Kayo Ume: Ume-me. Little More, 2006

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

This is the second part of my interview with Mariko Takeuchi, last year’s guest curator the Guest Curator of the Paris Photo fair. The interview was published (without the images) in foam magazine #17, winter 2008.

Part II    (Part I of the interview here)

Ferdinand Brueggemann:
Speaking of institutions and the galleries I would like to ask about Rinko Kawauchi. She is highly successful in the West, with many solo shows in Europe, in the USA and even in Latin America, but so far she has had only one solo exhibition in a Japanese museum, and that was in the countryside a long way out of Tokyo. Do you have an explanation for this gap?

Yutaka Takanashi: Untitled (Towards the city), 1968 ©Yutaka Takanashi

Mariko Takeuchi:
Perhaps it is not appropriate to judge an artist’s success only by his or her solo exhibitions in Japanese museums. Nevertheless, it is still not easy for Japanese photographers to be recognized and promoted by Japanese museums. For example, Yutaka Takanashi, who played a leading from around Provoke Era at the end of the 1960s will have his first museum-scale solo exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo next January. As you know, even though there are several museums which collect and exhibit photographs, it is still not easy for a photographer to get a solo show in a museum. In spite of that, Rinko Kawauchi, for example, is amazingly successful in Japan. Her photobooks are very popular. The common way to success for photographers in Japan is to first publish a photo book.

Masafumi Sanai: Trouble in mind. Taisho, 2008

Talking about photobooks I would like to come back to John Szarkowski’s show in 1974. In the exhibition catalogue Shoji Yamagishi, the Japanese co-curator, made the very important observation that the photobook is the most important tool for Japanese photographers to communicate their work. He gave three reasons for this: the aesthetics of the book, the shortage of exhibition venues and a non-existing art market: “Japanese photographers have only a limited opportunity to present their original prints to the public and no opportunity to sell their pictures to public or private collections. […] Japanese photographers usually complete a project in book form…”

Is Yamagishi’s observation that the photobook is the most important medium for a photographer still valid?

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Rinko Kawauchi: Untitled (from the series: Uatatane), 2001 ©Rinko Kawauchi

Rinko Kawauchi: “Utatane” exhibition in Paris

Just a short post after a long hiatus, but I hope to post more in the upcoming months.

I know I wrote a few times about Rinko Kawauchi – with whom I had a very pleasant dinner in Tokyo a few weeks ago -, but since this is the first time that her famous series “Utatane” from 2001 is exhibited in a solo show outside Japan, I thought it is worth to mention it.

Rinko Kawauchi “Uatane”, at Art77, presented by Antoine de Vilmorin (until May 3).

Rinko Kawauchi: Untitled (from the series: Uatatane), 2001 ©Rinko Kawauchi

As far as I know there has not been much written about the series and book “Utatane” (in contrary to “Aila”)  and which has lead to Rinko’s national and international breakthrough. For “Utatane” (and for her book “Hanabi” [Fireworks]) the artist received the prestigious Kimura Ihei Award and the book was included in the “The Photobook: A History. Vol. 2” by Parr and Badger. Badger wrote a very interesting comment on Rinko and “Utatane” in the photobook anthology:

Just when it seems that everything has been photographed, in every possible way, along comes a photographer, whose work is so original that the medium is renewed. Such a photographer is Rinko Kawauchi, who makes simple, lyrical pictures, so fresh and unusual that they are difficult to describe or classify.

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Mikiko Hara: untitled (from the series: Agnus Dei), 1998

Mikiko Hara

When I went to Japan in the second half of the 1990s to research Modern Japanese photography I was fortunate to meet the photographer Eiji Ina who introduced me to the contemporary photography scene in Tokyo. At that time it was nearly impossible for foreigners without a well-developed ability to read Japanese (especially names)As an example: when I visited the exhibition “MOBO, MOGA / Modern Boy, Modern Girl: Japanese Modern Art 1910-1935” in Kamakura (1998) all artists names were written in Kanji. Since I find Japanese names very difficult to read I asked other Japanese visitors for the names of some artists. This caused vivid discussions among the Japanese because the Kanji can have several different readings and sometimes the Japanese could not agree on the correct spelling of the names :-). to find out what was going on in Tokyo, since there were no English sources neither about exhibitions nor galleries available and Eiji Ina was so kind to take me to photography events like exhibition openings at galleries and museums or to the award ceremony of the Kimura Ihei Award. He also introduced me to the photographer Mikiko Hara, whom I met for the first time in 1998 at the opening of her exhibition “Agnus Dei” at Nikon Salon, Ginza/Tokyo.

