December 2011
2011, Dec 28
Out of sight out of mind

I recently found some photographs that I really liked. They can’t be seen online yet, but I will be talking about them more in the future. The concept of the series is, what if Japan’s Showa period had never ended, and continued up until the present day? For background: Japan uses the Western style year system (2011) as well as the imperial system (Heisei 23). The title of the work was “Showa 88,” because Showa was the period before Heisei, but this is really not important, Wikipedia has more info if you are interested. The point is that, at the gallery talk, someone asked the photographer: “well, you’re calling this work Showa 88, but 2011 doesn’t translate to Showa 88. This year would actually be Showa 86, and you have a photo of the earthquake damage in your book, so wouldn’t people know that you took it this year.”

To which I dimly thought, but did not formulate in time to say: “What a short-sighted comment, as if there will not be plenty of areas that still look like that in 2013, or 2023…”


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3/11 Earthquake, Kazuyoshi Usui

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2011, Dec 26
After Death: Picking up the pieces of photography criticism

I’ve never heard anyone else say this, but I dream of becoming a photography critic. So it was with no little thrill that I read A.D. Coleman’s recent essay, “Dinosaur Bones,” [PDF] in which he holds forth on the position of the photography critic—that elusive creature!—in these wild and wooly times. What would he tell me, “go get ‘em, tiger”? Not exactly. According to Coleman, I should probably pack it in, because this train has already left the station. To be more specific, Coleman writes that there are no longer any opportunities for photography critics to find a suitable audience while making a livable wage. So much for that plan, I guess.

I’m joking, of course, but in his essay Coleman hits on something which I think is absolutely correct: that there exists a perception of criticism as a tool designed to surgically remove anything fun from photography and examine it under the cold light of theory. What’s painful is that this perception is not far from the truth. Who could fault anyone for thinking this, when it seems like photography criticism has driven off a cliff of academic cliches? I enjoy theory, but I haven’t yet developed a sensible way for that reading to influence my photography writing. I want to be sensitive about this because too often, the theoretical content of photography criticism comes at the expense of its clarity. Although these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, I can’t point to a critic who is making a reasonable effort to make their work understandable to a broader audience—if you can, please tell me. In short, I think we should be demanding better from people in these positions.

Not as if the situation online is anything to be proud of. Marc Feustel is the clearest writer we have, though his blog has become more and more sporadic. I do look at other blogs, and there’s plenty of interesting stuff out there, but when it comes to serious analysis of photographs, I feel like the writing rarely goes beyond platitudes. No one seems to be developing anything with their writing, or pushing towards something larger—and this is something we could be learning from theory! There’s no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but still, let’s scrape the rock bottom of online photography criticism and talk about Visual Culture blog, the internet’s own sad-clown attempt at writing big league criticism. I’ve honestly wondered in the past if this blog isn’t really a sick experiment probing the limits of just how far theory can be twisted to wring meaning out of the damp squib of early millenial photography. It’s not a pretty sight.

Where to go from here? It seems useful to return to Coleman’s original point, which concerns the way that critics support themselves financially. Maybe the pros are writing in code, and the amateurs are only chattering away, but what kind of position between these two poles would offer an audience along with some support? The audience is already out there: really, who doesn’t want to read clear and intelligent writing about photography? The only question is how to create a platform to support the writing. Coleman doesn’t seriously engage with this question, and I don’t blame him; he went panning for gold in a stream which was pretty well stocked until a few years ago. I accept Coleman’s message that we can’t go back to the good old days—the idea of a full-time criticism gig really is just a dream for me. But it doesn’t follow that the institution of photography criticism is doomed. Quite the opposite! If we want, it’s in our hands to make something productive of it.


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2011, Dec 20
Emi Fukuyama, “A Trip to Europe,” an MCV MCV book


I’m pleased to announce the first title published by MCV MCV, Emi Fukuyama’s “A Trip to Europe.” It’s a small book of photos that Emi took in 2009, while spending a month or so in Germany, France and the Czech Republic. It costs ¥1500 (including worldwide shipping), and you can see more information about it here.

