Focus on contemporary Japanese photography. Interview with Mariko Takeuchi, Part I

Last year’s Paris Photo fair with Japan as “Guest of Honour” was a huge success and on this occasion the Dutch photography magazine “foam” had contacted me to do an interview with Mariko Takeuchi, the Guest Curator of Paris Photo. The interview was published in foam magazine #17, winter 2008. I will publish the full interview in two parts. The images are a new addition for the blog [the interview was without images, except some very nice portraits of Mariko :-)].
Part I (of II)

The 2008 edition of Paris Photo – one of the world’s most important fairs for still photography – took place in the Carrousel du Louvre in mid-November. This year Japan was Guest of Honour, an exceptional opportunity to present an overview of Japanese photography. Photography has been a major feature of Japanese culture since its introduction in 1848, attracting wide international attention in the 1990s and growing world interest ever since.

We asked Ferdinand Brueggemann, Director of Galerie Priska Pasquer in Cologne and passionate founder of the photo blog to discuss the current state of Japanese photography with the Guest Curator of the show, Mariko Takeuchi.

Nobuyoshi Araki, Yoko, from 'Sentimental Journey', 1971 ©Nobuyoshi Araki

Ferdinand Brueggemann:
After decades of practically ignoring Japanese photography, why do you think the Western art world is suddenly developing a strong interest in learning about it?

Mariko Takeuchi:
I don’t think that it happens so sudden. It seems that the interest in Japanese photography in the Western countries grew in the 1990s especially, with a focus on individual artists like Nobuyoshi Araki, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Daido Moriyama. Then curators, collectors and researchers gradually became aware of the richness of Japanese photography and turned more attention to their background – this seems to coincide with the growing interest in the Japanese culture and subculture in general. The exhibition “History of Japanese Photography” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2003 was on a monumental event. And now we have the Paris Photo fair with Japan as guest of honor at the Paris Photo fair.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Boden Sea, Uttwil, 1993 ©Hiroshi Sugimoto
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Some recent activties

It’s over a year that I have written at But is it not because I lost interest in Japanese photography, in contrary, I was so much involved in Japanese photography, that there wasn’t much time nor thoughts left for the blog, unfortunately.

Eikoh Hosoe: Kamaitachi 8, 1965

Some time ago I became director of Galerie Priska Pasquer, Cologne, were I am responsible for the program of Japanese photography. Already in the years before we had some solo shows with Japanese artists at the gallery: Iwao Yamawaki (Modern photography), Eikoh Hosoe (his first solo show in Germany), Daido Moriyama and Rinko Kawauchi. In the beginning we did not receive much response, but this changed very much in the recent years, because Western curators and private collectors alike became more and more aware of the history of Japanese photography and of the quality of the works coming from Japan.

Osamu Shiihara: Untitled, end 1930s

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Asako Narahashi “half awake and half asleep in the water”

Recently someone asked me about Narahashi’s series “half awake and half asleep in the water” and this reminded me that I was looking for publications with the series last year in Tokyo.

Asako Narahashi: half awake and half asleep in the water

I am very fond of this series which was photographed by Asako Narahashi at several places around Japan in 2000-2003. The curator Michiko Kasahara (today working at the MOT) was instrumental in promoting the series when she included the series “half awake and half asleep in the water” in the exhibition Kiss in the Dark: Contemporary Japanese Photography.

Asako Narahashi: half awake and half asleep in the water

The title of the series […] is very cleverly expressed. Her works, while betraying the stereotyped images of resort areas, somehow make visible as a shared recognition the image of the sea that people embrace. Therein, an uncomfortable felling like seasickness and a pleasurable feeling of floating and entrusting yourself to the sea lodge side by side.[…] They call forth an ambivalent feeling.
[Quote: Michiko Kasahara: Kiss in the Dark. Tokyo 2001]

Asako Narahashi: half awake and half asleep in the water

Not in the water, but the water´s edge. The resulting photographs were of a sort that I couldn’t tell wether they were not wanting to go over to the other side (= other world), but standing on this side (= this world) and peeping over a the other side, or looking over at this side from the other side.
[Quote: Asako Narahashi]

Asako Narahashi: half awake and half asleep in the water

By the way besides being published in group exhibition catalogues some images from “half awake and half asleep in the water” are contained in Narahashi´s book “Funiculi Funicula. Photographs 1998-2003”, Tokyo 2003, and the series is very well printed in the exhibition catalogue “Imagine”, Tama City Cultural Center 2003.


Recommended books:
Asako Narahashi: Funiculi Funicula. Photographs 1998-2003
Michiko Kasahara: Kiss in the Dark: Contemporary Japanese Photography