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2016, May 18
Tazuko Masuyama

A photograph of Tazuko Masuyama posing together with the workers who are building the dam that will flood her village. Contradiction. 

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2016, May 15
Translation of essay on Tazuko Masuyama

It appears that I’m not actually blogging again after all.

Here is a translation (by Yoshiaki Kai) of the Masashi Kohara essay 1 in Tazuko Masuyama’s exhibition catalog.

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2016, Jan 17
Takuma Nakahira

I’m not sure to what extent I’ll use this blog to transmit information about Japanese photography, but in any case I should mention that Takuma Nakahira passed away last year, and that Franz wrote an excellent text about him for Artforum 1. Here are three of my favorite images from his 2011 book Documentary 2.

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2016, Jan 17

In a footnote in his dissertation on Takuma Nakahira 1, Franz Prichard points out that Nakahira saw magazines as the “principal battlefield” of his work, and then goes on to argue that art history (when it has dealt with Nakahira) has failed to account for this context:

The sustained impoverished view of Nakahira’s work at the level of photographic art historical discourse contains a two-fold displacement: first his images are extracted from not only the textual practices that accompanied them but also the historical milieu of representational practice with which they were engaged. Secondly, displacing image and text from this crucial ‘battleground’ of periodical media is to sever his work off from the expansive critical horizon of possibility these media embodied for Nakahira.

I don’t know what the art historical discourse around Nakahira is like—has anyone besides Franz written on him seriously outside of Japan?—but I can imagine the way in which his images might indeed be separated easily from these two contexts, i.e. the discursive and the material. The implicit challenge here is for art history to account for these contexts, and that’s more or less what I am hoping to do with a short study on a body of collaborative photographs taken largely by Kiyoji Otsuji that were published in the magazine Asahi Graph between 1953-54. A selection of these images currently live in the collection of MOMA 2, where they sit in mattes and look exactly like this:

MOMA has a 2003 portfolio that was reprinted from Otsuji’s negatives 3 and sold in an edition of 10. But the photographs themselves, as I said, were published in a broadsheet magazine, Asahi Graph, so in their original context they would have looked more like this:

So one of the first challenges to my study is clear: how should I account for the material context in which this work appeared? What kind of space was Asahi Graph at this time—what else was it publishing? This is the historical aspect of the study. The formal aspect (the more properly art historical aspect, perhaps) will look at what’s going on inside of the photograph. This is something that seems to drive people outside of art history crazy, though maybe these people dismiss formal analysis because that provides them with a justification to avoid doing it themselves. In any case, the formal analysis doesn’t even have to be restricted to the image; it can be linked to the discourse around the photograph and the possible “avant-garde” status of this work.


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2016, Jan 08

I have dearly missed blogging. The fact that I’m now in the academy makes it all the more important, I think, to hang on to clear, concise writing—not to suggest that such writing is impossible from within the academy, of course, it’s just not given any special valuation. (No bonus points for the clear writer.) In any case, I am hoping to write on the blog a lot more this year, in order to work through the ideas or questions that are present to me. I am writing for myself, even if I know that some people are actually reading out there. I doubt I will even publicize these posts as I shake the rust off…

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2015, Dec 23
Japanese photography moves the needle

It’s winter break, which means that I have a little bit more time to spend on this blog, which does still occupy some corner of my mind. Last year I did not (could not) take any classes on photography, but the time off served me well; it was useful to learn about completely different things. This year I have photography classes right and left, and it has been nice to get back into the swing of things. I’m starting to do research about Otsuji Kiyoji, who could easily become a dissertation topic if I were so inclined—but then it’s more a question of whether Otsuji’s work itself suits my own goals as a scholar.

Otsuji, in any case, is at least tangentially relevant to an essential (not comprehensive) article that came out last week, “Japanese Photography: The Birth of a Market.” 1 And by “market,” of course, we really mean “the European market.” Here is the thesis of the article:

Western collectors’ newfound curiosity about the Provoke artists follows a concerted campaign by a handful of players that demonstrates both how changing tastes alter markets, and how markets can change tastes. That campaign’s success so far rests on a confluence of trends.

These trends are the elevation of once-marginalized photography into the space of contemporary art, various museum exhibitions of Japanese photography, and, naturally, the desire of dealers “to find new sources of affordable material.” In a sense, it is refreshing to see this cynical calculus laid out so clearly, though I suppose one should expect this from a trade publication like Blouin.

There’s a lot to say about what (or who) this article does not address. Still, it’s nothing if not a lesson to anyone ostensibly working outside of the market that your activity is always being watched, and will be snapped up if and when it becomes profitable to do so. By “activity” I’m thinking mostly of writing, whether in blog or scholarly form, but this of course also includes curating, publishing, translating, and so on. I have tried to keep my own activity separate from the art market, but I can’t at all claim a kind of purity here! Even leaving aside the minor success of Daisuke Yokota’s zines on PH, this blog is full of free tips to the enterprising gallerist.

Hester Keijser recently woke her excellent blog up from its long slumber. In her eloquent return to blogging 2, she writes about this very issue of co-optation, which she says was at least somewhat responsible for her break. Hester tells us: “I still have no answer how to pre­vent oth­ers tak­ing advan­tage of my writ­ing — unless per­haps by pro­duc­ing only what is of lit­tle value to them.” This seems like a place to start, or a goal to keep in mind. In the field of scholarship on art, though, what kind of work produces little economic value while also contributing to a broader dialogue? It is easy to see how writing a dissertation on a lesser-known artist creates a new market, but perhaps there are ways to work against that. I’ll dig into this a little more over break if I can get myself back in the blog habit.

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2015, Dec 03
Center and (sort of) periphery

But for me there are some great new discoveries. The work of Kou Inose has been attracting a lot of attention. There aren’t very many pieces, about 10 or 12 prints, but they are really remarkable. I had a walk around the show with Stephen Shore and he said: “who is this guy? He’s amazing. How did we not know about him?”

Simon Baker on the show “Another Language: Eight Japanese Photographers,” 1 which was up earlier this year in Arles.

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2015, Aug 24
“Fact checking” as “censorship” in Japanese art magazines

I came across a post by a Japanese art critic that relates a frustrating experience with some prominent art magazines in Japan. I’m reproducing and translating this post with permission, which is why proper names have been omitted.

Under the guise of “fact checking,” magazines like [X] and [Y] have been showing unpublished drafts of criticism to the subjects of the articles. This practice is becoming more prevalent.

Of course, this is not simply about checking facts; the content itself will always be checked, and if there is something that the subject does not like, reprisal can be taken by refusing to supply photographs to be published with the article, or something similar. In other words, “fact checking” is nothing other than censorship.

On this point, publications like [A] and [B] are respectable: here, even if there is a factual error, the author takes responsibility. On principle, the article will be published without a prior check of any sort.

Because of “fact checking,” the subject of the article will always complain about expressions or opinions they don’t like (criticism, in other words). Like a child on an errand, the idiotic editor brings these complaints back to the critic; this is incredibly displeasurable.

In my limited experience working for a Japanese photography magazine, it seemed to me that even if it had wanted to, it was more or less unable to publish critical writing because this would not sit well with the advertisers. (Whether it actually wanted to publish critical writing is another question.)

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2015, Jul 24
Link dump for Boston MFA Kimono controversy

Not comprehensive, updated sporadically as things come through.

https://artery.wbur.org/2016/02/08/mfa-kimono-controversy: MFA Director On Kimono Controversy: ‘I Think That Was Misguided And Apologize’

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