Tsuneo Yamashita
2011, Feb 23
Column about Araki, Moriyama and Tsuneo Yamashita

© Tsuneo Yamashita

My second column for the La Pura Vida blog is up. Yamashita Tsuneo is the featured photographer, but I used his work as a way to discuss Nobuyoshi Araki and Daido Moriyama, two photographers who I think may, for some people, stand in for the idea of “Japanese photography.”

I was pleased to see this image get some attention on Tumblr, wasn’t sure if it would work online.

Of course I’m hoping to get some comments on these posts, though I’m not holding my breath. I accept that being slightly inflammatory is the best way to get comments.


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Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Tsuneo Yamashita

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2009, Oct 23
About the Moriyama backlash

I think it has become cool in a “controversial” sort of way to proclaim a strong distaste for Moriyama—like, he doesn’t represent Japanese photography, man! My feeling about Moriyama and Araki—who elicits the same reaction—is that at this point, they’re not worth making a fuss over. They are an unmovable part of the landscape, and regardless of whether they produce good work or bad work from here on out, their positions are secure.

I’m going to suggest that everyone adopt this “wild” opinion as quickly as possible! Let’s all talk about how much we hate Moriyama—not so much his photographs of course as what he stands for!—so that we can get through this, have a backlash against the backlash and not have to talk about it anymore.

This conversation frustrates me because it has little to do with photography. The view that Moriyama does not “represent” Japanese photography, or that he has stolen attention from other Japanese photographers, has more to do with the impressions that these photographs have made on foreigners. As it happens, I think a lot of Moriyama’s recent stuff isn’t very strong, and that he’s leaving himself open to fair criticism by overextending his brand, but a quick look at almost any of the recent Record magazines shows he hasn’t lost it—as if he still had to prove or justify himself anyway! A friend pointed out that his fame has only come recently; during the 70s he was literally selling whole boxes of prints to get by.

All that said, I agree with the feeling behind this complaint. It can’t be a good thing that Araki and Moriyama are so often equated with “Japanese photography.” But if we really wanted to see some new faces get recognition abroad, why not talk about… some new Japanese photographers?

Yo, did you know that Yamashita Tsuneo put a whole bunch of his “Another Time on the Ryuku Islands” photos online? He most definitely did, go check them out!


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Daido Moriyama, Tsuneo Yamashita

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2009, Jun 04
Yamashita Tsuneo’s “Another time on the Ryuku Islands” at Tosei-sha

There is a talk by Kenya Hara, art director of MUJI, in which he explains why he thinks that Japanese culture (!) should be thought of as valuing “emptiness,” rather than “simplicity.” This distinction can be traced all the way back to the construction of a Shinto shrine, which at its center is always an empty space enclosed by four pillars, bound at the top with straw. The building around this space is not all that important. The empty space is more valuable, because it offers the possibility of being filled.

To cite Hara’s more modern example, we can look at the design of knives from America and Japan. The handle of an American knife might have a molded grip, which means it can be held in only one way. That’s simple. A Japanese knife, though, will have a cylindrical handle, which can accommodate whatever style the cook may wish to use. Hara calls this knife empty.

The photographs in Yamashita Tsuneo’s “Another time on the Ryuku Islands” made me think of that talk. I wanted to call his photographs “simple,” but maybe I should say that they’re empty. What does this mean? The photos are a vehicle for transmitting the experience of being on the islands. Like the building around a shrine, they’re not actually that important. You might forget that you are looking at photographs.

Walking around the exhibit, I felt connected to this place in Okinawa. It’s strange to say, but a close up photograph of a large, still-wet squid lying on a wooden table gave me the impression of what the air on the Ryuku islands would feel like.

I can’t guarantee that you will have a similar experience, but perhaps if you go to the gallery without thinking very much, you’ll feel the same way.

All of these photos are from a different series, “Daily.” They are also all © Yamashita Tsuneo

The exhibit is at the Tosei-sha gallery in Nakano-ku, and will be up until the end of June. Here’s a map to the gallery. The staff at Tosei-sha is by far the friendliest I have met in Tokyo, and there are a number of good books out front, some of which they have also published.


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Tosei-sha, Tsuneo Yamashita

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