August 2011
2011, Aug 29
Bye Bye Akaaka / さようなら、赤々舎

At the end of this month, Akaaka is moving from its current location in Kiyosumi-Shirakawa to Nishi-Azabu. It’s a little sad, because the current space is a converted totan house which made for a unique viewing experience. It was clean and modern without being a sterile white cube. Here are some photos to mull over while I pour one out.



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2011, Aug 26
Aya Takada, “Fragrance Petit”

“Fragrance Petit” is the name of a photobook Aya Takada published in May of this year. It’s a quite small book (9×13cm), in an edition of 30, which she made by hand. Part of me wishes I could say that handmade photobooks are “big in Japan,” but outside of Aya and Koyuki Tayama I’m not sure that it’s really taking off here.

The blue inside paper is a nice touch, and it reflects the distinctly chilly mood of “Fragrance Petit.” It’s not that I feel a cold emotion from the book, but that these photos were all taken in the dead of winter! In descending order of severity, the Russian, Korean and Japanese winters are all represented here. As a Californian I feel cold just looking at these photos.

In a lot of Aya’s other work she plays with flash and the texture of interiors (one time, my head got in the way). There’s a little bit of flash here, but she’s outside most of the time, showing what usually seem to be provincial cities. I’d say she’s often looking up and out, not down and in. It’s a bit different from what I normally think of as an Aya photo, but the results are sometimes really excellent. I especially like this photo, which splits the frame into three or maybe four parts:

You can also see a couple of other images from the book when it was featured on Laurence Vecten’s One year of books. I think there are still a few more copies for sale, if you’re interested Aya is really active on Facebook and Twitter.

Aya says she is currently working on a series of photos that are, in her words, “gorgeous.” I am intrigued.


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Aya Takada, Zines

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2011, Aug 22
More about concept

My latest post for LPV magazine is up; in it I introduced the young photographers Naoyuki Hata and Ryosuke Iwamoto. I also talked about artist statements and concepts, in a somewhat clumsy way. The question behind the post was this: as a photographer, how can you represent yourself to someone?

On the one hand, it’s possible to claim that photographs on their own are enough. We could call this the “pure approach.” I happen to like this approach, but it may not be completely grounded in reality. I recently talked with Aya Fujioka, who’s been living in New York for the past few years. When she tells a New Yorker that she’s a photographer, the next question is, “well, what kind?” In that moment, she says, if you can’t justify yourself, you’re not a photographer. Mumbling something about pure contact with the viewer won’t cut it I guess.

So then we’re back into the realm of some kind of “statement,” whether written down on a white wall, or mumbled into some curator’s ear. We’re also getting close to “concept,” but I think these two ideas can be kept separate: it’s possible to put together words about photographs without using any big concepts. (Not that concepts are intrinsically evil or anything…) Something like the statement Naoyuki came up with at the end of the LPV article can work pretty well I think. Though he needs to stop laughing when he says his photos are straight!


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Aya Fujioka, Naoyuki Hata, Ryosuke Iwamoto

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2011, Aug 17
Tonight’s gchat conversation

<friend>: people take themselves so seriously it hurts

in web photoland

This was in reference to looking at Ed Panar’s series “Animals That Saw Me,” which we both agreed is excellent. The Ice Plant will be publishing it as a book (“Volume One”!) in November.


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Ed Panar, Quotes

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2011, Aug 11
Photos by Seiichi Takezawa

Seiichi Takezawa’s photos come really close to many of the recent cliches of Booooooooom photography: film, washed out color, blurry, “nature” as the subject. Still, when I sent the link to a friend and wrote, “i’m kind of blown away – this kind of quasi mystical, ‘modern shaman’ style is, like, sort of played out, but when you’re hitting it this well, who cares!” There’s something going on here. The strange framing of these photos, and the way that they flow together on his Tumblr grabs me. I’d like to see these photos in a small zine form.

Seiichi lives in Nagano.


