I highly recommend a visit to the Tazuko Masuyama exhibit at Izu Photo Museum 1, which is up until March 2. Masuyama lived in a mountain village in rural Gifu which was flooded in September of 2006 as part of the construction of a large dam. The dam construction itself took 28 years to complete from the time that it was announced, and Masuyama photographed her village consistently until her death in March 2006. Among many other things, this exhibit speaks to the power of having a personal connection to one’s subject. It sounds like Masuyama’s publications are hard to come by, but the catalog for the show will be out sometime next month.
With regard to the case of looking at photographs, here too a new way is required. Photography is steadily changing from a “thing that is seen” into a thing that is read. Today, as the story told by any number of photographs lined up next to each other becomes more important, appreciating the skill of an individual photograph has become equivalent to appreciating only the mask of a noh play—this way of looking at things now comes from an absolutely different position. The way of looking at the noh mask as an art object and the way of looking at noh as a single play have clearly separated. At this point, there is no need to worry about understanding the “good or bad” of photography. It is not necessary that everyone be able to comment on the sculptural-artistic qualities of a noh mask. It would be good to view photography with the same feeling as going to a movie or reading a letter.
From 写真の読みかた (The Way of Reading Photographs), published posthumously by Iwanami in 1962 (it was written in 1958). This book hasn’t been translated.
I think it would be an understatement to call Natori an “important” figure in the history of Japanese photography. As this scholarly (but legible and well-researched) article 1 explains, his activities during the war demand close scrutiny.
If you are interested in Japanese political news, I highly recommend the Shingestu News Agency, an independent agency based in Tokyo. The SNA Twitter feed 1 is an excellent source for updates about important political issues facing Japan: nuclear power, Okinawa, nationalism and so on.
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo 1 is referred to as MOMAT, and I have often confused it with the similarly-abbreviated Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo 2, known as MOT. Perhaps some of this confusion has arisen due to the strange position of the word “Tokyo,” which never seems to sit comfortably in either name. Perhaps it is simply due to the fact that the abbreviation “MOT” glosses over the two words (“Contemporary” and “Art”) that would help to distinguish it from Tokyo’s other myriad Museums. In order to avoid any confusion I have often referred to MOMAT and MOT by the names of their nearest train stations (Takebashi, Kiyosumi-Shirakawa). In any case, given the impressive way that MOMAT has revamped its permanent collection, I am confident that I won’t have any such trouble remembering it in the future.
The museum itself says that its collection is not so much revamped as “Reborn!” 3, and I think the results warrant such excitement. Before this rebirth, I would sometimes visit the collection’s photography section to see some modern masters, but there were no links to other galleries; each room was its own isolated world. Now, the rooms are ordered chronologically and connected by a clear story which performs the valuable service of explaining the development of modern Japanese art. Surprisingly, this story is built around Japan’s participation in World War II. The jargon-free wall text (designed by Kazunari Hattori of Osiris 4 fame) situates the works in light of Japan’s modernization and militarization, and does not shy away from explaining pro-expansionist allegories when they exist. Panels at the entrance to each room give the viewer a rough idea of the cultural and political situation around that time.
The room of wartime material is particularly impressive. Two large-scale, bombastic paintings hang on one wall. These paintings (one of which shows the infamous Battle of Saipan 5 in a heroic light) were confiscated by US troops after the war, but they are currently on “indefinite loan” to Japan under the terms of an agreement negotiated in the 1970s; MOMAT was entrusted with their restoration and preservation. A painting that offers a veiled criticism of the war hangs on the other side of the room, while women’s magazines during the war sit in a vitrine in the center. Almost as a rule, museums in Japan tend to avoid touching on Japan’s military history, so it really is unusual for a major institution like MOMAT to address this topic with such frankness. I wonder if MOMAT will lead from the front in this regard.
In any case, I am happy to see the museum making such an effort to communicate clearly with its viewers, rather than throwing some works together and connecting them only with opaque explanations—or not connecting them at all. My understanding is that the permanent collection will remain more or less intact, with only the later rooms changing to complement the museum’s special exhibitions; when I went last week, Josef Koudelka was showing upstairs, so these rooms were showing other work from Eastern Europe. Obviously I highly recommend a visit to the Reborn! permanent collection. Keep in mind that it’s free on the first Monday of each month!
I was sad to hear the news of Eichi Ohtaki’s passing on December 30 of last year. I first discovered Ohtaki three or four years ago when I heard his songs playing over the speakers of ZACK, a recycle shop in Sugnami-ku known to at least a couple readers of this blog. Since then, Ohtaki’s American-influenced songs have come back into my head once or twice a year. Here are a couple of those songs:
This is from an interview published in the March 1988 issue of Eureka (ユリイカ).
In the end, the world is a confused web of sight-lines, and this has been given an absolutely material form by photography. Because it is possible to take any number of photographs, a photograph is nothing more than one out of an endless number. If we think in this way, we will understand that photographs can only be produced out of a flood of images. Usually, it is thought that photographs produce this flood. But the birth of a photograph itself presupposes a flood of images—in other words, noise or chaos.
I may have said it in years past, but 2014 will be a big one for me. Among other things, I am looking forward to sharing a lot more writing.
With that in mind, I am happy to announce that, after years of planning and programming, Marc Feustel and I have launched Papercuts 1, a site for long-form writing about photography. Among the articles currently up on the site is an interview with Thomas Demand 2 that I did in 2012.