Parr, Garry Badger, The Photobook: A History. Vol. 2, London 2006)
Unlike RINKO KAWAUCHI, who focuses on the fleeting perception of life and the transience of everyday things, LIEKO SHIGA explores the world of dreams, myths and legends. The starting point for her photographic works are often interviews in which she asks people about their dreams, fears and experiences that they associate with certain places. In combination with her own memories, emotions or experiences, she then creates complex, fantastical scenarios that are staged in often very elaborate forms. In 2007, LIEKO SHIGA published the shots taken in Australia, Singapore and Northern Japan in the photo book Canary.
The first decade of the new millennium does not just belong to the younger generation of female photographers: at the same time, the handful of female photographers who had made a name for themselves before the advent of “girly photography” enjoyed a higher profile and produced widely regarded new series. Prime examples of these are ASAKO NARAHASHI and MIYAKO ISHIUCHI.
In her 2000 series half awake and half asleep in the water, ASAKO NARAHASHI views Japan from a new, wholly unusual perspective reached by wading into the sea and photographing the coast from the water. This results in exceptional pictures combining two genres, seascape and landscape photography. While the restless water dominates the foreground, shots of coastal landscape with striking mountains or architecture can be seen in the background.
ASAKO NARAHASHI’s pictures can trigger a sense of unease in the beholder: the water seems liable to crash on to the photographer/beholder at any moment – and the coast is quite a distance away. The shore and its architectural forms have shifted from the central perspective and therefore do not convey the usual impression of safety and stability – in fact, it looks as though the land could sink into the sea at any moment. This is a whole new view of Japan. ASAKO NARAHASHI’s photographs no longer show the country that has risen to become one of the most important economic powers in the world, but rather an island state which, following decades of seemingly unstoppable progress, has become unstable and is now threatened with extinction.
In den 2000er-Jahren erobern junge Fotografinnen die japanische Fotoszene. Sie vertreten originäre Positionen, entwickeln individuelle Bildsprachen und blicken aus neuen Perspektiven auf die Welt.
Ein spezifisch japanisches Phänomen der 90er-Jahre ist die so genannte Girly Photography. Die „Mädchenfotografie“ mit ihrer tagebuchorientierten Schnappschussästhetik dokumentiert in ihrer Gesamtheit das Leben und Lebensgefühl der jungen, in der Großstadt lebenden Frauen dieser Zeit. Vor dem Hintergrund der wirtschaftlichen Krise und mangelnder Aufstiegsmöglichkeiten im Beruf waren die fotografischen Inszenierungen der Girly Photographer ein wichtiger Ausdruck weiblicher Selbstidentifikation in einer immer noch streng hierarchischen und patriachalischen Gesellschaft. Auch wenn viele dieser Fotografinnen zu nationalen Stars avancierten, wurde der selbstzentrierte und thematisch eingeschränkte Ansatz der „Mädchenfotografie“ bald auch als narzisstisch kritisiert. Letztendlich konnten sich die meisten Vertreterinnen dieser Generation nicht dauerhaft in der Fotoszene etablieren.
Gleichwohl haben sie entscheidend dazu beigetragen, dass jungen Frauen den Zugang zum Medium gefunden haben und sich in den folgenden Jahren als Profifotografinnen in der japanischen Fotowelt gleichberechtigt etablieren konnten. So stieg die Zahl der Fotografinnen an den Foto-Akademien und Universitäten im Zuge dieses weltweit einzigartigen Trends rapide an: Zu Beginn der 2000er-Jahre waren rund 50 % der Fotografen in der Ausbildung Frauen. Bald gewannen Vertreterinnen dieser neuen Generation die wichtigsten Preise für junge Fotografie, wie den Canon Contest of Photography. Die beiden heute noch bekanntesten Vertreterinnen der Girly Photography sind HIROMIX, die sich der kommerziellen Portraitfotografie von Stars und Sternchen zugewandt hat, und MIKA NINAGAWA, die inzwischen zu den erfolgreichsten japanischen Fotografen zählt.
