Shomei Tomatsu: Untitled (Hateruma-jima, Okinawa), from the series "The Pencil of the Sun", 1971 © Shomei Tomatsu

Shomei Tomatsu exhibition

It is interesting to have a look at the Western reception of Japanese photography in the last three decades. After a few initial exhibitions on Japanese photography in the 1970s and early 1980s – like the first and seminal show New Japanese Photography at the MOMA 1974 – the Western audience lost interest in this exceptionally productive period of time and in Japanese photography in generally. It took almost a decade that the interest in Japanese photography revitalized, but this time the interest focussed on contemporary Japanese photographers like Nobuyoshi Araki (first solo show in the West 1992), Hiroshi Sugimoto or Toshio Shibata.
Historical Japanese only came into view again at the end 1990s with the world tour of the Daido Moriyama exhibition, produced 1999 by Sandra Phillips at the SFMOMA, and in 2004 with the exhibition “The History of Japanese Photography” by Anne Tucker at the Museum of Fine Art Houston.Ann Tucker’s catalogue will be the reference publication on Japanese photography for many years to come. This kind of meandering reception of Japanese photography led to the surprising result that “the most important figure in Japanese postwar photography” is still much less known as the photographers who developed their work with or against him. Of course this photographer – who had been labeled the “godfather” of Japanese photography by an artist I met in Tokyo recently – is Shomei Tomatsu.

Recently I had the pleasure to initiate the first solo exhibition of Shomei Tomatsu in Germany, which is currently on show at Galerie Priska Pasquer.

Shomei Tomatsu at Galerie Priska Pasquer Cologne
Exhibition: March 13 – April 17, 2010

Shomei Tomatsu: Prostitute, 1957 © Shomei Tomatsu

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Asako Narahashi, recent works

Last year Asako Narahashi began to photograph outside in Japan, mainly in Dubai and Korea. Here is a squence of four works from Korea. Like for her previous series “half awake and half asleep in the water” again she found a very poetic title: “Coming Closer and Getting Further Away”

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Ikko Narahara Exhibition in Cologne

I was quite busy the whole summer working Galerie Priska Pasquer on the program of Japanese photography – including a trip to Tokyo. One result of my work can currently be seen at our gallery:

Ikko Narahara – Photographs from the 1950s to the 1970s

It’s the first solo exhibiton of Ikko Narahara´s work in Germany and the first time that his vintage prints from the 60s and 70s are on show in a gallery.

Ikko Narahara: Island without Green #12, Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, from the series: 'Human Land', 1954-1957  ©Ikko Narahara

Ikko Narahara, born in 1931 in the Fukuoka Prefecture was self taught photographer. The response to his first (one week) solo exhibition in Tokyo’s only photo gallery was so positive that he decided to become a photographer. Soon after he took part in the groundbreaking photography exhibition ‘The Eyes of Ten’ in Tokyo in 1957. Two years later he became one of the co-founders of the legendary photo agency VIVO (in collaboration with Shomei Tomatsu, Eikoh Hosoe, Kikuji Kawada, and others), which was to be the epicenter for a new generation of Japanese photographers.

Ikko Narahara: Garden of Silence #03, Hakodate, Hokkaido, from the series: 'Domains', 1958  ©Ikko Naraharaa

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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.
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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 photobook.

Masafumi Sanai: Trouble in mind. Taisho, 2008

Talking about photobooks I would like to come back to the John Szarkowski’s show in 1974. In the exhibiton 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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HIROSHI SUGIMOTO | Yellow Sea, Cheju, 1992

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” 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 II here
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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 Japan-Photo.info 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

Nobuyoshi Araki, Yoko, from ‘Sentimental Journey’, 1971 ©Nobuyoshi Araki

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Some recent activties

It’s over a year that I have written at Japan-Photo.info. 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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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

When I went to Japan in the second half of the 1990s for 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.

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

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 Mikikos 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 for to talk about themselves and to deal with their own identity. Mikiko’s topic is different, she does not speak about herself:

Mikiko Hara: Untitled (from the series: It As Is), 1996

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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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References   [ + ]

1. See my my earlier post about the exhibition when it started in New York.