It’s taken well over a year to produce this book, as the project took a couple of different forms. I’m glad to have it out, and I’m looking forward to the next MCV MCV projects. In general, the desire to publish books is similar to the reason for writing this blog, namely to introduce foreign countries to Japanese photography—especially when it’s on a level (street level??) that might otherwise go unknown. Aperture is there to support Rinko Kawauchi, and this is a good thing, but who is supporting Emi?

I’ve recently been reminded of Winogrand’s famous quotation, “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.” He’s talking in terms of experimentation, and that’s how I see this publishing project. I want to find out what happens when I push the work I’m seeing here out into the world.


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Emi Fukuyama, MCV MCV

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2011, Dec 14
Pity the email interviewer of Rinko Kawauchi

Here’s an interview with Rinko Kawauchi, titled “10 minutes with Rinko Kawauchi.” Unfortunately it’s notable for being extremely uninsightful. Here’s my favorite part:

Your photography is truly inspirational. What is your inspiration?
I get the inspiration, for example, while taking a nap, it is a form of meditation.

Do people have a common sense of beauty? What is yours?
It is a big, nice question. It is hard to define what is beautiful and it depends on people but I still think we share the same things.

Sometimes email interviews can work out, but this one was dead in the water before it even started. Cue discussion of “Japanese inscrutability.”


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Interviews, Rinko Kawauchi

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2011, Dec 12
Hiroshi Takizawa, “A rock of the moon” zine

Hiroshi Takizawa had one of the more interesting shows in the “honorable mention” category of Canon New Cosmos. He’s now published that work, called “A rock of the moon,” has a self-published zine in an edition of 50. It’s available for 1000 yen (in today’s US dollars, about $13) through parapera.net.

Parapera is a collective of sorts, they distribute many self-published zines through their site. I can’t be sure of what the shipping costs are outside of Japan, but I guess it can’t be too high. I don’t think they’ve done too much international promotion, which is a shame because they are a very good source of publications that would probably be difficult to find outside of Japan.

Here are some spreads of Takizawa’s zine:




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Hiroshi Takizawa, Zines

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2011, Dec 11
Later, Denny

Angelina and Denny (middle-ground) at their show

I met Denny Stocks when he first moved to Tokyo this summer. Much like when I first came here, he spent his early days chasing around to as many photo exhibits as possible, soaking everything up. He was, in short, a good dude to chat about with photography. He’d studied in Australia, and worked at a lab, but took a low-key approach to his work. I once heard Denny talk about the photo scene in Sydney, and how it was kind of a messy popularity contest. I thought it could be interesting to interview him about it, and he was game, but when we met up and started hanging out, it just seemed weird. Why force an interview like that with a friend? We spent the time talking about photography instead.

While I got very lucky in finding a work visa when I got here (thanks again Pat), Denny couldn’t catch a break, so he’s headed back to Australia in just a couple of days. Denny and his girlfriend Angelina post pictures together on a blog called Analogues Anonymous, so as a kind of sending-off, they put up a show at 35 Minutes last weekend called “A Gyu Don Life.” It was a good time, as the photo above more or less indicates.

Here are a few of Denny’s shots. He has a strong allergy to social networks, so you’ll just have to stalk his blog for the time being, or use that most ancient of social media, the email. Take care, Denny, hope to see you Down Under (can I say that?) sometime.




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35 Minutes

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2011, Dec 06
Photobook reviews (Abe, Yukichi)

A couple of notable posts on Japanese photobooks popped up over the past week or so. First John Sypal reviewed Jun Abe’s “Manila”, then Peter Evans gave an overview of Watabe Yukichi’s work, including his recent publication out of France, “A Criminal Investigation.”


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Jun Abe, Yukichi Watabe

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