MIKA NINAGAWA hat mittlerweile weit über 30 Fotobücher publiziert, Musikvideos für eine der bekanntesten japanischen Popgruppen sowie zwei Spielfilme produziert, sie hat mit internationalen Modemarken zusammengearbeitet und große Soloausstellungen in japanischen Museen gezeigt. Die Bandbreite ihrer Motive reicht von Porträts in- und ausländischer Stars bis hin zu freien Arbeiten mit traditionellen Sujets wie Fischen oder Blüten. Stilistisch balanciert sie geschickt auf dem schmalen Grat zwischen Kunst und Pop.
Mit ihrer starken Farbigkeit und den populären Motiven erzeugen MIKA NINAGAWAs Fotografien oftmals den Eindruck von reinem Kitsch. Tatsächlich zielen sie auf die direkte und einfache Befriedigung der Sinne und Emotionen. Diesen Bildern fehlt der anspruchsvolle Subtext: „Schaut her, ich verwende Elemente der Pop-Kultur, aber ich mache Kunst – nicht Pop!“. Mit diesem Konzept erreicht MIKA NINAGAWA in Japan ein sehr großes Publikum weit außerhalb der Kunstszene. So wurden ihre Bücher mittlerweile in einer Auflage von weit über 200.000 Exemplaren verkauft. Dabei sind einige ihrer anwendungsoriertierten Arbeiten mehr als reiner Pop: Ihre in grellen Farben fotografierten Goldfische sehen aus wie grotesk gezüchtete Wesen oder Mutanten, und die Blumen ihrer Serie Acid Bloom wirken in ihrer überwältigenden Präsenz und Farbigkeit wie hochkünstliche Objekte.
Mit diesem Ansatz steht MIKA NINAGAWA ganz in der Tradition der klassischen japanischen Kunst, in der es keine Trennung zwischen angewandter und freier Kunst gab. Die in Europa entwickelte Grundidee der so genannten „Schönen Künste“ fand erst im 19. Jahrhundert Eingang in die japanische Kultur. Insofern können NINAGAWAs Porträts von japanischen Pop- und Filmstars durchaus in der Tradition der japanischen Farbholzschnitte des 19. Jahrhunderts gesehen werden. Diese in hoher handwerklicher Qualität produzierten Abbildungen von Berühmtheiten wie Schauspielern, Kurtisanen oder Sumo-Ringern wurden in Massenauflagen für das breite Publikum produziert. Im Westen wurden und werden sie als Beispiele japanischer Hochkunst rezipiert und hatten entscheidenden Einfluss auf die Entwicklung vor allem des Impressionismus in Frankreich.
Die im selben Jahr wie MIKA NINAGAWA geborene RINKO KAWAUCHI gehört nicht mehr zur Generation der Girly Photographer. Sie betrat die Bühne der japanischen Fotoszene im Jahr 2001, und zwar mit gleich drei neuen Fotobüchern. Dies war auch für Japan mit seiner hoch entwickelten Fotobuch-Kultur ein sensationelles Debut. Eine der Publikationen, Utatane (Nickerchen), wurde 2002 mit dem arriviertesten japanischen Fotopreis, dem Kimura Ihei Award, ausgezeichnet.
RINKO KAWAUCHI überwindet die für die Girly Photography typische Beschränkung auf die eigene Lebenswelt. Sie spricht nicht über sich persönlich, sondern über das Leben an sich. Dabei konzentriert sie sich auf die kleinen unscheinbaren Dinge, die uns im Alltag umgeben: Blüten, Tiere, Menschen, Wasser, Licht. Sie fotografiert mit einer klassischen, manuell betriebenen Mittelformatkamera und wählt dabei Ausschnitte, die den fotografierten Objekten eine eigene Schönheit verleihen. Ihre Aufnahmen haben eine leichte, solide Farbigkeit und einen ausgesprochen intimen Charakter, der auf die Flüchtigkeit der Wahrnehmung verweist. In ihren Bildern finden sich Elemente von Werden und Vergehen, von Geburt und Tod. Letztendlich handelt es sich um poetische Beschreibungen der Essenz und der Vergänglichkeit des Lebens.
