Archive for the ‘Yurie Nagashima’ tag
As part of the exhibition 10×10 Japanese Photobooks, on show from the 28th to the 30th of September in New York, I have been invited to select ten Japanese photobooks which will be featured in an online space in the run-up to the exhibition. This list was selected in relation to my PhD research on Japanese photography of the 1990s. The so called post-bubble era witnessed the emergence of a number of iconoclastic female photographers whose work has had a major cultural impact in Japan at the time.
Pushing against cultural taboos and strict censorship laws in Japan, Yurie Nagashima’s provocative photo book heralded the emergence of Japanese female photographers in the mid-1990s. As Nagashima photographs herself in various sexually suggestive roles, the book functions as powerful allegory on the relationship between performance and gender identity.
After her sensational debut at Canon’s New Cosmos of Photography award in 1995, Hiromix’s first book Girl’s Blue became a national bestseller when it was published in 1996. Vaguely referencing ‘snapshot’ style photography such as by Nan Goldin and Araki, the book encapsulates the optimism and youthfulness of a new generation of photographers at the forefront of social and cultural change in Japan.
In this book, intriguingly titled ‘What’s happening before your eyes’ in translation, Ohashi seeks to represent the trauma of his father’s failed suicide attempt. The images of the father being carried away by paramedics and later recovering in the fluorescent lit hospital room are nothing other than haunting. Yet Ohashi also sees beauty in his father’s recovery who is depicted looking through a pair of binoculars, metaphorically looking into the future. The book is a gripping and surreal homage to the fragility yet also the beauty of life.
Naoki Honjo photographs with a tilt-shift mechanism which makes the world beneath look like a miniature version of reality. A thin plane of focus, precisely trained on tiny people and objects below, creates a fantastical and surreal depiction of the urban environment.
Seeing Birds is a collection of Rika Noguchi’s eclectic and evocative photography projects. Her work differs from her contemporaries as it is usually driven by a very precise and seemingly predetermined aesthetic as well as conceptual photographic methodology. Divers photographed underwater, climbers on Mount Fuji – with this book Noguchi explores essentially liminal spaces.
The book consists of a series of photographs that depict the ancient pilgrimage trail to Kumano – a place that exemplifies the Buddhist and Shinto influences in Japan. If perhaps inadvertently nationalistic, the book appears to search for a cultural and religious ‘origin’.
Published along two other titles, Hanabi and Hanako, Utatane explores Rinko Kawauchi’s recognisable photographic style of a narrowly defined focal plane and close up shots in square format. Photographing anything from a half-eaten watermelon to a spoonful of salmon roe, Kawauchi’s distinct style lends everyday subjects a sense of beauty and belonging.\
Sakiko Nomura’s Ai No Jikan, or ‘Time for Love’, is a collection of grainy and dark photographs of her friends, both male and female, in the nude. The work deconstructs assumptions about sexuality, nakedness and representations of the nude.
Masafumi Sanai’s Wakaranai, ‘I don’t know’ in translation, is a slightly surreal even humorous take on seemingly banal objects. Sanai’s apparent obsession with cars, cloud formations, discarded objects and the streets would become a reoccurring theme in his later works.
In this series, ‘Rooms and Underwear’ in translation, Maki Miyashita has photographed different women from all walks of life at home in their underwear. The photographs are a reflection of the growing genre of so-called ‘private photography’ emerging in Japan during the 1990s. Ironically, it is often the objects in the room that tell us more about the person being photographed.
Here is the full list of contributors for the 10×10 Japanese Photobooks online space:
Ken Iseki / My New Notebook
Lilian Froger / 748= photobooks
Kohei Oyama / Parapera
Nicolas Codron / A Japanese Book
Victor Sira and Shiori Kawasaki / Book Dummy Press
Laurence Vecten / One year of books
Marco Bohr / Visual Culture Blog
Rémi Coignet + Nina Poppe / Des Livres et des photos
Marc Feustel / Eyecurious
If you are interested in Japanese photography from the 1960s, please download my essay:
Marco Bohr (2011). ‘Are-Bure-Boke: Distortions in Late 1960s Japanese Cinema and Photography’. Dandelion Journal. Vol. 2, No. 2.