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2011, Aug 08
Quick Higashikawa Photo Festival report

I’ve been meaning to write about the Higashikawa Photo Festival for literally two years. It’s an annual photography festival held in the town of Higashikawa, which is just outside of Asahikawa, the second largest city in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. I’ve gone to Higashikawa the last three years, and it’s been an excellent experience.

Higashikawa gives out five photographic awards every year, and holds an exhibition with their work. Lots of photographers come from all over Japan, though there are usually many college students from Sapporo and Osaka. Everyone brings their portfolio, shows their work and hangs out. For almost no money at all, anybody can put up their photos on a display outside of the main gallery, called the “Street Gallery.”

The festival is on a weekend which coincides with Higashikawa’s summer festival (matsuri), so there’s lots of people walking around, and plenty of street vendors selling food and drinks. Each day there’s a kind of reception party with amazing (and free) food.

This year I met some students of Jun Abe, which was exciting. Here’s a shot of one of his students’ Street Gallery exhibition:

There’s a lot to say about Higashikawa, but to keep things brief, it’s a great place to chat with other photographers, get a feel for what kind of work college students are making, and feel excited about photography in general. I’ve posted a lot more photos on Picasa; feel free to check them out.


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Higashikawa Photo Festival

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2011, Aug 06
Patrick Tsai is a Canon New Cosmos of Photography Finalist

© Patrick Tsai

Some very sweet news came through the other day: Patrick Tsai is a finalist for the 2011 Canon New Cosmos of Photography award! This is one of the top photography awards given out in Japan, and all five finalists will have a group show at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Photography in October. (The Grand Prize winner will be announced around that time, I guess.)

The work he submitted is not Talking Barnacles, his ongoing blog project, but “God Only Knows,” a project about a farm in Gunma which you can see a bit of here.

Congrats Pat!


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Canon New Cosmos of Photography, Patrick Tsai

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2011, Aug 04

“Tokyo Sky Tree, 11th March 2011,” © Stephen Vaughan

Recently, this blog has been receiving a little bit less attention than normal, as the pull of Twitter grows stronger. It’s deceptively easy to forget that some people not only read Street Level Japan, but have opinions about what’s written here! Among the different types of responses to this blog, the most satisfying might be to receive a comment that not only disagrees with a post, but shows conclusively that it’s incorrect.

This recently happened with the work of Stephen Vaughan, a British photographer about whom I wrote a couple of posts in March. Stephen was in Japan on March 11, working on a long-term project about, of all things, the possibility of a major earthquake. Based on some second-hand information, I wrote a post expressing some disappointment that he had (allegedly) been discouraged by the earthquake, and effectively stopped shooting the project. This is absolutely not the case.

In reality, Stephen traveled to areas in Iwate to photograph the damage caused by the tsunami, as well as an evacuation center. In his own words:

The work that I made in Iwate was driven by a responsibility to bear witness to what had happened. I was totally committed to recording and documenting what I saw with as much depth and clarity as I was able. I am not a photo-journalist in the classic sense (I work with large-format cameras) and there were many other photographers making those kinds of pictures. Instead, I continued to use the visual language that I had established in the project so far, in which the emphasis is on a stilled and descriptive clarity and simplicity.

Some of Stephen’s photographs from Iwate, as well as earlier photographs from this series, can be seen on his website. In my mind, it’s still too early to consider a large body of work on the earthquake, but with time, “A Catfish Sleeps” certainly has the potential to be one of the definitive photographic documents of this disaster. I just hope that the project hasn’t ended.

Update: Stephen says: “I definitely intend to go back to Iwate and Tokyo at some stage, to continue the project. I don’t yet know what form this will take but I won’t be seeking a simple resolution to what has happened.” Also, he’s kindly allowed me to post this link to a 140-page dummy version of “A Catfish Sleeps” on Issu. Definitely worth a look.


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3/11 Earthquake, Stephen Vaughan

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