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January 2011
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2011, Jan 31
Masui Fumie, other Osaka Visual Arts grads in Tokyo

 

“Our generation is still struggling to establish itself.”

 

Masui Fumie is a young photographer from Osaka who graduated from Osaka’s Visual Arts College last year. She’s currently in a show at Place M which features her work along with a few other recent Visual Arts graduates. The show spans Place M and Totem Pole Photo Gallery, and runs from now until February 6.

Tokyo is the center of Japan’s photography world, but Osaka has a good scene too; there are a few good galleries there, and a lot of great people. I’ve only been a few times but it always seems to me that Osaka Visual Arts is right in the middle of everything that’s going on—I’ve been impressed with the students and alumni that I’ve met. The two shows up right now will be a good chance to see what the next crop of young Kansai photographers are doing.

I met Fumie over the summer, when she showed this work (“Firefly”) at the Higashikawa Photo Festival in Hokkaido. At that time I was most struck by the way that so many of the people in her photographs seem so sad. I asked her about her idea for this project and she said: “I’m finding people by themselves in the city who stand out to me. They’re usually about my same age. I’m 21 now, and people of our age maybe aren’t yet adults, but we also aren’t children, either. Our generation is still struggling to establish itself. I’ll be out in the city, notice some complete stranger, say hello and then take their picture. Doing this gives me a feeling of reaffirmation.”

 

I was surprised to hear this: “our generation is still struggling to establish itself.” As much as I try to avoid cliches about “depressing Japan,” it’s probably true that things are getting generally tougher on young people. To point to just one thing, the number of young people employed as dispensable contractors rather than full-time employees is creating a lot of tension. I’m not sure that Fumie is trying to issue a call to arms here, but I do think it’s rare to see a young photographer (Japanese or no) who’s interested in something like generational solidarity. For me, it adds something to the crowded genre of street portraits.


							

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Fumie Masui, Osaka Visual Arts

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2011, Jan 26
Tomoyuki Sakaguchi, “Mado”

Marc made a post on Eyecurious a couple of months ago featuring Michael Wolf’s “Tokyo Compression,” a series of photographs of Japanese people stuffed into trains. (Images available here and here) Wolf’s subjects are always really tightly packed into the train, and he focuses in tight on their faces, which results in some unflattering images to say the least. The comments on the post got interesting, as a few people discussed whether the series was promoting the cliched “Japan is depressing” narrative. In the end, I agree with Dirk’s comment that “buttons are being pushed”; I wouldn’t read anything too sinister into the series.

Tomoyuki Sakaguchi’s 2002 series “Mado” (“Window”) offers a different perspective on this concept. The people in Sakaguchi’s photos are also crowded in, but not to the same extent as in Wolf’s series. They have some space to themselves, and the framing is also more generous. If Wolf is filtering for misery, Sakaguchi seems to be looking for some repose, or even self-reflection, in his subjects. The people here are certainly uncomfortable, but they’re also human.

© Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

© Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

© Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

© Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

© Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

© Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

							

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Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

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2011, Jan 23
Tatsuya Shimohira on the La Pura Vida Gallery Blog

I’ve started to write a column about Japanese photography for the La Pura Vida blog. This is exciting because I think the LPV audience should be really receptive to what’s happening in Japan. From glancing at some American photography blogs it’s possible to get the impression that everyone is shooting large format high-concept color work, which is definitely not the case here. I trust LPV to show me work that’s serious but not overburdened with meaning, and there’s a lot of work in Japan which fits that bill.

今月からはニューヨークの写真ブログ「ラー・プラ・ビダ」で月に一回の「東京手紙」という日本の写真リポートをかきます。第一目のリポートは先週発表しました。「ラー・プラ・ビダ」は、よく新鮮な、普通ではない作品を発表するブログです。この機会があって喜んでいます。このブログの目標は、日本の新鮮な作家を海外に紹介するのです。その「LPV」と一緒、上手にならないでしょうか?

I started writing this blog in March of 2009, when I really had no idea what was going on here. I still probably don’t know that much, but by now I’ve had enough experience that what I do know can be condensed and communicated in a forum like a monthly column. I’ll probably keep on posting here as before, and use the LPV space to take a step back and try to explain a little bit about the photography culture in Tokyo. We’ll see.

In the first column I featured Tatsuya Shimohira, a member of Totem Pole Photo Gallery who’s made some of the most interesting work I’ve seen recently. Here’s an image from his “Element” series which didn’t show up in the post on LPV.

