2012, Sep 08
Water, again

Seeking out the visible, documenting it and presenting it through the medium can have meaning, but I derive no value from that. For example, isn’t it the case that if you research a certain subject you wish to photograph you will find that there are already tens of thousands of images related to that subject floating around? Confronted by this situation, I feel that even if I can create a slightly better photographic image, it will still feel like squirting a water pistol underwater.

Seung Woo Back, interviewed in “Seung Woo Back: Nobody Reads Pictures1

The last quote I put up from this book 2 received a number of comments which showed varying degrees of denial about the situation of making photographs in 2012. I am not asking everyone to stop pointing their lens-based image-creating devices at real-world phenomena. Do I even need to make that clear? To be really plain about it, this situation isn’t anything more than the air we are breathing, or, you know, the water in which we’re swimming. It’s depressing to think that this thought would be considered inflammatory when it’s so obvious.

We have talked around the concept of a goal, which I would venture to say goes beyond questions of representation, or aesthetics. This is why Back is skeptical about taking the “slightly better photographic image.” If that aesthetic effect also constitutes the entire goal of the work itself, the work is useless, i.e. it has no real effect, because this effect is immediately canceled out. John 3 brought up Tumblr, which I think that can show why this is true: just look at the volume of aesthetically pleasing images that a user like jesuisperdu 4 posts every day. Like Back, jesuisperdu also puts forth an argument against an aesthetically-motivated photography, because whatever single photograph you take, there’s a Russian teen who can take one that’s just about as good. The challenge for photographers is not to find a style but a goal.

http://kenshukan.net/john/archives/2012/09/07/on-photography-as-of-late/: John is thinking about these things too, from the perspective of a working photographer
http://jesuisperdu.tumblr.com/: Tumblr user who posts a frightening quantity of excellent images


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Interviews, Korea, Seung Woo Back

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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, Sep 21
Small interview with Yoshiko Fujita


One of the main reasons I enjoy the Higashikawa Photo Festival is that there are always many photography students and recent graudates walking around with their portfolios. It always seems like young women from Osaka have the best photos to show, and this year was no exception. (This can be explained by the quasi tradition of students from Osaka volunteering at Higashikawa. I’m going to try to find ways to look at photos by college students in Tokyo.)

This year I met a number of students of Jun Abe, a street photographer from Osaka who’s attracted some attention online, even without a website. None of the students had websites either, but Yoshiko Fujita did have some digital files of her work. She was kind enough to answer a few questions over email, and I’ve translated the results here.

All images © Yoshiko Fujita

Please introduce yourself.

Well, I was born in Hiroshima in 1985. I graduated from Kyoto University of Foreign studies in 2009, specializing in French. I graduated from Osaka Visual Arts’ photography program in 2011, and I’m currently a research student there, which means I only have one class a week.

So you’re out of school, in a way. What kind of work are you doing?

I’ve got some part time work at a newspaper scanning old negatives. It’s all related to newspaper articles, so I see photos of high school baseball games, railroads, stuff like that. Every once in a while I see a really nice snapshot, but still, I wouldn’t say I’m influenced by it or anything like that.



Do you have any photography-related goals or plans?

As for a goal, I guess someday I’d like to publish a photobook. For now I’m just going to keep on taking photos. Along with 3 other friends of mine from Osaka Visual Arts, I run a gallery in Osaka called Hatten Gallery. I’ll have a show up there from October 11-20.

What photographers do you often look at?

Martin Parr, Haruko Nakamura and Jun Abe. It’s not photography, but I also like Matisse and Dick Bruna.



Your teacher, Jun Abe, is becoming a bit more famous outside of Japan. How did you come to be his student, and what’s he like?

I met Abe-sensei when I entered school. My first year, he was the teacher assigned to my section’s class, and I signed up for his seminar my second year. Abe-sensei is always thinking of his students, he really cares about that. He’s dedicated to telling you things clearly, which is great. He likes films and manga, which I think might explain why he’s so quick on the draw with his camera—it’s really surprising how fast he is. At any rate, I respect him very much.


What kind of advice has he given you?

He told me that with my photos, I should aim for something between “real” and “airy.” I take a lot of photos of children, and he suggested to me that I aim to take these photos in the same way that any regular person would—you know, the way that their grandmother or grandfather might. He says that, much like discovering the world by looking at it in a unique way, I should try to photograph with the feeling of rescuing the world. I may be a fragile and highly sensitive person, but even so, I can take strong photographs.

Rescuing the world? Wow.

Yeah, I don’t always completely understand what he says. Anyway, I think it might have to do with taking a boring place and making it interesting.


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Interviews, Osaka, Yoshiko Fujita

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2010, Dec 15
Words From the Genius

Jorge Luis Borges, by Diane Arbus

Here’s an excerpt of a very long interview with Borges done in 1966, in his office at the National Library in Buenos Aires. If you are allergic to reading, I could just say that Borges once wrote something to the effect of, “I sometimes wonder why philosophers always take such pains to write long books, when their arguments could be condensed into a few pages.”

This is not directly about photography, but it’s not so hard to connect the dots, right?


You have said that your own work has moved from, in the early times, expression, to, in the later times, allusion.




What do you mean by allusion?


Look, I mean to say this: When I began writing, I thought that everything should be defined by the writer. For example, to say “the moon” was strictly forbidden; that one had to find an adjective, an epithet for the moon. (Of course, I’m simplifying things. I know it because many times I have written “la luna,” but this is a kind of symbol of what I was doing.) Well, I thought everything had to be defined and that no common turns of phrase should be used. I would never have said, “So-and-so came in and sat down,” because that was far too simple and far too easy. I thought I had to find out some fancy way of saying it. Now I find out that those things are generally annoyances to the reader. But I think the whole root of the matter lies in the fact that when a writer is young he feels somehow that what he is going to say is rather silly or obvious or commonplace, and then he tries to hide it under baroque ornament, under words taken from the seventeenth-century writers; or, if not, and he sets out to be modern, then he does the contrary: He’s inventing words all the time, or alluding to airplanes, railway trains, or the telegraph and telephone because he’s doing his best to be modern. Then as time goes on, one feels that one’s ideas, good or bad, should be plainly expressed, because if you have an idea you must try to get that idea or that feeling or that mood into the mind of the reader. If, at the same time, you are trying to be, let’s say, Sir Thomas Browne or Ezra Pound, then it can’t be done. So that I think a writer always begins by being too complicated: He’s playing at several games at the same time. He wants to convey a peculiar mood; at the same time he must be a contemporary and if not a contemporary, then he’s a reactionary and a classic. As to the vocabulary, the first thing a young writer, at least in this country, sets out to do is to show his readers that he possesses a dictionary, that he knows all the synonyms; so we get, for example, in one line, red, then we get scarlet, then we get other different words, more or less, for the same color: purple.


You’ve worked, then, toward a kind of classical prose?


Yes, I do my best now. Whenever I find an out-of-the-way word, that is to say, a word that may be used by the Spanish classics or a word used in the slums of Buenos Aires, I mean, a word that is different from the others, then I strike it out, and I use a common word. I remember that Stevenson wrote that in a well-written page all the words should look the same way. If you write an uncouth word or an astonishing or an archaic word, then the rule is broken; and what is far more important, the attention of the reader is distracted by the word. One should be able to read smoothly in it even if you’re writing metaphysics or philosophy or whatever.


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Interviews, Jorge Luis Borges

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