Towards the end of 2009, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art put up two exhibits featuring Japanese photography. The main attraction, “The Provoke Era,” was a straightforward survey of Japanese photography, starting from the immediate postwar period (Shomei Tomatsu, Hosoe Eikoh), moving to the more radical late 60’s (Hiromi Tsuchida, Daido Moriyama, the rest of the “Provoke” gang) and ending with a confused collection of photos from the 80’s and 90’s (cult street snapper Katsumi Watanabe sharing space with landscape photographer Toshio Shibata and art star Hiroshi Sugimoto). All of the photographs in this exhibition were black-and-white, and taken by men.
Having showed all the “old masters”—a few Nobuyoshi Araki prints were up there too, of course—the second exhibit, “Photography Now: China, Japan, Korea“ was meant to give some young guns a chance to shine. But a curious thing happened in the Japan space. After already looking at the work of some 30 different men, all the prints by female Japanese photographers were grouped together, in one corner of the room.
Only so much can be read into this, but I think it may reflect a certain attitude about “female Japanese photographers”—namely, that people are interested in talking about them as “female Japanese photographers.” Ferdinand has given a talk on this topic, but I can’t say if it was any good. There was an exhibit at Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts in NYC, looking at a few conceptual female photographers like Tomoko Sawada who are “often highlighting and questioning stereotypes of traditional female roles in Japanese society.” Without having bothered to research this too deeply—I’m not a scholar yet—my guess is that “female Japanese photographers” are being used to fit some sort of Western critical narrative. (And probably not a very interesting one, at that… waiting for the Brechtian critics to emerge)
But, I digress. As always, I come to celebrate! In this post I want to introduce Mari Sugino, a “female Japanese photographer” who has been participating in the semi-legendary Place M seminar in Tokyo for a couple of years now. I first saw her work at an exhibit at Konica Minolta Gallery with a friend, and we were both really impressed by her ability to capture quick portraits of people on the street in Tokyo. When I talked to Sugino-san she told me that she isn’t particularly interested in “making it” in the art world. She’s shooting for herself, although of course it wouldn’t be bad to find some success. So no critical narratives today, just very nicely done photos.