Recent Posts
2015, Aug 24
“Fact checking” as “censorship” in Japanese art magazines

I came across a post by a Japanese art critic that relates a frustrating experience with some prominent art magazines in Japan. I’m reproducing and translating this post with permission, which is why proper names have been omitted.

Under the guise of “fact checking,” magazines like [X] and [Y] have been showing unpublished drafts of criticism to the subjects of the articles. This practice is becoming more prevalent.

Of course, this is not simply about checking facts; the content itself will always be checked, and if there is something that the subject does not like, reprisal can be taken by refusing to supply photographs to be published with the article, or something similar. In other words, “fact checking” is nothing other than censorship.

On this point, publications like [A] and [B] are respectable: here, even if there is a factual error, the author takes responsibility. On principle, the article will be published without a prior check of any sort.

Because of “fact checking,” the subject of the article will always complain about expressions or opinions they don’t like (criticism, in other words). Like a child on an errand, the idiotic editor brings these complaints back to the critic; this is incredibly displeasurable.

In my limited experience working for a Japanese photography magazine, it seemed to me that even if it had wanted to, it was more or less unable to publish critical writing because this would not sit well with the advertisers. (Whether it actually wanted to publish critical writing is another question.)

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2015, Jul 21
Abe’s “Policy Art”

This is a translation of an article that ran in the 6/25/15 edition of the Sankei Shimbun 1. It describes a new LDP-affiliated group that intends to mobilize artists to support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Noting this activity seems important: the idea might sound hilarious, but it’s no laughing matter. Japanese Wikipedia already has a robust entry 2 on the group which I imagine will remain updated.

Pro-Abe Study Group “Culture and Art Chat” Begins

On June 25, young Diet members of the LDP inaugurated a study group that will exchange opinions with artists invited as lecturers. Among the attendees were many Diet members close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (LDP President); an aim of the group is to increase the possibility of an uncontested run for the Prime Minister ahead of presidential elections in September.

The new study group is called “Culture and Art Chat.” According to its prospectus, through the exchange of opinions with artists the group aims to “draw up impactful ‘Policy Art’ and acquire the intelligence and ability to implement it.”

The 37 attendees of this first meeting, held at the LDP headquarters, included pro-Abe members such as Deputy Secretary Katsunobu Kato, Foreign Affairs Official Kentaro Sonoura, Special Assistant to the President Koichi Hagiuda. The speaker was writer Naoki Hyakuta.

LDP Youth Bureau Chief Minoru Kihara, the inaugural public face of the group, stressed to reporters after the meeting: “As a member of Diet attached to a party, it is natural to support the things that the government, or party, is attempting to push forward.” As presidential elections approach, it can be expected that the group will act as a “cheerleading group” for the Prime Minister. In the future, the group is expected to meet monthly.

The same day, a study group held by the party’s liberal Diet members, “Learn from the Past: A Meeting for Young Diet Members Aiming Towards ‘Robust Conservative Politics,’” had intended to invite the manga artist Yoshinori Kobayashi, but the event was cancelled at the last minute due to “operational circumstances.”

Wataru Yamamoto’s response to this article was: “Have these people not seen Tsuguharu Fujita’s wartime paintings?” 3

https://www.google.com/search?q=%E8%97%A4%E7%94%B0%E5%97%A3%E6%B2%BB%E3%80%80%E6%88%A6%E4%BA%89%E4%B8%AD&source=lnms&tbm=isch: This is the same Fujita (aka Leonard Foujita) who is known for his Paris-produced cat art.

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2015, May 18
From “Street Level Japan” to “Blog”

I’ve deleted the name of this blog. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now, perhaps a couple of years, even, the reason being simply that the ‘Japan’ of the title is restrictive—to say nothing of ‘Street’! As it happens, this site was hacked a couple of weeks ago; I took it offline for a little while to clean things up, and I took this as a sign that it was finally time to take care of the switch. Everything should be running fine now, I think.

In our post-Google Reader, post-RSS landscape, blogging doesn’t exist as a form anymore: who actually reads blogs these days? I certainly don’t. As I’m sure I’ve written before, though, I like having this space to track my own thoughts, cringe-worthy as I may find them later.

Things in LA are good; I hope you’re well. Thanks for reading.

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2015, May 18

Brohi: But it is also a little precarious because entering a hegemonic discourse leaves you open to being co-opted by it. It has been one of the longstanding debates in the women’s movements here whether to invoke religion or not.

Spivak: That’s no argument. This is the criticism of the resentful. Of course, [anything] can be co-opted. That’s no reason not to invoke it. But recall that I said it must be made from a position of strength. If you don’t already have that position of strength, then you cannot do it.

From an interview with Gayatri Spivak 1.

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2015, Apr 10
Shuji Akagi, “Fukushima Traces, 2011-2013”


Shuji Akagi 1 has recently published a book with Osiris 2 that collects some of his photographs taken in Fukushima Prefecture after March 11, 2011. This is a strange book, and I’d recommend it fairly highly. (I am proud to say that I translated the book’s captions.) It can be purchased online through shashasha 3.