A year later I saw Mikiko’s work again in the group exhibition about young Japanese women photographers “Private Room II” at Art Tower Mito. Curated by Kohtaro Iizawa this exhibition was a kind of assessment of the “onna no ko shashinka” (girly photographer) phenomenon which had already faded at that time. I felt that Mikiko’s work was misplaced in the girly photographer context since she was a few years older than these ‘girlies’ like Hiromix and Yurie Nagashima. Also, Hiromix’s and Nagashima’s main aim was to use the camera to talk about themselves and to deal with their own identity. Mikiko’s topic is different, she does not speak about herself:

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Daido Moriyama in Cologne

It’s not the first time that I write about Daido Moriyama. The reason is simple: Daido Moriyama is one of my favorite photographers. His photographs and his books – especially the book Shashinyo Sayônara (Farewell Photography) – had a huge impact on my initial idea of Japanese photography. Therefore it had a certain inevitability that soon after we began to work more intensively with Japanese photography at Galerie Priska Pasquer, we did a Daido Moriyama exhibition in 2004. The exhibition took place at the time when Daido Moriyama received the Cultural Award of the German Photographic Society. The award ceremony was held at the Photographische Sammlung / SK-Stiftung Kultur in Cologne (and where I had the pleasure to give the award speech).

Daido Moriyama. Retrospective from 1965
Photographische Sammlung / SK-Stiftung Kultur (Photographic Collection / SK-Culture Foundation)
Sept. 5 – Dec. 12, 2007

Daido Moriyama: Japan Theater, 1967

At the beginning of September Daido Moriyama was in Cologne again. He came for the opening of his exhibition Daido Moriyama. Retrospective from 1965 which is held at the same place where he received the Culture Award three years ago.

This retrospective, which comprises some 500 photographs, presents the decidedly complex work of Daido Moriyama (b. 1938), one of the most renowned Japanese photographers, from 1965 to the present day. It consists of thirteen series of pictures, largely based on vintage material, and a film presentation. Although Moriyama belongs to Japans post-1945 artist generation, who struck out along radically new aesthetic paths in the post-war period, it is interesting to note that to this day his work has lost none of its currency or artistic scope.

Daido Moriyama: Nippon Gekijo Shashincho (Japan Theater Photo Album), 1968

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Kikuji Kawada: The Japanese National Flag, 1960-65

John Szarkowski (1925-2007) and Japanese Photography

John Szarkowski, a curator who almost single-handedly elevated photography’s status in the last half-century to that of a fine art, making his case in seminal writings and landmark exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, died in on Saturday in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 81.
[Quote: New York Times Obituary]

American Photography

As the New York Times points out John Szarkowski “was first to confer importance on the work of Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand” and two of his books, “‘The Photographer’s Eye,’ (1964) and ‘Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures From the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art’ (1973), remain syllabus staples in art history programs.” Szarkowski also introduced the work by William Eggleston in the now legendary exhibition “William Eggleston’s Guide” (1976). This exhibition “was widely considered the worst of the year in photography.”

New Japanese Photography, MOMA, New York 1974

New Japanese Photography, MOMA, New York 1974


New Japanese Photography

John Szarkowski left definitely his mark in the field of American photography, but not only there. In 1974 John Szarkowski organized together with Shôji Yamagishi (editor of Camera Mainichi magazine) the exhibition “New Japanese Photography”. The exhibition introduced 15 photographers, amongst them the grand masters of Japanese photography: Ken Domon, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Shomei Tomatsu, Kikuji Kawada, Masatoshi Naitoh, Tetsuya Ichimura, Hiromi Tsuchida, Masahisa Fukase, Ikko, Eikoh Hosoe, Daido Moriyama, Ryoji Akiyama, Ken Ohara, Shigeru Tamura, and Bishin Jumonji.
It was the first major exhibition about contemporary Japanese photography outside Japan ever.

Kikuji Kawada: The Japanese National Flag, 1960-65

Kikuji Kawada: The Japanese National Flag, 1960-65

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Berlin – Tokyo – Berlin? Some thoughts on the asymmetry of the relationship of Japanese and German arts in the 20th century

Did anybody see the exhibition Berlin – Tokyo / Tokyo – Berlin at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo or later in Berlin? I wasn’t neither able to see the exhibition in Tokyo nor at the second venue in Berlin afterwards.

The reviews in the German press were very positive (except on the contemporary part of the show), while in Japan the review at the Japan Times was quite crushing:

Berlin/Tokyo: Invitation to a car wreck
The exhibition “Tokyo-Berlin/ Berlin-Tokyo” was put together by a total of 17 curators and assistants, and looks like it. This is a dog’s breakfast of a show — although there is a lot of good art here, the total amounts to less than the sum of the parts. If there is a unifying theme, it is trepidation, the fear of putting a foot wrong.
[Quote: Monti diPietro, Japan Times]


Some better examples

While I cannot say anything about the exhibition, I found the catalogue to the exhibition very weak compared to previous exhibition catalogues about the relationship between the West and Japan. Just take for example the catalogue to a similar themed exhibition “Japan und Europa 1543-1929” which was shown in Berlin in 1993. The catalogue to “Japan und Europa 1543-1929” contains many elaborate essays and additionally detailed descriptions and comments to every piece exhibited.  Or you could take the more recent exhibition catalogue “Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe 1500 – 1800” (Victoria &Albert Museum, London 2004) which contains very insightful essays on the early encounters between the West and Japan. I have seen the show and I keep it in my mind as a very important contribution to our knowledge about the cultural exchange in the early stage of the contact between the Far East and Europe.

