Tokyo Digest – June 2012

All photos © Hiroshi Takizawa

Unconscious Photography

It’s been a big month for photography in Tokyo. German conceptual photographer Thomas Demand and Japanese ephemeral photographer Rinko Kawauchi each had big museum exhibits up, while Space Cadet had an 18-person (!) group show. Meanwhile, old hands Araki, Moriyama (see below) and Yashuiro Ishimoto (R.I.P.) all had excellent shows. Something for everyone, in short. The contrast between Demand and Kawauchi was interesting, though: they’re of the same generation, but their approach to photography couldn’t be farther apart. Demand has practically worked out an entire theory of images, while Kawauchi is the leading representative of a concept-less, aesthetically-driven photography which seems to emanate (as if “by nature”) directly from the photographer’s brain. This kind of “unconscious photography,” which is directed towards finding casually observed moments of beauty, has a lot of currency in Japan, and I still think that’s a positive thing.

That said, I wonder whether this style is starting to exhaust itself. If we look at unconscious photography as a project, won’t the number of beautiful objects to be “discovered” run out? Isn’t the internet (if not just Flickr by itself) hastening that process? Where can this photography “go”? Those questions aside, unconscious photography of the Japanese sort has a lot more to answer for in light of last year’s triple earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. My complaints from last time about the photographs taken after 3/11 are still there: it seems like a lot of photographers are going up to the disaster area without any real idea of what they should be doing, except for the vague sense that, since they are a photographer, they should be taking photographs. In this situation, an unconscious approach is bound to fail. (One major exception to all this is Naoya Hatakeyama, whose post 3/11 work will be shown in San Francisco starting late July.)

It’s in this context that I’d like to introduce Hiroshi Takizawa, a young photographer who came to photography late, after studying Psychological Counseling in college. In this series, “Dream Exit,” he’s developed what I would like to call “consciously unconscious photography.” Takizawa is really, seriously trying to think through his dreams and recognize them in real life. So, he hasn’t developed a Demand-esque concept of image-making here, and he’s shooting on the fly, but he’s motivated by specific reasons that go beyond “just” showing something beautiful. (Takizawa describes “Dream Exit” as an interior series, and its companion, “A Rock of the Moon,” as exterior.) To be frank, he suffers from the opposite problem as unconscious photographers; where they might sometimes lack an explanation for their work, Takizawa’s explanation is sometimes hard to untangle. But this is not such a bad problem to have—at least there’s something there. To put it plainly, Takizawa (among others) has taken up the task for young Japanese photographers coming up behind Kawauchi: to develop, out of the aesthetic of unconscious photography, some kind of consciousness.

 

Forgot About Daido

Most of what gets consumed of Daido Moriyama’s photography is a re-release of his old material, and I had genuinely started to wonder whether he had anything new left to show us today. I was happily proved wrong, though, by his recent exhibit “Color.” The title is simple enough, and it hints at the fact that the photos in the show were all snapshots taken on a digital camera—and I’m pretty sure they were printed directly from Moriyama’s SD card. The images did not look “good,” in the sense that you wouldn’t buy one to hang up on your wall. I’m also pretty sure, though, that Moriyama’s intention was to keep these images from being easily consumed. After all, he’s the guy who made grainy images popular (not that that was his goal), but this digital grain just makes everything look cheap and unappealing. Why even bother to take and exhibit these photos, then? Well, the photos are all of Tokyo, but not the city of bright lights. Instead it’s a combination of the forgotten Tokyo (decaying post-war buildings) with the ugly Tokyo (endless vending machines, chain stores). It’s as close to a contemporary and radical photography as I’ve seen in Japan, and it’s a perfect argument for Moriyama’s continued relevance.

 

PH

One of the strangest (or most frustrating) things about watching Japanese photography from Tokyo is how difficult it can be for people outside of Japan to acquire the books that are being produced here. There are a few specialty shops that carry Japanese photobooks, but especially when it comes to young photographers, there are many publications that aren’t available online. So a friend and I have started a new website, PH, which is selling many photobooks from Japan, at no markup. Hiroshi Takizawa’s book “A Rock of the Moon,” Daisuke Yokota’s zines and many other titles are available.