The history of Japanese cinema and photography is, as in most cultural contexts, deeply interconnected and related. In the post-war period a number of important films make direct or indirect reference to photographic movements. For instance, the existential meditation on sand and desire in Hiroshi Teshigahara’s classic Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna, 1964) is strongly reminiscent of the surrealist photographs taken in the Tottori sand dunes by Shoji Ueda in the 1950s; Woman in the Dunes would be filmed in the Tottori sand dunes, not far from Ueda’s childhood home, as the location was the perfect backdrop for Teshigahara’s study of man’s confrontation with the elements.
Similarly, the fast camera movements and improvised cinematography in Toshio Matsumoto’s avant-garde Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no sôretsu, 1969) appear to be linked to the photographic style ‘are, bure, boke’ (rough, blurry, out-of-focus) that was popular among photographers such as Daido Moriyama in the late 1960s. Moriyama himself worked as a stills photographer on the set for Funeral Parade of Roses and a number of his subsequent photographs reference Matsumoto’s eclectic cinematic style (I have written about this elsewhere). From the many occasions throughout modern Japanese history in which a relationship between cinema and photography can be established, this essay will focus on more recent films which, like Woman in the Dunes and Funeral Parade of Roses before them, make distinct references to photographic trends.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai, 2004) depicts the lives of four children abandoned by their mother in a Tokyo apartment, with Kore-eda’s employing dreamlike cinematography to underline the highly-subjective experience of childhood trauma. Long segments are shot at close-up range, with a macro lens and wide open aperture, creating a narrow depth of field. The result of this technique is that the camera focuses only on a small part within the frame while the rest falls out of focus. The effect is comparable to the visual experience of focusing on an object closely held in front of the eyes. Similar to the tatami perspective employed by Yasujiro Ozu, Nobody Knows is consistently filmed from a low vantage point mirroring the height of the abandoned child coping with alienation. Kore-eda’s highly subjective cinematography functions as a visual allegory for the plot itself: the world is represented from the perspective of a child focusing on small details which, in sum, creates a rich variety of visual layering and textures throughout the film.
The cinematic technique of tight framing and selective focusing appears to be borrowed from the photographer Rinko Kawauchi, who also worked on the set of Nobody Knows as stills photographer. Born in 1972 and initially operating as a commercial photographer, Kawauchi’s emergence as art photographer began in 2001 when she published, in parallel, three celebrated photography books, Utatane, Hanabi and Hanako . In all these works, Kawauchi employs a highly imaginative viewpoint to scenes of the everyday. Photographing in square format, Kawauchi’s vision turns seemingly insignificant details into visually appealing and abstract observations: a dead wasp lies on a windowsill, a half-eaten watermelon rests on a plate, and a spoonful of salmon roe is photographed from a low vantage point. Part of the attraction of Kawauchi’s work is that she photographs subjects that might otherwise be overlooked.
It is precisely this focus on mostly ignored details that has also been employed in Nobody Knows: the camera focuses in tightly on the children playing on a miniature piano, painting their nails with varnish, or nurturing plants that are growing on the balcony of the apartment. The visual similarities of selective focus and tight framing in Kawauchi’s photography and Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows fulfil the function of fragmenting the environment into neatly divided narratives. In both cases, an emphasis is placed on experiences of the everyday: while Kawauchi focuses on representations of the natural world, Kore-eda focuses on the children growing older in the course of the movie. Photography and film act as technological devices to arrest an unstoppable process dictated by nature. Although it might appear that Kawauchi and Kore-eda work in the tradition of documentary practices, it can be argued that their representations of the everyday are more closely situated within a desire to create visual abstractions of an easily overlooked and subjective experience. The optical characteristics of the camera are consciously utilized to further underline a narrative that thrives on subtleties and quiet observation.
