Seung Woo Back
2013, Dec 23
Things I liked in 2013 (non exhaustive)

This started out as a list of photography books I liked, but now it’s just a list of “things.”

Go Itami, Study 1. Rondade. Design by The Simple Society 2. Great book design. I think this book will be worth a lot in the future.

Taisuke Koyama, The City Breathes and Ages 3. Maybe my favorite book, because it’s cheap (¥1000) and uses an unusual form (the children’s book).

Naoya Hatakeyama, Kesengawa. Light Motiv. Wrote a couple of words about it here 4.

Mika Kitamura, Einmal ist keinmal 5. Therme. Snap’s not dead.

Takuma Nakahira, Gecko. Little Big Man. I meant to write lots more about how good the Japanese books coming out of Little Big Man have been, but this book sold out so quickly that I just didn’t get around to it. The Keizo Kitajima book from last year, USSR 1991, is incredible.

Shomei Tomatsu, Make 6. Super Labo. Just really good.

Kyoungtae Kim, On the Rocks 7. Your Mind. Wait, maybe this was my favorite book, and not just because it was cheap.

Lieko Shiga, Rasen Kaigan. Akaaka. I saw the exhibit the first week of January, and probably didn’t see anything better the rest of the year. This book is the catalog of that exhibition.

Kitai Kazuo Slideshow, Earth DOM. This might have been as good as Shiga’s exhibit in terms of the impact it had on me, the sense of experiencing something great, not in the totalized Wagnerian sense but in a fragmented way.

Kazuo Yoshida, “TB” at hpgrp. Yoshida is going to do big things.

The first room of Issei Suda’s show at Syabi. Like a black and white Rinko Kawauchi, and I mean this in a good way.

Kayo Ume’s installation of Jiichamsama at her Tokyo Opera City show.

Chu-ha Chung’s speaking event.

Hiroko Komatsu’s show at photographers’ gallery.

Taisuke Koyama’s installation in Shodoshima.

Wataru Yamamoto, “Drawing a Line” at photographers’ gallery and “Plane Tree Observations” at Yumiko Chiba.

Keiji Uematsu, “Cutting‐Axis・Latitude・Longitude” at Yumiko Chiba.

The “Out of Doubt” exhibit at Mori Art Museum, a great attempt to locate some kind of consciousness in contemporary Japanese art.

Talking about baseball with Seung Woo Back.

Generational solidarity.

Being able to read Japanese.

Showing my parents and my sister around Japan.

Kathryn Abbe, “Light and Shadow” at Tosei-sha.

Kathryn Abbe, “Light and Shadow” at Tosei-sha.


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Go Itami, Issei Suda, Kayo Ume, Kazuo Yoshida, Kyoungtae Kim, Lieko Shiga, Mika Kitamura, Naoya Hatakeyama, Seung Woo Back, Shomei Tomatsu, Taisuke Koyama, Takuma Nakahira

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2013, Oct 14
Seung Woo Back workshop in Tokyo

Seung Woo Back 1 will hold a two-day workshop in Tokyo 2, on October 20 and 27. The workshop “explores the aspects of photography that concern memory and interpretation.” It’s incredibly cheap, just 2500 yen, and that fee includes “the cost for a disposable camera and printing.” Even though I haven’t thought of producing my own work for years, I am disappointed that I can’t go. I think very highly of Back’s work, and it would be an excellent experience to learn more about his approach to photography.


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Seung Woo Back

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2012, Dec 05
Capsule reviews, November 2012

"2011, Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama, Qatar Al Jazeera-NHKbs TV" ©Kikuji Kawada Courtesy of Photo Gallery International

Kikuchi Kawada, “phenomena – 2011” at PGI

Kawada is known in the West for his classic book Map, but his new work deserves to be equally celebrated. As you can tell from the image above, he’s embraced digital technology in a very radical way. I was lucky enough to stumble into Kawada’s gallery talk, where he spoke eloquently about his current ways of working (including his great love of iPhoto slideshows) and the challenges of photographing today. At a glance, this series looks terrible, as if Kawada had just applied some bizarre Photoshop filters to his images at random, but he does know what he’s doing, claiming that he likes printing out his photos on inkjet printers because it adds to the digital effect of his work. I left thinking that this work could be easy to write off it was made by a 23-year-old photo student, but credit to Kawada for taking a risk. It’s encouraging to see an old master leading the way.

"AKB48, 2010"

Kishin Shinoyama, “The People” at Tokyo Opera City

This exhibit was not quite a retrospective of Shinoyama’s photographs—more like a jumble of his portrait work. Shinoyama is a skilled photographer, and I was hoping to learn more about the development of his work, but the selection was poor: the show consisted mostly of celebrity portraits, and it is ironic that, in the same room where Takashi Homma showed his photographs of McDonald’s around the world, Shinoyama put up monumental prints of Tokyo’s Disneyland. Apparently, it was the first time that a photographer had been allowed to take such images, and perhaps it was a thrill for some of the (numerous!) audience, but after paying 1000 yen I felt cheated to look at photographs shilling for Disney. In talking with others later, I came to understand better the value of Shinoyama’s portraits as a kind of nostalgia trip. Still, his post-3/11 portraits are unconscionable, as if he’d hopped out of a van and plunked his tripod down in front of the first few people he came across.

