A Japanese season starts in Paris

Opening night at Japanese Photobooks Now Last night was the opening of Japanese Photobooks Now, the first in a summer series of events on Japanese photography and film at Le Bal, which, as regular readers will know, should be right up my street. I've written about Le Bal before on eyecurious and since their first show Anonymes last autumn they have maintained a consistently interesting and diverse programme. For the next couple of weeks, the upstairs space has been taken over by Ivan Vartanian, a Tokyo-based New Yorker and the author of Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and 1970s and Setting Sun amongst others. For Japanese Photobooks Now Vartanian has put together a selection of around 80 photobooks which provide an overview of contemporary Japanese photobook publishing. Opportunities to pick up Japanese photobooks outside of Japan are pretty limited and so this is a rare chance not only to see some of the best current books but also to get a broader overview of the contemporary Japanese photo scene and the current trends in photobook publishing. The show is up until 8 May, but if you hurry Vartanian is in Paris until the end of the week and you just might be able to convince him to give you a private tour. With a Kitajima/Takanashi/Watabe exhibition, a month of Japanese film, two books and several events to come (full programme on Le Bal's website), this promises to be a good summer.


Ivan Vartanian



Review: Anonymes @ Le Bal

Anthony Hernandez, Vermont ave.& Wishire blvd, 1979 Paris must have one of the highest densities of museums exhibiting photography of any major city. So it could be considered surprising that a new venue, Le Bal, has just opened behind the Place de Clichy, slightly off the beaten track for the Paris art crowd. The space gets its name from the fact that it is a reconverted ballroom; it's not huge, but a comfortable size to be able to bring together an interesting mix of work. I think it's a bit of a shame that no original features were kept from the old ballroom as this was a place with a lot of history, but I guess the white cube is used for a reason. The most interesting thing for me about Le Bal is its slightly unusual mission statement. The venue is devoted to the "image-document", which includes photography, film, video and new media, rather than exclusively to photography or to the sprawling continent of 'contemporary art'. Another interesting characteristic is that Le Bal will not be putting on any retrospective exhibitions, which given the Jeu de Paume's recent programming of blockbuster retrospectives, is something to be thankful for. Le Bal is a welcome addition to the Paris photography scene, closer to London's Photographers Gallery or to Amsterdam's FOAM rather than the more old school venues that Paris has to offer, such as the MEP.

Le Bal's first exhibition, Anonymes, L’Amérique sans nom: photographie et cinéma does a good job of putting the venue's mission statement into practice. Interestingly their first show deals with American, rather than European, photography and film, which suggests that they may be taking a global approach to exhibition programming. I've just interviewed the director, Diane Dufour, for the next issue of FOAM magazine and their programming for the first year will span from Japanese protest photographs of the 60s and 70s to a history of Latin American photobooks. Anonymes includes work by Walker Evans, Chauncey Hare, Standish Lawder, Lewis Baltz, Anthony Hernandez, Sharon Lockhart, Jeff Wall, Bruce Gilden, Doug Rickard, Arianna Arcara and Luca Santese. One of the strengths of this exhibition can be seen in the list of participating artists, which goes from the biggest names (Walker Evans, Jeff Wall) to the photographers' photographers (Lewis Baltz) to the relatively unknown (Rickard's Street View work or Arcara and Santese's archive of found photographs). I found this really refreshing considering how many major (or 'same old') name exhibitions are being put on of late, not providing too many opportunities for new discoveries.

Extract from Standish Lawder's film 'Necrology'

Despite the diversity of the work on show, Anonymes retains a strong sense of coherence and focus on its subject. Group shows can sometimes be too sprawling or thematically too loose or chaotic, but in this case the exhibition strikes the right balance between the micro and macro view to flesh out its overriding theme. The exhibition also benefits from the combination of film and photography. All three films on show are very photographic (Gilden's is simply a slideshow with a soundtrack and voiceover) and Lawder and Lockhart's in particular seem to be extensions of photography, 'slightly moving' rather than 'still' photographs.