Another photographer whose work greatly impacted cinematic conventions is Mika Ninagawa. Born in 1972, Ninagawa was at the forefront of a new generation of female photographers, which included Yurie Nagashima and Hiromix, emerging in Japan during the 1990s. For their contributions to photographic discourse, Ninagawa, Nagashima and Hiromix received the Kimura Ihee award – Japan’s most prestigious photography award in 2000. To an extent, the combined impact of the so-called ‘girl photographers’ paved the way for female photographers such as Kawauchi herself. After publishing numerous celebrated photography books (the preferred method of photographic dissemination in Japan), Ninagawa directed Sakuran (2007). Based on the manga series by Moyocco Anno, Sakuran tells the story of a young courtesan battling for supremacy in the red light district Yoshiwara. Set in the latter part of the Edo period, Sakuran enters a well established genre of Japanese period dramas and movies concerned with the frivolity and promiscuity of a bygone era. Ninagawa’s take on the Yoshiwara, however, comes with an intriguing even confusing modern twist as historical accuracy is completely sidelined for an eclectic mix of rock music, derogatory language and cultural attributes associated with the Japanese idol system. In other words, Sakuran functions as a pastiche of the Yoshiwara.
Like Ninagawa’s photographs, Sakuran is filmed in rich colours, high contrast, flowery textures and sometimes comical excess. Goldfish are a recurring motif in Sakuran signifying the courtesans’ beauty and colourful appearance while, at the same time, signifying the courtesans’ condition of being trapped in a tightly-controlled environment. Like the goldfish – as Ninagawa explores in her visually rich cinematography – the courtesans are predominantly subjects to be visually consumed. The excessive colour in Sakuran also aids to highlight the flamboyant fashion and character of the main protagonist, Kiyohada. Like Kiyohada’s voice, the colours are ‘loud’. The cinematography thus informs the main plot of the movie based on Kiyohada’s continuous subversity and (sexual) aggression. The high contrast signifies, literally, Kiyohada standing out from everyone else in the Yoshiwara.
Often seen in the context of fashion or celebrity photography, Ninagawa’s photographic work does not initially attract a conceptually dense interpretation: the viewer’s experience appears to be based on looking at a subject deemed beautiful, cute, exotic and colourful. The conceptual void left by a lack of narrative in Ninagawa’s photographs is filled in Sakuran, which, seen alongside her photographs, lifts her body of work as a whole. Rather than giving into the codes of beauty, extreme colour and high contrast become signifiers for the subversion a dominant culture. In that sense, Sakuran is far more a reflection of modern life than it is a representation of the Yoshiwara. In this context, it is important to mention that the main protagonist is played by Anna Tsuchiya, a former model renowned for her controversial behaviour and a so-called hafu – of half- Japanese and half-Caucasian descent. The protagonist’s battle for recognition in Sakuran is thus mirrored in Tsuchiya’s own experience of working as a model/singer/actress endlessly touring various TV shows. Kiyohada’s battle to become a high-class Oiran courtesan is reflected in Tsuchiya’s own experience as idol situated within a patriarchal sign economy. Ninagawa’s exaggerated colours and visually rich cinematography underlines the fact that this sign economy is driven by a curiosity for the young, the exotic, the one that stands out from all the others.
What Nobody Knows and Sakuran have in common is that they employ a very specific visual strategy that supports the narrative of the film. This visual strategy, in both cases, is derived from a strong affinity with the medium of photography. While Nobody Knows openly references Rinko Kawauchi’s photographic methodology of fragmenting the world, Mika Ninagawa uses her own approach of depicting the world in an exaggerated culmination of colour and contrast. The result of this photographic approach is that in both cases the optical characteristics of the camera support the narrative of the film as a whole. The examples also point to the fact that film and photography, as being such related mediums, are best viewed not as distinctly autonomous creative economies but, rather, that they constitute regimes of representation that continuously feed off each other and create new spaces for exploration.
