I’ve written before about my disappointment with Gallery 916, namely that the shows I’ve seen so far have squandered what is without question one of Tokyo’s most impressive gallery spaces. The new show that just went up there, gallery owner Yoshihiko Ueda’s own “M. River,” does break that trend. The installation of “M. River” plays with size and focus in a way that makes a sensible use of Gallery 916’s massive walls. It was a pleasure to move throughout the room without feeling like I was literally trekking from image to image. Still, there’s a catch. After the opening, the gallery will charge adults an 800 yen entrance fee, effectively pricing it in the same range as most Tokyo museums. Magnificent as the space may be, it will take a significant improvement in quality before that feels anything close to reasonable.
This exhibit, still up until 3/26, is part of Nikon Salon’s “Remembrance 3.11,” a series of photo shows commemorating the second anniversary of the 2011 disasters which continue to affect Japan. Kitajima has positioned these photos as an extension of his own “Places” series, in which he carefully observes man-made environments 1. (Rat Hole Gallery has published a book of this work under the title Isolated Places.) About half of the photos in the exhibit plainly show the destructive power of the tsunami, but the other half of the exhibit, including images like the one above, do not immediately reveal any sign of damage. It would be difficult to classify these latter images as “disaster photos,” and that helps to explain why they are so strong.
Mika Kitamura 1 has a show at THERME Gallery 2 which is up until March 31. She’s also published a very good book (hardcover, edition of 1000) to go along with the exhibit. I recommend seeing the show if you are in Tokyo.
“Photography, understood as a still evolving and expanding set of materials and a flourishing market for them, is more vital than it has ever been. Chemical photography, even in its present attenuated condition, survives and will probably be in use for at least another score of years, while the growth of digital photography is and will continue to be explosive in terms of the sheer number of still photographs taken daily; in terms of the already vast and constantly growing number of home-made and laboratory-produced prints; in terms of Powerpoint and other digital projection technologies, and finally and most importantly, in terms of the wide-ranging, on demand availability of countless photographic images (refreshed minute by minute) and circulating freely on the internet.
I take the question framing this conference as being aimed specifically at photography comprehended as a medium. While the commerce in photographic materials is burgeoning, the interest many people took in the medium of photography has been shrinking — in a state of atrophy for nearly two decades. Photography as a medium with a past, and crucially, a present, and a future is over and in my view is irrecuperable, even (and ironically) as the use of photographic materials dominates contemporary art production. And yet, little will change immediately: curators of photography in museums of art in the United States will keep on mounting exhibitions of photographs; galleries won’t miss a beat selling photographs dating from the 1830s and onward — while collectors, for their part will continue buying them (and the prices will rise); and students will still be taught the use of photographic materials in the setting of universities, colleges, and art schools.
What is in the process of fading away is the sensibility that was informed by the foundational groundwork and the above-ground scaffolding of the medium of photography and with their loss, the loss too of an audience for photographers who produce pictures that center on photography, reflexive pictures that simultaneously exemplify and expand what were once called “the peculiar possibilities and limitations of photography.” What has been called “pure” photography continues to have its defenders and collectors, curators and historians, but the audience it has today is generally limited to the audience it had. Some curators and critics want to believe that contemporary, photographically based art production is continuous with the old practices, traditions, and norms of the photographic medium and attempt to put, for example, the work of Nadar and Watkins, Evans and Sander in relation to Georges Rousse and Walid Raad, Wolfgang Tillmans and Candida Hofer. This sort of exercise corrupts our comprehension of both photography as medium and photography in the service of contemporary art. It bends history, undermines understanding, and blocks feeling, replacing vexing complexity with a smooth linear narrative. This is not the moment for anodynes.”
This year, both Arata Dodo and Tomoko Kikuchi received the Ihee Kimura Photography Prize. I wrote about Dodo a few weeks ago for American Photo 1, and last week I wrote about Kikuchi’s work 2. Kikuchi, who lives in China, has spent the past eight years documenting Chinese drag queens.
It’s two years on from March 11, 2011. No one in Tokyo has literally forgotten about the triple disaster, but it’s easy to feel as if it never happened. There are still only three photo projects about the disaster that I think are worth viewing: Rolls Tohoku 1, Naoya Hateyakama’s “Natural Stories” and Lieko Shiga’s “Rasen Kaigan.”
Masatoshi Naito’s work “Ba-Ba-Bakuhatsu!” (“Grandma Explosion!”) is featured on Fraction Magazine Japan 1. This is a good opportunity to see a number of photos from a 1970s book that now sells for a few hundred dollars 2.
Jin Ohashi’s Surrendered Myself to the Chair of Life (Akaaka, 2012) 1 seems like it could be “one of the most talked-about photobooks of the year,” whatever that might mean. Ohashi staged and photographed an orgy, and the work was published in a huge, 6-kilogram book.
In this interview with a porn magazine (Japanese, and NSFW for the ads surrounding the interview) 2, Ohashi talks about his motivation for spending, as he says, “enough money to buy a small house in Tokyo” on the production of his book. It pretty much boils down to “Well, I had an image of a bunch of people having sex at once, so, I made this book.”
To be just a little bleak, this is about what I expected to hear. Am I wrong to hope for more, though?
I wrote an article for American Photo about Wataru Yamamoto’s work 1. It’s a little less esoteric than the text I posted a few days ago, which is reproduced in the book itself 2.