A few months ago, Diederik Meijer asked me to guest 'curate' (staying true to my post on curating, I have to use those quote marks since this is more editing than curating... but I digress) a week of Japanese photography over on Bite! magazine. It has taken far longer than I thought it would to get it all together but the week starts today with Koji Onaka's Tokyo Candy Box, so please take the time to check it out.
I've decided to start 2010 in the best way possible: with a quick photo-based trip to Tokyo (4-11 January). This might mean that eyecurious gets the year off to a bit of a slow start but I'm guaranteed to come back with tons of things to blog about. For those of you who haven't made it to Tokyo before, here are a few images of the city to give you a little taste (after the jump).
I was contacted a few months ago by the Japan Foundation in Paris to write a short text for their newsletter based on an upcoming exhibition of contemporary Japanese photography. The exhibition, put together by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, has just opened and although I'm not entirely convinced about the theme, voyages, there is some interesting and fresh material here, most of which has probably never been shown in Europe before.
Naoki Ishikawa and Koji Onaka were the only two photographers in the exhibition whose work I already knew. Ishikawa is pretty popular in Japan and his books Polar, New Dimension and Mount Fuji seemed to have pride of place in most bookstores on my last few trips to Tokyo. I had the chance to speak with him briefly at the opening of the exhibition and he explained that he is particularly interested in trying to find a new way of photographing 'icons' like Mount Fuji. When I first came across his work on Fuji-san, it made me realise that I had almost never seen images of the mountain that were taken up close. It is almost always photographed or portrayed at a respectful distance (try doing a Mount Fuji Google Images search), reinforcing its symbolic nature to the point where you have to wonder whether the real mountain actually exists. Ishikawa takes a very different approach, showing the mountain up close, and revealing it as a barren, sometimes dangerous and desolate place.
Koji Onaka was the highlight of the exhibition for me. I have posted about his work before, but this is the first time I have seen his prints. Onaka began shooting in black and white but has since moved on to colour with very interesting results. He was one of Daido Moriyama's students and he shares Moriyama's obsession with dogs. Onaka is more of a wanderer than a traveller and his subject is the old, slightly run-down pockets of the rapidly disappearing 'old' Japan. His colours match these locations, as if they have turned slightly with age. He makes his prints himself in very small formats, and the results are wonderful.
Takeshi Dodo also deserves a mention for his black and white work on the islands of Okinawa. There are a number of images that reminded me of Kazuo Kitai, Issei Suda or Hiromi Tsuchida, in their very 'real', straightforward and unaffected vision of daily life. Dodo is not overly prone to nostalgia and the modern aspects of life on these remote islands rub right up against the more traditional to create an intriguing portrait of a world that is both far removed from and closely connected to the incessant modernisation of the country.
I will put a link to my text (in French) once they upload the newsletter to the MCJP website.
Voyages, Maison de la culture du Japon 14 October 2009 - 23 January 2010
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.