The photography gallery C/O Berlin has recently experienced a paint bomb attack on a publicity image which depicts a woman’s genital area and which is poignantly displayed in full view of the public above the entrance of the gallery. In the photograph by the American photographer Larry Clark, just above the subject’s pubic hair is a small tattoo which reads ‘Larry’. The tattoo fulfils an important function in the photograph as it reads as a type of artist signature. Yet rather than signifying the authenticity of the photograph, here, ‘Larry’ didn’t make his mark on a work of art, but rather, he made his mark on a body, a female body.
The tattoo literally re-inscribes the old orthodoxy of female subject ‘captured’ by the male photographer. ℅ Berlin quite consciously selected this image for their main publicity as it immediately introduces the viewer to Clark’s contentious and highly voyeuristic body of work. Placing the work above the entrance of the gallery is an obvious provocation to the public, as if to suggest that entering the gallery is metaphorically entering the body of Clark’s subject. The image seeks to forebode the experience of viewing Clark’s work: a highly intimate and personal encounter with those he photographs. Similar to the visual aesthetics of pornography however, here the body is entirely fragmented, cropped, even displaced from any social or political context with the exception of the word ‘Larry’.
The paint bomb attack raises a number of interesting questions. In the first instance, what and/or who was attacked? The photograph? The anonymous subject? The photographer as the person responsible for the representation? Or the gallery, as the institution responsible for displaying the work to the public? And who was the potential attacker? A group or an individual opposed to the representation of the naked body in public places? In the context of Berlin’s complex history, this attack is particularly relevant. In 1900, following a crackdown on urban vice emanating most notably from Berlin’s illustrious nightlife, the parliament of Imperial Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II put in place an ‘Obscenity Law’, also referred to as Lex Heinze, which stated the following: “Imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to one-thousand Mark, or one of those punishments, will be enforced on those who … are in the possession of, sell or distribute obscene [unzüchtige] writings, images or representations in places that are accessible to the public, including their exhibition …” This law, written in the archaic language of a crumbling empire, illustrates that Berlin, before Paris, London or New York, has historically been at the forefront of navigating the question of what constitutes obscenity. Art, may it be photography, painting, theatre, cabaret, consistently pushed against these definitions to the extent that Berlin remained a hot bed for subculture and radical art until the 1930s. In other words, Berlin has a history of seeking a definition of obscenity in view of the public.
With regard to Larry Clark’s photograph, rather than looking at the paint destroying the image, it might be useful to consider what the paint actually contributes to it. In this context, the red colour of the paint bomb signifies a woman’s menstrual cycle, or, metaphorically speaking, the blood signifies the lived condition of the female body. Visitors to the gallery will be vividly confronted with this metaphorical blood as it drips from the image on to the steps of the gallery. This new version of Larry Clark’s photograph bears similarities with the work of feminist artist such Carolee Schneemann or, more recently, Yurie Nagashima.
The intention of the attackers – if they even be called that – might never be known. They might have been a group of radical interventionist, seeking to highlight the pornofication of the female body. A cynic might even say that the gallery is ultimately profiting from the extra publicity produced by the German media (and of course this blog) which results in more awareness of the Larry Clark exhibition. The answers to who threw the paint bomb for what reasons will likely remain unanswered. Yet what can be deduced from the attack is that the image clearly had an affect on an individual or a group, to the extend that they went through the trouble of throwing the paint bomb. In other words, the image caused a reaction which outweighed the financial, physical, psychological and legal ramifications of being caught. The paint bomb not only functions as an homage to the vulnerability of the body, but it also functions as a reminder that a definition of obscenity – particularly in Berlin – is a constantly shifting, unpredictable and sometimes contradictory discourse.
For more on the relationship between art, the female body and obscenity, please read Linda Nead’s classic book The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality. Other recommendations can be found in our online bookshop.