November 2011
2011, Nov 20
Follow up to Canon New Cosmos

I went back to Syabi, to take a look at the New Cosmos of Photography exhibition once again. Each of the 5 finalists got some wall space, and a place to show their portfolio, but all of the other 20 people who received honorable mention also had some space to show like one print, and a portfolio. It was interesting to see this work, which really ranged from the terrible to the potentially interesting to the really quite clever. My favorite out of the bunch was Wataru Yamamoto, a student at Tama Art University, who presented a work called “Draw a Line”:


The idea behind this work is really pretty simple. He went into the forest, set up his camera and stood some distance away from it with a long cable release, “drawing a line” through the frame. In these photos the line is basically straight, but in others it zigzags through the trees. Turning the pages of this portfolio was extremely enjoyable. On the one hand, you’re kind of playing a game of “Where’s Wataru?” on every page, because he’s often camouflaged quite well. But it’s also interesting to see how the line changes, and to realize that you’re not even bothering to look at the forest. I like this kind of goofy experimentalism, it reminds me of something John Divola might do.

Strangely enough, the winner of the honorable mention section also used the cable release in her photos, but in a much less experimental way. This is the work of Mariko Sakaguchi:

Every photo in this series shows her taking a bath in some scene where no one notices her. This leaves me very, very cold. Taking a bath in front of a busy train station, or in a local convenience store? That would be something, on the Laurel Nakadate tip. It seems like the work is trying very hard to say something, but not really connecting, and leaving the cable in the frame exemplifies this—visually, it doesn’t add anything to the photo, and conceptually it actually makes the photographs weaker. I mean, this tells us that she is controlling exactly when to take the photo, but it’s not like she’s interacting with anyone else; nothing is ever happening around her! Using a timer might have made things more interesting. There was also a photo in her portfolio where she was bathing in front of a house that had been wrecked by the tsunami. Without being sanctimonious, I would like to express some disappointment with that.

Selecting this work as the “best of the rest” may or may not reflect on the competition as a whole. I’m not sure.


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Canon New Cosmos of Photography, Mariko Sakaguchi, Tokyo Metropolitan Photography Museum, Wataru Yamamoto

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2011, Nov 17
Some notes on the 2011 Canon New Cosmos of Photography Judging Ceremony Thing

I mean this title pretty literally, I just want to type up some notes. I attended the awards ceremony of the Canon New Cosmos of Photography because my friend Pat Tsai was one of the finalists. The experience was strange, not very enjoyable, and I don’t have very much meaningful to say about it. I don’t really understand what happened, but it may be a useful thing to refer back to later if I ever decide to think about the rat races that young photographers in Japan run. Pat didn’t win, so there’s no way I could pretend to write about this objectively.

The format of the event:

  1. Boring introduction from Canon employee
  2. One finalist goes up to the podium and gives a short talk about their work
  3. Judges ask (or do not ask) questions to the finalist
  4. Finalist struggles to answer the questions, sits back down
  5. Repeat until all 5 finalists have presented. This takes about 1.5 hours
  6. Nerve wracking 40 minute break
  7. Boring introduction from Canon employee
  8. Presentation of awards to five finalists
  9. Announcement of winner
  10. Winner gives a speech
  11. Last year’s winner gives a short speech

Profiles of the judges and some description:

  • Katsumi Oomori (photographer): Cool guy who spent large parts of the event burying his face in his hands, appearing completely uninterested in anything. A sign of honesty, given the surroundings
  • Masafumi Sanai (photographer): Didn’t say very much, but when he spoke, rambled in an esoteric way. His long hair and all-denim bathrobe (!!) gave him the appearance of a dude who just rushed over to the event after missing his alarm. I think I mean this in a good way. I should have taken a picture of the robe, but maybe it will appear on the Canon site later.
  • Noi Sawaragi (critic): Embodiment of the “scowling art critic,” asked the harshest questions and spent most of the time with his arms folded. Gave Pat the stinkeye.
  • Minoru Shimizu (critic): I think I’ve seen some of his writings in English before, and thought they were impossible to understand, but he was actually very cool. Spoke with lots of energy, and was always pushing towards something positive. Symbolically, wore a white shirt to Sawaragi’s black leather jacket.
  • HIROMIX (photographer): Oh, HIROMIX. You can hear the parties in her voice.