Installation view courtesy of Emmanuel Guillaud

Emmanuel Guillaud & Takano Ryudai, “Black Closer to White” at Yumiko Chiba Associates

An exhibition that derived its power from an experimental installation: Takano’s black and white photos were hung on a wall, while Guillaud’s almost colorless color photos were laid out underneath, some covered with white paper. Guillaud’s extremely dark images showed people on trains or otherwise glimpsed through Tokyo’s urban barriers, while Takano showed brighter photographs. Each body of work was quite subtle, requiring time to digest, and the unusual way of displaying these two series was successful in holding the gaze.

Daido Moriyama, “Labyrinth” at BLD

This exhibit was a pleasant exception to the idea that looking at a contact sheet will help you discover, in a romantic way, the “special” (OK, decisive) moment when the photographer’s vision perfectly met his or her subject. This is probably why someone thought it would be worth publishing the contact sheets of the Magnum photographers, the most romantic photographers of all. With Moriyama, though, there’s no romance: he shoots with a compact camera, but he is not trying to pick out “moments” in the Winogrand or Gilden sense. This exhibit shows only where he looked, and it’s enlightening to see Moriyama spend an entire roll of film on a theater sign, his famous tights, or the play of light on a tree. He really is the photographer of Light and Shadow.

Daido Moriyama, “Mesh” at Gucci Shinjuku

I might have been more upset about this show (installed in the event space of Gucci’s Shinjuku store) if I’d seen it a couple of years ago, but post-Color I can’t begrudge Moriyama for coasting. The exhibit itself was an unremarkable, screenprinted career retrospective featuring many of the hits which I’d already seen presented at BLD in a much more challenging way. The fishnet stockings, from which this show took its name, covered every available surface, but the effect was cheesy. At least a new audience will have discovered his work.

“On Photography” at Misa Shin Gallery

This was a three person show, featuring Seung Woo Back, Jio Shimizu and Tsuyoshi Ozawa. I’m not totally convinced by the title, but the photographs were excellent. Back was showing new work that will remind anyone of Sohei Nishino’s composite city photographs. It’s a kind of photographic collage, in which views of a city taken from a number of different perspectives are placed together to make a kind of “map.” Nishino actually puts his photographs together to mimic the form of a real city, creating the simplistic illusion of being able to “take in” the city as a complete unit. This makes it easy enough to look at the work from 20 feet away and move on. Back’s work, though, draws the viewer closer: he’s created new, fictional places, out of photos he shot in five cities across Japan and Korea, and I found myself looking carefully to try to figure out where exactly they were. Shimizu is producing images through intriguing experiments with physics, while Ozawa showed a series called “Vegetable Weapon,” in which he asks people to construct guns out of supermarket vegetables.


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Daido Moriyama, Emmanuel Guillaud, Jio Shimizu, Kikuchi Kawada, Kishin Shinoyama, Ryudai Takano, Seung Woo Back, Tsuyoshi Ozawa

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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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2012, Sep 06
“The sea of images”

What an excellent way to start a book:

In this era of images, there is nothing beyond the production and consumption of images. Photography is, of course, at the core of these processes. However, the traditional method of producing images that consisted of wandering passionately in search of subjects and shooting photos of them, no longer guarantees the meaning of photographic images as it once did. The explosion of digital images challenges the basic assumptions of photography that have been its support for the last one hundred and fifty years. The myth of direct representation, whether of a dramatic moment or a beautiful scene, has started to collapse and is finally coming to an end. It is true that luckily some images can still stand out when rescued from the sea of images. This, however, is something that photographers today are unable to attain and discourse on “the death of photography” may be the most evident reflection of this sense of crisis.

Introduction to “Seung Woo Back: Nobody Reads Pictures,” 1 by Sunjung Kim & Suki Kim

This passage indicates the way that my own thinking has changed about photography over the past few years. Photographers who fail (or refuse) to grasp the insight contained here will be left behind. I want to say it’s surprising that Japan has not yet produced a photographer like Seung Woo Back 2, but I should think about that some more—maybe it’s not surprising at all, or maybe (less likely) someone here shares Back’s approach.

I’ll post another quote from the book later. Note that the translation is obviously a little suspect, but I haven’t touched it.

http://www.strandbooks.com/product/seung-woo-back-nobody-reads-pictures ISBN 9788965640189. Strand has a copy of this book for $20, but otherwise it looks very difficult to find online


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Korea, Seung Woo Back

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