Tag Archives: 冬青社

Draped in Uncertainty – The Other Side by Masako Miyazaki

 

What is
On the other side
In the forest
draped in uncertainty
I am alone,
gazing in admiration

— Masako Miyazaki

When presenting and discussing Japanese Photography I often wonder whether myself and everyone else share our definition of what Japanese Photography is (or is not). Whether there is even a need to ask for a definition or leave it open to everyone to substitute their own. Still, sooner or later someone might ask “what do you like about Japanese photography?” or “what do you think is different in Japanese Photography?”. Then you would have to ask back, what the person means by Japanese Photography at the first place. Is it a signature style or technique? Probably not. Or simply a Japanese photographer, or a photograph taken in the country of Japan? Possibly, but that’s not all. Could a non-Japanese person produce Japanese Photography at all, or a Japanese person be unable to do so? Probably yes. There are no obvious answers, only clues. I have been looking for such clues for a while and even though my answer is not complete, I feel that gathering traces is a legitimate way to approach it.

Masako Miyazaki’s book The Other Side, published in late 2011 by Tosei-sha, offers such a clue. Not too unlike Manabu Someya’s Nirai (incidentally also published by Tosei-sha), I very much enjoyed looking at this book as it felt like being taken by the hand onto a journey into different places. That is not just physical locations, but places in the mind. Studying the images closely, they were taken in a variety of locations. There are images of Japan and elsewhere (I suspect the Mediterranean and/or Central Europe). Despite that variety, the image content, texture and style allowed them to be presented together while maintaining a common theme between them. Location or subject is not what strings them together.

On a depictive level, a commonality between the images soon becomes apparent: the square black and white images almost all seem to be focussed on the very remote distance, irrespective of whether the near distance contains a subject of interest. Additionally, a very close distance object is often obscuring our view slightly – a wall, high-grown grass, a tree, bushy vegetation or similar. We are often peering over or around those obstructions with a sense of safety as if guarding us from the scene from waist level (presumably due to the use of a medium format camera with waist level finder), like a child who stumbled upon a scene accidentally while running after a ball or a butterfly. Now we find ourselves slightly outside our comfort zone, exactly on the thin line of being equally thrilled and curious to move further while at the same time frightened and wanting to go back to familiar grounds. Here we stand still now, hearing only our own breath and the sounds of nature, frozen in time by our minds and in turn by the capture of the photograph. We have become one with the scene, with the environment, except that unlike the trees or bushes around us we have a gaze into the scene and our view is set on the horizon, the infinite distance.

Few people appear in Miyazaki’s photographs and if they do then they are largely coincidental and visually insignificant. These are introvert photographs, but not of self-importance or exhibitionism. A wanderer in a foreign place is strolling across the landscape with a hint of melancholy. The scene is alive yet abandoned, as if everyone just left to go home for lunch or dinner time a short moment ago. We are still out here, perhaps nobody is expecting us to go home or we just want to enter slightly into the lapse of time and be “too late”, that is not return home on time. Not too late for anyone to worry about us or to scold us, yet enjoying once again finding ourselves on the border between what we should or shouldn’t do.

Towards the end of the book the nature of the images changes slightly. We are now in motion, gazing out of a moving train or car. Are we leaving a place we enjoyed so much as described above? In the final pages we are indoors, the same low level views towards or out of windows and doors. A peek into the living room, over the window sill seeing the roofs of opposite buildings, or inside a shop, church or boutique. Have we returned home from a summer vacation in the countryside back into the hometown, perhaps? The feeling is once more on the middle ground of being saddened by our timely return, yet inside ourselves treasuring the experience of the weeks we roamed on our own on The Other Side.

Miyazaki’s photographs represent just some of the things that Japanese Photography are for me; a quiet yet strong undercurrent of expression that does not present itself to the viewer too easily and besides sensitivity requires patience. At the same time there is an element of child-like honesty and innocence that make the images more than simple documents of localities; we are being offered access to someone else’s inner self as a companion or visitor, just close enough to share some personal time together and not too close to offend or invade the privacy of our host.

Please also see a special gallery with more images from Miyazaki’s book.


Signed copies of The Other Side are available for purchase in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.

Masako Miyazaki — From The Other Side

Masako Miyazaki was born in Tokyo, Japan. She was interested in different cultures since junior high school and became interested in photography as the way of expression while visiting various countries. She studied photography in the US, Canada and Japan since 2001 and has exhibited works in solo and group exhibitions in Canada and Japan. She is currently living and working as an artist in Tokyo.

Miyazaki’s work from the series The Other Side was published in a book from Tosei-sha in late 2011, available as signed copies in the Japan Exposures bookstore.