Nicht von ungefähr werden RINKO KAWAUCHIs Fotografien mit der traditionellen japanischen Poesie des Haiku verglichen. Diese sehr kurze Gedichtform soll beim Leser eine kurze, flüchtige und zugleich sehr sinnliche Vorstellung hervorrufen. Eines der berühmtesten Haiku stammt von MATSUO BASHO: „Old pond – frogs jumped in – sound of water“. Der Akt des Lesens evoziert unwillkürlich und spontan die Vorstellung eines alten Teiches mit einem springenden Frosch und dem Klang des spritzenden Wassers. Doch so schnell wie das Bild im Geist des Lesers aufscheint, so schnell ist es wieder verschwunden. Dieser auf die Essenz reduzierte flüchtige Augenblick findet sich auch in RINKO KAWAUCHIs Fotografien: Sie erhaschen das kurze Aufscheinen von Dingen im Fluss des Lebens.
Damit hat RINKO KAWAUCHI eine neue fotografische Ästhetik entwickelt: „Just when it seems that everything has been photographed, in every possible way, along comes a photographer whose work is so original that the medium is renewed. Such a photographer is RINKO KAWAUCHI, who makes simple, lyrical pictures, so fresh and unusual that they are difficult to describe or classify. Her images document everyday things, yet could not be described as documentary. They are generally light in tone, yet somehow dark in mood. They are almost hallucinatory, yet seem to capture something fundamental about the psychological mood of modern life.” (Garry Badger in Martin Parr, Garry Badger, The Photobook: A History. Vol. 2, London 2006)
Im Gegensatz zur RINKO KAWAUCHI, die sich auf die flüchtige Wahrnehmung des Lebens und das Vergängliche im Alltag konzertiert, erforscht LIEKO SHIGA die Welt des Traumes, der Mythen und Sagen. Ausgangspunkt ihrer Fotoarbeiten sind häufig Interviews. Darin befragt sie Menschen nach Träumen, Ängsten und Erlebnissen, die diese mit bestimmten Orten verbinden. In Kombination mit eigenen Erinnerungen, Gefühlen oder Erfahrungen kreiert sie anschließend komplexe, fantastische Szenarien, die sie in teilweise sehr aufwändigen Inszenierungen umsetzt. Ihre in Australien, Singapur und Nordjapan entstandenen Aufnahmen veröffentlichte LIEKO SHIGA 2007 in dem Fotobuch Canary.
Die 2000-Jahre sind in Japan nicht nur das Jahrzehnt der jungen Fotografinnen: Parallel dazu werden in diesen Jahren auch die wenigen Fotografinnen, die bereits vor dem Aufkommen der Girly Photography ein eigenständiges Profil entwickelt hatten, stärker wahrgenommen und produzieren weit beachtete neue Serien. Beispiele hierfür sind ASAKO NARAHASHI und MIYAKO ISHIUCHI.
In ihrer seit 2000 entstandenen Serie half awake and half asleep in the water betrachtet ASAKO NARAHASHI Japan aus einer neuen, ganz ungewöhnlichen Perspektive. Sie begibt sich ins Meer und fotografiert die Küste vom Wasser aus. Das Ergebnis sind außergewöhnliche Bilder, in denen zwei Genres – das Seestück und die Landschaftsfotografie – miteinander verschmelzen. Im Vordergrund dominiert das bewegte, instabile Wasser, in der Ferne erscheinen Ausschnitte der Küstenlandschaft mit markanten Gebirgen oder Architekturen.
ASAKO NARAHASHIs Aufnahmen können beim Betrachter ein Gefühl von Unwohlsein auslösen: Das Wasser scheint jeden Augenblick über der Fotografin/dem Betrachter zusammenzuschlagen, zudem ist die Küste recht weit entfernt. Das Ufer und seine Architekturen sind aus der Zentralperspektive gerutscht und vermitteln nicht den gewohnten Eindruck von Sicherheit und Stabilität – ja es scheint, als könne das Festland jederzeit im Meer versinken. Dieser Blick auf Japan ist neu. ASAKO NARAHASHIs Fotografien zeigen nicht mehr das Land, das zu einer der wichtigsten Wirtschaftsmächte der Welt aufgestiegen ist, sondern einen Inselstaat, der nach einem jahrzehntelangen, anscheinend unaufhaltsamen Aufstieg instabil geworden und vom Untergang bedroht ist.