Aside from the delight of seeing Lewis Baltz's Industrial Parks prints for the first time, two groups of work really stood out for me. The first was Anthony Hernandez's black and white images of Waiting, Sitting, Fishing and Some Automobiles from the late 1970s. Hernandez has recently been going through a bit of a revival, including a show co-curated by Jeff Wall in Vancouver last year. These images present a very different view of Los Angeles to some of his more famous contemporaries (e.g. Stephen Shore). Hernandez chooses to show those short moments of rest that punctuate the city's almost perpetual sense of movement. Shooting bus-stops in the city where the car reigns supreme is evidence of his desire to show a forgotten or invisible side of LA. Although these are large format images, the work sill retains the feel of street photography, of moments captured on the fly.

For me the highlight of the show has to be Arcara & Santese's Detroit: a self-portrait archive of found photographs from the 1980s and 90s. These appear to be taken from police archives, with mugshots interspersed with crime scene photographs or photographs providing evidence of wounds from beatings or assaults. The prints have not exactly been kept in archival conditions and the shifting emulsions and crackling surfaces resonate hauntingly with the downfall of the city of Detroit in recent years. With the odd scrawled sentence or recovered letter, this archive echoes the brutal reality of the lives of the citizens of a city that has gone over the cliff-edge.

Collection of Arianna Arcara and Luca Santese

Rating: Recommended

Anonymes, l'Amérique Sans Nom, Le Bal 18 September 2010 – 19 December 2010

Paris in Amsterdam


I have just written a piece on Michael Wolf's Paris Street View for edition 22, Peeping, of the excellent Foam Magazine run by the Amsterdam museum of the same name. The museum got as excited as I did about this new series and decided to go the extra mile by putting up an outdoor installation of 24 XXL prints from Paris Street View in Amsterdam's Zuidas area (on the street where Google has its Dutch office) which is in the process of being redeveloped. I made the trip up for the launch and to find out a bit more about the Amsterdam photo scene.

The Paris Street View installation is very impressive (which this terrible installation view taken with my phone camera does not do justice to at all) and the work takes on an added dimension when displayed in amongst the city, rather than just on the neutral white walls of a gallery or museum. Wolf likened it to a "monument to privacy lost" and these massive figures dotted around this modern urban landscape also create an interesting warped sense of scale, making the buildings in the background look like scale models. It will be interesting to see how people in the area react to the works over time and whether the work can provoke some further debate over these issues. (Update: Michael Wolf just kindly sent me some proper installation views so I have uploaded one of these instead).

I also swung by Foam itself. For a museum that only opened in December 2001 in a small European country, Foam cuts an impressive figure on the European photo scene. The venue is not huge, but they use the space intelligently and a look at their programme schedule shows their ability to combine crowd-pleasing fare with 'important' exhibitions.

Ari Marcopoulos

The current programme is a great illustration of this as the ground floor is occupied by Amsterdam-born photographer and filmmaker, Ari Marcopoulos who has photographed street culture for several years on both US coasts. Although much of the photography in this exhibition left me cold, I was more interested in Marcopoulos's large-scale xerox prints which reveal the influence of Andy Warhol, for whom he was a darkroom printer. But the highlight of It might seem familiar has to be a 10-minute video of Marcopoulos and an accomplice skating down a very steep road in California wearing matching pastel blue suits. This is far more exhilarating and revealing of the culture that Marcopoulos has spent 30 years documenting.

Alexander Rodchenko, The poet Vladimir Mayakovsky

The upper floor is devoted to an exhibition of vintage work by the Russian avant-garde artist, Alexander Rodchenko, which was first held at London's Hayward Gallery in 2008. This is a very complete look at the photographer's extraordinarily inventive and experimental career, from his early use of photography in graphic design in the 1920s to his later work on human movement. Every section of this show contains masterpieces, whether it be the early magazine covers, photograms or photomontages, the portraits or the later work on movement. The prints are all vintage and with a significant number coming from private collections this is a pretty unique opportunity to see this many quality Rodchenko's in one place.

