Koji Onaka

Koji Onaka

Koji Onaka and his camera have been wandering around Japan—and sometimes further afield—for many years. In his 2007 book, Dragonfly, he writes:

"People often say to me, 'You're lucky that all you have to do is to go to places you like whenever you feel like it and when you're done taking photos as you stroll around, you can spend the rest of your time sitting back and drinking.' I agree with them 100 percent. I myself wonder how I can make a living from taking such useless photos as mine.

They are not astonishing scenes, nor are they taken with superb timing. They do not convey mistifying sensations or intense impressions. They do not have healing effects, but neither do they push away viewers. They are not difficult to understand, but they do not provide any definite answers. Much less are they stories or documentaries."

I think there is something very Japanese about Onaka's description of his photography. He does not feel the need to have a project, he isn't searching for the extraordinary, and I think he is sincere in his reductive description of his process. His words do not sell his images, quite the contrary. But the naturalness of his photographs is a quality that is very hard to achieve. I think this incredibly unselfconscious description could be considered an artist statement.

There is a lot of great work on his website, but unfortunately the scans of his colour images are less than perfect. I would suggest trying to get your hands on Dragonfly 2002-2007 (Tokyo: Tosei-Sha 2007) and its earlier companion volume Grasshopper 2001-2005 (Tokyo: Tosei-sha, 2006) to get a sense of his unique use of colour. For those of you who will be in Paris in the next few months, his work will also be included in a forthcoming group show at the Maison de la Culture du Japon (Japan Foundation) from October 2009 to January 2010.