Anyone that knows me and my ‘likes’ as far as photography goes will know that Japanese photography ranks high on the scale of things that get me buzzing, so it was a certain amount of excitement that I headed off to Liverpool last Wednesday for opening night, even if my “thing” is more centred around the (admittedly more predictable) Provoke era, the exhibition includes the work of some of those that went on to form the short-lived Vivo collective (after Fukushima’s Junin-no-Me, or Eyes of Ten exhibition in 1957). I do tend to like most of the stuff that’s come out of Japan though, from the really early to the contemporary. Something to do with their way of seeing I suppose. It’s not necessarily tied to the Western art practice, although it does feature from time to time (I’me thinking Yasumasa Morimura here).
Looking around the exhibition, there’s a good mix of work there; 11 different photographers according to the little catalogue, from Ken Domon to Yasuhiro Ishimoto, through Eikoh Hosoe and Shomei Tomatsu, amongst others. Much of the work can be considered to be in a social documentary vein, and that’s exactly what it is. However, whilst the work is effectively documenting the tumultuous post-war years from the A-bomb and occupation to becoming an economical power-house, it also represents a shift from a realism movement (Domon) to a more humanist style of photography, inspired by HCB and Doisneau…
There is much to enjoy, but a particular pleasure was seeing a wall of Eikoh Hosoe’s photographs, from Man and Woman, Kamaitachi and Barakei. These are much more ‘artistic’ than many of the others, in Kamaitachi, Hosoe photographed Tatsumi Hijikata performing the role of the titular “weasel-demon” in a butoh dance, so is deviating from the mantra of Domon and the “absolutely unstaged snapshot” (Vartanian et al, p21). I’m really captivated by the depth of the blacks in the image from Barakei (leftmost in the image above), it drew me into it. I have Kamaitachi in book form, together with others in a compilation, and whilst the book form is really nice, the “problem” when compared to the gallery print is that the image is rotated and spread across two pages. The gallery print is also much better quality, although it has to be said my copy is a reprint and I can’t comment on the original, those original artists books are something to behold.
There were also some prints from Kikuji Kawada’s Chizu (The Map), a photobook of considerable reputation; it’s regard it as the “ultimate photobook-as-object” (Parr and Badger, p286 ). Here, Kawada looks at the aftermath of the war, the bombs and the American occupation. He uses the camera and the contrast in the black and white printing to introduce a level of abstraction in the documentary – it’s really effective at what it does.
An excellent collection of images – I’ll be going back to the exhibition at least once before it’s ended, I’ve booked into a talk by Marc Feustel and I’m thinking about the book-binding course as well…
Parr, M and Badger, G (2004) The Photobook: A History volume I. 2010 reprint. London. Phaidon Press Limited.
Vartanian, I, Hatanaka A and Kambayashi, Y (2006) Setting Sun: writings by Japanese photographers. New York. Aperture Foundation Books.
What are we looking at?
Sometimes, it feels like looking at postmodern art (and the theory behind it) is something like looking at the world through the code of the Matrix. It doesn’t make sense until you start to pick up the patterns. I still feel like a novice at this, even though I’ve been reading around the subject for a little while now. Gerald Deslandes third lecture was a quick dip into the world of postmodernism, and of globalisation. Again, it was quick and quite superficial because of the time constraints (90 minutes again, or thereabouts), but despite this it was still interesting.
In the 80’s and 90’s, art became “cool”, travel became easier and media was rammed down our throats. And then there’s digitisation and computers. Postmodernism seemed maybe like a logical way to go after two world wars and two atomic bombs… Something a little more playful. Something confusing. Something made up.
Looking at the first 40-ish slides on postmodernism, there were some artists I didn’t know and there were some I did. The Dusseldorf school (The Bechers, Gursky and Struth) got a mention – I’d not actually considered them to be postmodernists, but on reflection I can see the case for Gursky and Struth, a little less for the Bechers. Are their trademark typographies playful? Are they signs referring to other signs? No, but there is an element of “the end of the machine”. I’d not identified this as being part of postmodernism, but sure enough, a quick Google and you find “Postmodernists rue the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion” ( allaboutphilosophy.org) – these buildings are the remains of a bygone technology…
The work of John Kippin may be worth a more detailed look. I’d not heard of Kippin, but both images appealed to some degree.