Jun Watanabe: «Winter», 1926

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Japan Underground

A few weeks after reading the interview with Joe Nishizawa in Pingmag about his book “Deep Inside” I ordered the book at Amazon.jp. When the book arrived I was surprised to get a completely different book from the seller and I realized that I had mixed up the titles of the books “Deep Inside” by Joe Nishizawa and “Japan Underground” by Hideaki Uchiyama.

Both books deal with the vast and complex underground constructions which provide essential life lines and life support for Japanese mega cities like Tokyo or Osaka. And it seems that this topic is of great interest for Japanese photographers as well as for the Japanese audience. Hideaki Uchiyama already published three volumes of “Japan Underground” (2000, 2003 and 2005) and his first volume was reprinted last year, and Nishizawa’s book created a remarkable buzz in the (international) blogsphere due to the interview in Pingmag. But the best known series about this topic is from a third photographer, Naoya Hatakeyama, who published his series “Underground” in 2000, the year when Nishizawa published his first volume.

Naoya Hatakeyama: “Underground”

Naoya Hatakeyama

I look around but my sight is completely shut out. No light stimulus. My eyes are open but seem closed. Yet my eyeballs keep moving, trying harder to look and see and see, in vain. […]
I go down to the stream of central Tokyo, surrounded by concrete. This is a humanless world. Only five meters below the ground, it seems to me light-years away. […]

Naoya Hatakeyama: «Underground», 2003

The mold that grows in a limestone cave hundreds of kilometers away from Tokoy grew, too, in the underground darkness upstream of this river. Is it still there, I wonder? Reflecting my light, it shined like glassware. But it remains unaware of how beautiful it is.
Quote: Naoyama Hatakeyama, “Underground”

Hideaki Uchiyama: “Japan Underground”

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Symposion on Japanese Photography at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland

On occasion of the exhibition “Shomei Tomatsu – Skin of a Nation”[1]See my my earlier post about the exhibition when it started in New York. at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, the Museum hosts the symposium
“Photography and Lifestyle in Japan from 1945 until Today”
on Friday October 27.

Shomei Tomatsu: «Oshima Eiko, Actress in the Film Shiiku (Priz Stock)», 1961

I am invited to give a lecture on “Contemporary Japanese Photography and Lifestyle” and my talk is schedule just before the party. :-)
By the way, during the party there will be a slide show arranged by the Mariko Takeuchi, Tokyo: “20 new Japanese Photographers”
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1 See my my earlier post about the exhibition when it started in New York.

Rinko Kawauchi at Galerie Priska Pasquer, Cologne

It’s not the first time that I am mentioning Rinko Kawauchi in my blog, but this has a special reason.
I think it was 2003 when Markus Schaden, my local photobook dealer showed me a small photobook by a Japanese women photographer whom I had not heard of at that time. It was “Utatane” (Siesta) by Rinko Kawauchi. “Utatane” caught my attention immediately, since her photography was so much different to any photographer of her generation.”Utatane” is included in vol. 2 of “The Photobook: A History” by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. See my previous post.

Rinko Kawauchi: Untitled (from the series "Aila"), 2003

Rinko Kawauchi: Untitled (from the series “Aila”), 2003


Rinko Kawauchi had her first exhibition at the end 1990s only a few years after a new – not to say the first – generation of women photographer had emerged in Japan. Before the mid-1990s, the Japanese photography scene was completely male dominated, but this changed almost over night when the first onna no ko shashinka (girly photographers) entered the scene. Those onna no ko shashinka mostly did a kind of subjective documentary photography influenced by Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki. These women, amongst them most famous Hiromix and Yurie Nagashima, talked mainly about their own lives. With their spontaneous and direct and dairy like style the young photographers opened a new narrative in the Japanese photography, but soon they reached their own limitations, because of their self centred approach on reality.

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The ultimate list of Japanese photography books. Not!

Books on Photography Books

In the last years the interest in Japanese photography books has jumped from non recognition to becoming a must have not only for specialized photo book collectors. Books which were completely unknown outside Japan except to a few well informed collectors and researchers are now sold at high prices by rare book dealers and at auctions.[1]The latest and most spectacular rare photobook auction was a few months ago at Christie’s in London. I know it is a little bit late, but nevertheless I will write a short report about the … Continue reading

It all began in 1999 with the exhibition catalogue “Fotografia Publica. Photography in Print 1919-1939”.

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1 The latest and most spectacular rare photobook auction was a few months ago at Christie’s in London. I know it is a little bit late, but nevertheless I will write a short report about the auction results in another post – after I have received the auction catalogue which I had to buy from a auction catalogue dealer in the US, since the catalogue was sold out weeks before the auction started….