Featured: Aya Fujioka, “I Don’t Sleep”

Photographs ©Aya Fujioka

Written and Edited by Dan Abbe. You can find more on his blog about Japanese photography, Street Level Japan

My impression is that for an American audience, the words “Japanese photography” conjure up the names Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikoh Hosoe, or maybe even Kohei Yoshiyuki. Of course, these photographers are all revered within Japan, but even if Moriyama and Araki are still consistently putting out work, it’s safe to say that their creative peaks have passed. What about the Japanese photography of 2010? Aya Fujioka, a young Japanese photographer currently living in New York, represents something exciting that’s happening now. Her recent book “I Don’t Sleep” is published by a very forward-thinking publisher, Akaaka-sha, which led me to call her work “Akaakaesque.” This was kind of a joke, of course, but I do think that Akaaka-sha has developed a strong voice as a publisher: they consistently push color work driven by a highly personal vision, almost like a kind of cinéma d’auteur in photography, and “I Don’t Sleep” is one of their best offerings of the past couple of years.

With Araki’s benediction, in the 1990s teenage sensation Hiromix made offhand color snapshots a genre worth taking seriously. “I Don’t Sleep” seems to fit into this tradition, which has largely, though not exclusively, been followed by other women—Ume Kayo and Rinko Kawauchi could fit in here. “I Don’t Sleep” really sets itself apart from this style, though, by relating a complete episode from Fujuoka’s own life. You could flip through the pages quickly and see a collection of random snapshots, but when you sit down with the book, it’s hard to avoid getting sucked in. Whenever I show this book to someone, they might keep up a light conversation as they start looking through it, but at a certain point they fall silent until they’ve reached the end. I have tried to recreate this feeling in this edit, where the order of the photos is largely unchanged from the way they appear in the book. It’s my hope that something in this work will resonate with an audience outside of Japan.