© Tatsuya Shimohira


							

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Tatsuya Shimohira

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2011, Jan 21
Kitai Kazuo, “Spanish Night”

[“Spanish Night” is available for purchase at PH. / Se puede comprar “Spanish Night”  a través de PH.]

At 66, Kitai Kazuo (Kazuo Kitai) may be the oldest photographer I’ve featured on this blog yet. While he doesn’t have instant name recognition, he’s very well-respected in Japan for his black and white snapshot work: last year at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Photography, his work was given equal footing alongside Daido Moriyama, Masahisa Fukase, Hiromi Tsuchida and others. He’s also the recipient of the first (sometimes career-making) Kimura Ihee prize in 1975, which is kind of funny because he was Kimura’s friend.

Kitai has an interesting history: he was born in Manchuria, and has returned to China a number of times to photograph it. He was present at, and photographed, the 1967 Narita protests, which the government crushed, putting an end to Japan’s student movement. In the 1970s, he ran into Hiromi Tsuchida a number times in remote villages, while they were each shooting projects on rural Japan. (The story goes that Kitai would give Tsuchida a ride in his car.)

In the fall of 1977, Kitai took a trip to Spain, shot some rolls of color, and never did anything with the film. Now, 30 years later, he’s made these photos into a book published by Tosei-sha called “Spanish Night.” There’s been no effort to undo the effect of time on the negatives, and I really like how the colors turned out. It’s fun to guess what the people here were thinking. I’d imagine something along of the lines of, “what the hell is this Japanese guy doing here taking pictures of us?” I don’t sense any hesitation on Kitai’s part, though, more like the thrill of exploring a new place. This is a short book but it really hits the mark.

© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo
© Kitai Kazuo

							

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Kazuo Kitai, Tosei-sha

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2011, Jan 02
Why I miss the internet

In the course of regular conversations, I sometimes take positions like: “books will never die because the experience of holding and looking at a book cannot be replaced by a screen,” or, “at some point, the stimuli we encounter online will produce a movement valuing a longer attention span,” or, “it would be great if I could live without a high-speed internet connection at my house.” I can support all of these propositions, and I do sometimes fantasize about a life “free from” technology, but lately I’ve been thinking that I’ve been away from the internet for too long, and that it’s time to come back. This may sound strange, given that I’ve done a reasonable job of updating this blog over the past year and a half, but it’s not too difficult to explain why I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

I came to Japan almost exactly two years ago, after working a desk job which required that I spend my entire day in front of a computer with an open browser. Still, almost every day I would come home from work and sit right back down in front of the computer again. Any desk jockeys will understand the unpleasant feeling of attachment to one’s computer. At times, during my longer internet voyages, I would feel that I had simply run out of new stuff to look at, but still continue to click through pages in search of something new. It’s no coincidence that my most prolific period of blogging (19 posts in July 2008) came at this time: every day, I could trawl the internet for new photographers, books, or thoughts.

After getting to Japan, I got a job teaching English. This is a standard job for Americans in Japan, and I’m still doing it now. I teach in a couple of different public junior high schools, which, coming from my desk job, has been a real breath of fresh air—liberation from the computer at last! I feel lucky that I’ve been able to teach my group of kids, rather than bored businessmen. It’s been great to be around my students; I’ve probably learned just as much about Japanese culture from them as they have about English from me. Also, it ought to go without saying, but 13-year-olds are hilarious people to be around. So teaching has been a good thing to do after escaping the office.

I’m starting to realize, though, what it means that I haven’t had such a close, daily connection to the internet. Of course there are days when it’s painful to be in front of the computer non-stop, but there are also days (or hours, or perhaps just a few minutes) when you slip into some sort of groove, and find yourself stumbling upon three really fantastic photographers all at once, and they’re all in different parts of the world, and they couldn’t possibly be aware of each other (could they?), but you can see a connection between them, and it relates to your own preoccupations of that moment. That’s what I feel I’ve missed, I’m sure I have missed them because I’m not really “around” online all that much.

So, this year I’m going to pony up and get a phone with a proper data plan. I ride a train for about an hour to work every day, and I think I can put in some time looking through more work, using Twitter more regularly, and just being a bit more aware of what’s happening online. I’ve got a few other things planned for 2011, but I’ll keep them under wraps for now. It should be a big year though, so hang around and watch me make some things happen!

(Photos in this post: work I found while trawling Flickr for the first time in a long while.)


							

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