Best quotes from judges:
“What can photography do?”
“How will you continue what you’re doing for the next 30, 40, 50 years?”
“What’s something bad? It doesn’t have to be anything related to photography, just, tell me something you think is bad!”
“I’m guessing you don’t have a girlfriend, do you?” (Answer: no, I don’t.) “Yeah, I thought so.” (this was Sanai, bless him)

I don’t really want to get in to this right now, but… Pat was the only one who did not get tripped up by the judges. Hiromix asked him about a dead dog photo he took years ago, and did not include in the work he submitted to the thing.


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Canon New Cosmos of Photography, HIROMIX, Masafumi Sanai, Patrick Tsai

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2011, Nov 11
Japan photography treasure trove

It’s right here: photolinks.jp.

If you have some time on your hands, and want to plumb the depths of what Japanese photography has to offer, I can’t think of a better site right now than this one. It’s kind of like a Yahoo! (circa 1996) for Japanese photography; like it says in the URL, there’s just a ton of photo links here. Clicking around the top left part of the menu will take you through the different letters of the Japanese alphabet, and from there you’re off and running.

I haven’t even dug in to this material too deeply, so please let me know in the comments if you find any good stuff.

Photolinks is also on Twitter, it’s probably not such a bad idea to click randomly on the things they’re posting.


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The photography internet in Japan

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2011, Nov 08
Studio 35 Minutes, a photo space in Araiyakushimae

About a year ago I moved apartments in Tokyo, from Higashi-Koenji to Araiyakushimae. I realize that, for most people reading this post, the names of these neighborhoods mean very little. They’re not too far apart, though; I can bike from my new apartment to my old one in about 25 minutes. When I told people I was moving over there, I got a lot of weird looks, along the lines of, “why would you go through all the trouble of moving, if you’re practically living in the same place?” I didn’t think twice about it though. My new place is maybe a little bit smaller than my old one, but it’s cheaper, gets more light, and has a roof which is ideal for summer barbeques. The best part about it, though, is probably the neighborhood.

Araiyakushimae (新井薬師前) is like a slice of 1970s Japan which has been left untouched by the high-rise development that is common to so many Tokyo neighborhoods. It’s a laid back area, where the people have been extremely friendly—most of the businesses around here are not chains, so the people working there will talk to you in an open way. It’s a real change of pace from central Tokyo.

Around the time I was moving, my friend Cameron mentioned to me that there was a photography gallery in the area, called 35 Minutes. I had trouble believing it, since there’s not too much (if any) culture aimed at young people in the area. But he said he’d take me by when they did something, and sure enough there was an event over the summer, where I met some of the people who were running the gallery. There was a good atmosphere at the opening, and I went home feeling glad that there was actually a space for photography about 5 minutes outside my door.

I heard that the events at 35 Minutes were pretty infrequent, so I didn’t think too much of it. Later, I bumped into a couple of the members, at the local bar, and then sitting out side on a bench by the train station. We’d talk, and after meeting up a few times, Kota, the guy who runs the space, told me that it had become underused, and that he wanted to start putting on some more shows. He was also interested in connecting with photo communities outside of Japan, in whatever way possible. He suggested that we do something together, and I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes.

So here we are, it’s November and we’re putting on our first show as Studio 35 Minutes in a week or so. We’re showing some photographs by Benjamin Alexander Huseby, a photographer from Berlin. It’s part of a broader series of exhibits in Tokyo featuring Berlin artists. The flyer is pasted in at the bottom of the page, and the same information (plus a map) is available on our website.

I would be lying if I said I know exactly what I am trying to get out of this experience. I’m pretty sure that the gallery world is not a place I want to be forever, but this is a great chance to experiment, make mistakes, and hopefully put together a couple of interesting things. The gallery has a strong DIY past, you can see old flyers and publications at the old website. I’ll update here as more things come through.


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35 Minutes

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2011, Nov 01
Hans Aarsman talking about photography

This is one of the best videos about photography I have seen. Via Denny Stocks, a photographer who just moved to Tokyo a few months ago. Have a look at his site.


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Hans Aarsman

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