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2015, Apr 06
Naoya Hatakeyama talk in New York

Later this month, Naoya Hatakeyama will give a presentation at the New York Public Library, as part of the “Shashin: Photography From Japan” symposium 1. The exact date/time is Saturday, April 25, at 1 pm. There are a number of other good-looking panels at this symposium, but if you only had time to see one thing, this would be it.

There are a lot of other events and exhibits related to Japanese photography happening over the course of the year. I’ve gotten rather lazy about posting little bits of information about exhibitions, events and so on: this is partially due to a lack of time, but if I’m being honest I’m also losing interest in the idea of the blog as a conduit of information about Japanese photography. Just as the function of PH 2 could be supplanted by shashasha 3, perhaps Stacy, who has put together a “master list” of Japanese photo events in North America 4, will take up the charge of collecting this information?

I can already feel the backlash against “Japanese photography” developing within this blog (developing within myself). I feel the impulse to change this blog’s title, though I will most likely leave it unchanged in order to remind myself of my starting point. But now that I’m back in the United States, I can start to make out my task a little more clearly, and it’s not so much about “introducing” artists, much less advocating for their place in the (Western) canon—this was probably my attitude for a while, and it seems to be where discourse around “Japanese photography” is at, when this discourse is not pushing Japanese exceptionalism of course. In this sense I look forward to the panels of the NPYL symposium—and dread the overarching tone of the event itself.

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2015, Mar 02
Conversation with J

Talked with J yesterday. J is a photographer I respect, and I want to record some notes about this conversation here.

J was speaking with an art history professor. The professor said she was planning to have her students speak about one photo each week, three hours at a time. J said that doesn’t make any sense, that there is no point in talking about a photograph for more than 10 minutes, that it’s not truthful, or that that discourse is something else, a kind of empty pontification—that’s not his word, but something like that. He says he saw another professor give a talk a couple of years ago, where he thought 90% of what was said was irrelevant.  For him, taking a photograph isn’t a deeply considered experience, it’s done quickly (for one reason or another). And so because there’s not much time involved, it’s pointless to spend all that time talking about a single photograph. Lee Friedlander, for example, he doesn’t line things up carefully, he’s just snapping away. When looking at another photographer’s work, there’s no value in looking at a single image—everything should be seen in aggregate, as part of the photographer’s larger project.

Compelling arguments can be mobilized against this view, and some were indeed put to J, unmoved as he was. I am recording this conversation here because I know that I will read this post later, and perhaps at that time I will be glad I was reminded about this.

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2015, Feb 28
Report from an academy #1

“In the manuscript, shashin is employed both to point to illustrations in natural history books and to sketch a portrait of Keisuke. Viewed from the perspective of modern academic disciplines, these two types of work appear to be completely separate categories of illustration. For Keisuke and Yoshio, however, these differing pictorial works shared a deeper commonality as visual records of the relationship between the depicted subject and its proper name. Their use of the term shashin for these images rested not on an association with Western picture making but on these pictures’ ability to attest to a concrete and verifiable relationship between a name and a representation.”

Maki Fukuoka’s excellent book The Premise of Fidelity: Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in Nineteenth-Century Japan 1 examines the usage of the word shashin in 19th century scientific contexts.

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2015, Jan 12
Loose ends

Last year was a crazy one—in a good sense, I think. I let a couple of things go by unmentioned, so I’ll collect them in this post.

  • I’ve uploaded the essay 1 that I wrote for the “Transmission” exhibition at 35 Minutes.
  • I contributed a text to Jason Fulford’s book The Photographer’s Playbook. 2 The book’s 307 contributions are ordered alphabetically, so I’m first up.
  • An interview I did with Atsushi Fujiwara appeared in the 10×10 Japanese Photobooks 3 book. Fujiwara articulated the “traditional” tradition of Japanese photography in a compelling way.
  • I also helped out Bryan Formhals and Stephen McLaren with their book Photographers’ Sketchbooks 4, which featured Naoya Hatakeyama, Daisuke Yokota and Wataru Yamamoto. I translated a couple of texts, including one by Hatakeyama which was typically brilliant. This is my favorite part:

    The English photographer Michael Kenna once said to me, ‘The camera is a pencil.’ Kenna was probably thinking of William Henry Fox Talbot’s book ‘The Pencil of Nature’ when he said this, but he continued: ‘A novelist uses a pencil to write a story. A painter uses it to make a sketch. An accountant uses it to calculate sums.’ I think he meant that there are many people in the world who are obsessed with cameras, but that the camera is nothing but a tool—the important thing is the actual result. When we line up the actual results produced by a pencil—‘story’, ‘sketch’, ‘calculation’, the degree to which these items differ, in other words their multiplicity, is stunning. If the camera is indeed a pencil-like tool, then we, like Kenna, should be able to see this multiplicity within photography.

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