Introduction by Dan Abbe for Japan Exposures
When you first see Emi Fukuyama’s work, you may ask yourself: “what’s going on here?” Nothing much is ever really happening in the places that Emi photographs, so you could say her work is quiet. But she doesn’t belong with topographic photographers or anything banal. Her photos are vague rather than just simple. As unremarkable as the things she photographs may be, she draws you in by making it difficult for you to see them clearly. This creates a tension running through her work which hints at something more interesting happening here.
Emi’s work is visually slippery. She prints with very low contrast, so nothing jumps out at you, not that there are many eye-catching subjects here to begin with. Still, there is something consistent in the series: your view of the photo’s subject is almost always blocked by something out of focus in the foreground. Someone with an MFA might talk about how this technique is meant to “subvert” conventional “modes” of photographic understanding, but I really don’t think there’s too much to be read here–by now Emi must think no harder about this way of shooting than about her own handwriting. As a viewer, though, it’s strange to be consistently denied a clear view of what you feel you’re supposed to be looking at.
These obstructions provide the tension that holds this work together. It gives me the impression that at a very basic level, she’s not actually trying to show you the thing she’s looking at, but to show you the way that she’s looking at it. If the foreground often becomes a sort of distraction, this might be a kind of honesty on Emi’s part, to show her own unwillingness to look at (and later present) things so simply. In the text accompanying her book, Emi describes a recurring childhood trauma in which she was unable to go to sleep for fear that the world would disappear if she did. So, what is going on here? Maybe Emi’s photographs are an attempt to faithfully trap her own view of things, keeping them from fading away. But I really can’t say, and that’s what keeps me interested.
Please also see our review of Fukuyama’s photobook, The Moon, Following Me.