Other key ideas highlighted were detournement and appropriation (Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince), Gerhardt Richter’s paintings, especially that of Gudrun Ensslin of the Red Army Faction (called Ulrike Meinhof in the presentation).
With the globalisation presentation, artwork from beyond the West was introduced. Ai Weiwei was there obviously, with his sesame seeds (mass produced like things are in China, but will cultural implications as they’re made from ceramics, and of course it is representing food and abundance…) Other artists mimic “native” or “tribal” artefacts and iconography, with some exhibitions displaying the two side by side (“what are we looking at?” comes to mind again), and also non-Westerners realign their practice to gain advantage from globalisation – the example was given of Cyprien Tokoudagba, a shaman from Benin who made work to help people becoming an artist and selling the same works as art.
Certainly food for thought, and a great foil for the postmodern theory I’d been reading of late – good to see some of it actually appear as artwork of one kind or another.
Douglas Gordon was mentioned, and I highlighted his name for further investigation (which I’ve not done yet). What peaked my interest was his appropriation of film by stretching them out to a 24h duration, the slow motion changes them to something meaningless, defined only by what we take from it. Something perhaps worth exploring with the work I’ve been doing? Yes, certainly someone to take a further look at when the opportunity comes.
Lots of other stuff reinforced what I’d previously covered; Barthes Panzani advert and “Italianicity” and the connotations it brings of freshness, abundance and yes, Italianicity through the red, white and green colours matching the Italian flag (even though Panzani is a French company).
(from http://pages.ucsd.edu/~bgoldfarb/cocu108/data/images/Week2/album/panzani.jpg accessed 17/1/15)
There was talk about consumerism (Manet) and availability (Koons), and how Pop Art was very astute about the nature of images, how they become empty of meaning after constant reproduction, or at least they start to take on other meanings and empty of their original meaning. There was mention about how meanings change with the time, or at least how aspirations change, from “get married” to “got a girl”…
All in all, a lot to take in, not a lot of time to take it in in, but interesting nonetheless…
I’ll add what I’ve prepared as the voiceover text later, whether it ends up being what I actually say remains to be seen.
Slide 1 - Rob, some time ago...
Slide 2 - Concert photograph, 2010
Slide 3 - Heinz Hajek Halke, The Home of Sailors, 1930
Slide 4 - Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brussels, 1932 (MoMA)
Slide 5 - Daido at Polka, 2011
Slide 6 - Shomei Tomatsu, Kadena-cho, Okinawa, 1969
Slide 7 - William Klein, Torn Cine Poster, 1961
Slide 8 - Tony Ray-Jones, Glyndebourne, 1967
Slide 9 - Christopher Petit, Radio On, 1979
Slide 10 - Untitled, from Speak My Language, 2013
Slide 11 - Petra Wunderlich, NYC Kingdom Hall, 2009
Slide 12 - John Darwell, Legacy: Inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 1998
Slide 13 - William Eggleston, Untitled (Peaches), 1973
Slide 14 - Stephen Shore, US 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, 21 July 1973.
Slide 15 - Ridley Scott, Blade Runner, 1982
Slide 16 - Books 1, 2015
Slide 17 - Menu, 2012
Slide 18 - Books 2, 2014
Slide 19 - Barbara Kruger, Belief + Doubt, 2012
Slide 20 - Pop Art Rob
Here’s what I intended to say, but it didn’t quite work out that way:
1. Hi, my name is Rob and I’m addicted to photography
I’m going to talk about some of the things that I’ve liked and have influenced me over the years. The first thing I have to mention is music; it’s affected the way I looked, the way I feel and the work I produce. As you know, I’ve used lyrics in my images, but I’ve also used music as the image itself.
2. Here’s a photo I took at a gig, the photograph shows the audience and the effect music can have. Elsewhere it might be less overt but it’s there if you know where to look for the signs. All of my recent projects are also named after songs too. Might be a bit cheesy, but there we go.
