2013, Mar 19
Joel Snyder responds to the question, “Is Photography Over?”

“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.”

From a conference at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 1.


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2012, Jul 24
San Francisco is a good place to be for Japanese photography right now

© Naoya Hatakeyama

Two shows going up in San Francisco this week are well worth seeing. The first is Naoya Hatakeyama’s “Natural Stories” at SFMOMA 1. This exhibit was shown in Tokyo last year, and it includes Hatakeyama’s photographs taken after the 3/11 earthquake. I still think these are, without any question, the “best” images to come out of the disaster yet. If you have any interest in photography after 3/11, you must see the show.

Also, Nobuyoshi Araki has a show of old and new photographs 2, dated 1979 – 2040. I saw it in Tokyo a few months ago, and if it’s similar to what was exhibited here, the show may include some truly excellent photographs of pizza.


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3/11 Earthquake, Naoya Hatakeyama, SFMOMA

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2010, Jul 20
Mari Sugino and Western critical narratives

Towards the end of 2009, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art put up two exhibits featuring Japanese photography. The main attraction, “The Provoke Era,” was a straightforward survey of Japanese photography, starting from the immediate postwar period (Shomei Tomatsu, Hosoe Eikoh), moving to the more radical late 60’s (Hiromi Tsuchida, Daido Moriyama, the rest of the “Provoke” gang) and ending with a confused collection of photos from the 80’s and 90’s (cult street snapper Katsumi Watanabe sharing space with landscape photographer Toshio Shibata and art star Hiroshi Sugimoto). All of the photographs in this exhibition were black-and-white, and taken by men.

Having showed all the “old masters”—a few Nobuyoshi Araki prints were up there too, of course—the second exhibit, “Photography Now: China, Japan, Korea“ was meant to give some young guns a chance to shine. But a curious thing happened in the Japan space. After already looking at the work of some 30 different men, all the prints by female Japanese photographers were grouped together, in one corner of the room.

Only so much can be read into this, but I think it may reflect a certain attitude about “female Japanese photographers”—namely, that people are interested in talking about them as “female Japanese photographers.” Ferdinand has given a talk on this topic, but I can’t say if it was any good. There was an exhibit at Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts in NYC, looking at a few conceptual female photographers like Tomoko Sawada who are “often highlighting and questioning stereotypes of traditional female roles in Japanese society.” Without having bothered to research this too deeply—I’m not a scholar yet—my guess is that “female Japanese photographers” are being used to fit some sort of Western critical narrative. (And probably not a very interesting one, at that… waiting for the Brechtian critics to emerge)

But, I digress. As always, I come to celebrate! In this post I want to introduce Mari Sugino, a “female Japanese photographer” who has been participating in the semi-legendary Place M seminar in Tokyo for a couple of years now. I first saw her work at an exhibit at Konica Minolta Gallery with a friend, and we were both really impressed by her ability to capture quick portraits of people on the street in Tokyo. When I talked to Sugino-san she told me that she isn’t particularly interested in “making it” in the art world. She’s shooting for herself, although of course it wouldn’t be bad to find some success. So no critical narratives today, just very nicely done photos.

© Mari Sugino


© Mari Sugino

© Mari Sugino

© Mari Sugino

© Mari Sugino

© Mari Sugino


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Daido Moriyama, Japan seen from abroad, Mari Sugino, Nobuyoshi Araki, SFMOMA

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