Between Paris Street View, the Rodchenko exhibit and the city of Amsterdam itself, there are more than enough reasons to make a visit.

Tokyo highlights

eyecurious has made a slow start to blogging in 2010. However, this was due to a great, albeit far too short trip to Tokyo. I was in Japan preparing two exhibitions that will open in Stockholm, Sweden and in Cologne, Germany in March of this year (more on these in the coming weeks) and laying the groundwork for a third, but as usual Tokyo afforded its fair share of surprises.

Exhibition-wise the first week of January is not the best in Tokyo or elsewhere for that matter, but I did manage to stumble across some good things. I only saw one museum show, the Tokyo Metropolitan's joint Ihee Kimura and Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition (on until 7 February 2010). This isn't exactly ground-breaking stuff, but it does provide an interesting new perspective on these two masters of the Leica and illustrates just how different their styles were. Kimura's photographs will probably be less familiar to non-Japanese readers, but given my focus on Japanese photography they are as familiar to me as HCB's. Kimura was a furious snapper and often photographed his subjects from many different angles, however his pictures retain a much looser, natural quality than Cartier-Bresson's. After walking through three rooms of Kimura, the Frenchman's compositional rigour and prowess is both impressive and a little bit overwhelming. So many of HCB's images are works of complete virtuosity, but after several rooms worth of such masterpieces I am left craving more open and less controlled pictures. The best part of this show is the final room in which the two photographers' annotated contact prints are displayed side by side. These provide a fascinating insight into the genesis of some now legendary images, revealing before and after outtakes and proving that while HCB may not resort to any cropping he didn't always get the image he was looking for in a single exposure.

Daido Moriyama prints at NADiff Gallery

Aside from this blockbuster show I managed to take in a minuscule Daido Moriyama show at NADiff Gallery (the first time I have seen any of Moriyama's colour work), Hajime Sawatari's very hot but a little vacuous Kinky at BLD Gallery, the final days of an exhibition by promising young Chinese photographer Muge at the recently opened Zen Foto, and an exhibition of new work by the ubiquitous Araki which had several images with absolutely no signs of bondage in them!

The highlight in terms of exhibitions turned out not to be a photography show. The French Embassy has relocated to a new building in Tokyo and they have given over Joseph Belmont's 1957 building over to a group of over 70 Japanese and French artists from all kinds of different disciplines (sculpture, video, graffiti, calligraphy, design, photography, etc.) for a 'carte blanche' exhibition of work inspired by the building itself and integrating its contents into the works. The results are predictably hit and miss but they are always interesting and the experience is exhilarating. The proof of No Man's Land success for me was the audience: this was the busiest exhibition I saw in Tokyo and the visitors came in all ages, shapes and sizes, including a group of a dozen octogenarian grandmothers who were thoroughly enjoying themselves.  This is the kind of open, interactive art initiative that we need more of. The show is on until 31 January 2010, so if you're in Tokyo do not miss it.

No Man's Land at the former French Embassy

Throw in a meeting with master book designers (and brothers) Satoshi and Hikari Machiguchi of Match and Company, a visit to one of the only remaining analog photo-labs hidden away in a tiny basement where a handful of master printers appear to be making most of the best fine art prints coming out of the Tokyo photo world, a few hours in the unmissable Sokyu-sha bookstore, and a highly entertaining few hours at Gallery Tosei with Dan of Street Level Japan and Kurt of Japan Exposures and you have the recipe for another terrific week in Tokyo. Tosei is first and foremost a publishing house, but they opened a small gallery in their offices about five years ago, the first I've been to where you have to take your shoes off to come in. Tosei's head honcho, Takahashi-san, is a force of nature and his riffs on the state of photography and some of its practitioners are both fascinating and completely hilarious.

Review: Voyages @ MCJP

ishikawa2-9a0fa 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.

Rating: Recommended

Voyages, Maison de la culture du Japon 14 Octo­ber 2009 - 23 Jan­uary 2010