3. Surrealism was the first “ism” I became aware of at school, and it’s stayed with me to some degree ever since. Not just in terms of photographers either, but Dali, Magritte and so on too. It probably comes from reading too much science fiction when I was younger.
4. Another surrealist was Henri Cartier-Bresson, but he will be better known for his photographs of the “decisive moment”, like his famous St Lazare photograph. I really got into black and white photography from these old images from Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau and Atget, etc.
5. From France, my interests moved over to Japan and the Vivo and Provoke groups from the 60s and 70s – photographers such as Tomatsu, Hosoe, Moriyama and Takanashi were producing images in the “are bure boke” style - grainy, blurry and out of focus.
6. The images were politically charged, and even though they were influenced by the West, and new wave filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, they pushed against the American occupation of Japan and reacted to the experience of the atomic bomb.
7. William Klein was an influence on Moriyama, and I thought their exhibition at the Tate a couple of years ago was brilliant. What draws me is the way he layers different elements – photo with photo as with this one, or with text or graphic design.
8. Coming closer to home, I have to say I’m English, and I do like the more contemporary style of English photography – after the Picture Post era like this one from Tony Ray-Jones, it became a little edgier and… eccentric. I find this really interesting.
9. Cinema is another big influence, as you may have noticed from the work I’ve been doing. This still is from Christopher Petit’s Radio On, which was a direct influence on the work I exhibited in Bank Street last year with Speak My Language – a mosaic of images viewed in a large grid to form a non-linear narrative.
10. This is one of the images from that work, it’s of Wong Kar-Wai’s “Fallen Angels”, which also gave me the title of the project – Laurie Anderson’s “Speak my Language” was on the soundtrack to the film, and this frame and the lyrics were included in the mosaic.
11. I’ve also got to mention Objectivity and the Dusseldorf School – people like the Bechers, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky. I find this relatively recently but it appeals to the engineer in me, with everything neat and ordered and logical.
12. Quite a few years ago, I attended a talk by John Darwell. During that talk, he spoke about his transition to colour photography, saying “This is now”. It really struck a chord with me and I’ve generally worked in colour since, but not always…
13. William Eggleston was one of the early colour pioneers, who helped make colour photography acceptable on the art scene. I really do like his eye for mundane details, the way he picks up on all the little things we might overlook and makes you look at them as if they now meant something. They become important somehow.
14. Stephen Shore was another of the early colour art photographers. This particular image illustrates postmodernist ideas for me, the simulacra of the mountain in front of the real thing, not quite a map so big it covers the country, but still…
15. This brings me back to film and Blade Runner – an all time favourite of mine, and a perfect postmodern film, with its themes of simulation, what is real and all that. Looking at something like this starts to make sense of some of the pomo theory.
16. I’ve done a reasonable amount of reading on visual culture, and I do subscribe to some of it, but not all – it gets a bit… aloof in places, and it assumes a lot. Some times I just like to appreciate things for what they are to me (itself part of the theory), rather than what they might mean or not.
17. My favourite kind of book is the photobook though. This is one I produced with Daido Moriyama at an event at the Tate. My methodology was much different to his, I was much more considered, and he was very random, more spontaneous. His juxtapositions can be down to luck rather than planning.
18. I like the physicality of the photobook, the image becomes an object that you can “own” rather than something just seen on a computer screen. Whilst books might be thought of as a limited media, you can do so much with it if you want to. And we all know about bookness now.
19. I’ve mentioned text before, but then I don’t like direct captions. I like to think about what I’m seeing, rather than being told what it is. Ok, sometimes I’ll admit to needing a clue, but if the caption is reductive, I’d rather not read it.
20. And that’s it, back to music, me and popular culture… I probably should have been born 20 years earlier.
I’m waiting for feedback from some of the cohort, but I think things went well enough. And it was quite interesting that the Barbara Kruger text came up in the lecture beforehand (as did Warhol’s Marilyn).
Col du Trédudon
I did come home and write up my notes on the Neo Avant-Garde though...