Masako Miyazaki Gallery

Japan Exposures is pleased to present a gallery of work from Masako Miyazaki, drawn from her series “The Other Side”. Writes Japan Exposures’ editor Dirk Rösler in his review of Miyazak’s photobook:

Miyazaki’s photographs represent just some of the things that Japanese Photography are for me; a quiet yet strong undercurrent of expression that does not present itself to the viewer too easily and besides sensitivity requires patience. At the same time there is an element of child-like honesty and innocence that make the images more than simple documents of localities; we are being offered access to someone else’s inner self as a companion or visitor, just close enough to share some personal time together and not too close to offend or invade the privacy of our host.


The above work is taken from Miyazaki’s series The Other Side, which was published in a book from Tosei-sha in late 2011, available as signed copies in the Japan Exposures bookstore.

Manabu Someya Gallery

Japan Exposures is pleased to present a gallery of work from Manabu Someya, drawn from his series “Nirai”. Writes Japan Exposures’ editor Dirk Rösler in his review of Someya’s Nirai photobook:

I have struggled to find some adjectives that would describe the work, and whatever I think of does not seem entirely adequate so the reader should not put too much weight on them. One word is “lush”, even though that is certainly not what the photographs are meant to show primarily. The exquisitely warm and brownish color palette, signs of earth and vegetation set an important fundamental tone. We are in a hot and painfully humid place here, a place that lets us move only slowly and longing for rest in the shade of a forest, surely with the expected amount of various exotic insects that would soon settle on us.

In such a climate, Life is certain to thrive. Vegetation grows quickly, trees and bushes carry rich fruit that unless harvested become the basis for more life. It is this thought that for the first time brings us nearer to life and death.

Please also see the full review of Someya’s photobook, Nirai.


Signed copies of Nirai are available for purchase in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.

Life Within Death – Nirai by Manabu Someya

 

You shall go on a beautiful boat.

— Farewell to the dead on Yoron Island (Amami Islands, Japan)

Put simply, a photograph reproduces what has been in front of the camera at the time of exposure, a moment in time, a selected fraction of reality. More philosophically, it also records what went on behind the camera in the photographer’s consciousness when the image was taken. These notions are now widely known and accepted.

When looking at Manabu Someya’s photographs in his book Nirai, I was instantly strongly attracted to them. My problem was to understand as to why this was the case and to write a review on them. The challenge was two-fold: not only did the above theory not seem to apply so I could find an entry-point for analysis. I also could not find the words to write about them in an appropriate manner commensurate with what I was seeing in front of me in the book.

On parts of the Sulawesi island of Indonesia, when a newborn baby dies, the body is laid inside a hole carved into a large tree, which contains a white sap like that of mother’s milk. This is to prevent the baby from ever feeling hungry. In time, the hole in the tree closes, but it is believed that the leaves that grow on the tree allow the baby’s spirit to reincarnate into a new life.

–Manabu Someya in the afterword

Reading the accompanying afterword, it became clear that the overarching theme of the work was that of life and death. Of course, this could be said for a lot of photographs we see, so what is different here? Someya has chosen tropical regions of Asia as a geographic foundation of his work. Since there are no captions with the images, we only later realise that we have seen Taiwan, Indonesia, The Philippines and Okinawa, but visually they are so well connected that any captions would have only been distracting. I have struggled to find some adjectives that would describe the work, and whatever I think of does not seem entirely adequate so the reader should not put too much weight on them. One word is “lush”, even though that is certainly not what the photographs are meant to show primarily. The exquisitely warm and brownish color palette, signs of earth and vegetation set an important fundamental tone. We are in a hot and painfully humid place here, a place that lets us move only slowly and longing for rest in the shade of a forest, surely with the expected amount of various exotic insects that would soon settle on us.

In such a climate, Life is certain to thrive. Vegetation grows quickly, trees and bushes carry rich fruit that unless harvested become the basis for more life. It is this thought that for the first time brings us nearer to life and death.

The thought of falling ill or being injured is always unpleasant, but one of my greatest personal fears is to fall ill or be wounded in a relentlessly hot and humid place, naturally without the luxury of an air-conditioned room. I remember (with quite some disgust) a documentary film by Werner Herzog, tracing the path of a sole survivor of a plane crash in a south American jungle (Wings of Hope — Ed.). The person was injured, flies and other insects promptly using the wound as breeding ground. It was promptly populated by a vast amount of maggots, which was illustrated by showing a horse with the same condition. Life is always battling with death — for more life.

You don’t need to get too philosophical to realise how inseperable the two are. What is notable is how Someya somehow seems to be able to approach such a grand theme with saying so little. I believe the key is that what is happening in front or behind the camera is really not relevant. We are finding ourselves truly immersed, not just in a visual sense, but on a very emotional level.

Nirai Kanai — a world that exists beyond the ocean

The parts of Asia we are being taken to are not just physical locations, they are a state of mind and a way of being. Humans, obviously part of nature and the great game of life, are prominently featured by means of various portraits. We understand that they also battle with death for the own lives in an environment that is so fertile and yet demanding so much from life forms inhabiting it.

The term Nirai Kanai refers to what the people of the islands of Ryukyu around Okinawa believe as a “world that exists beyond the ocean”, an otherworld that brings happiness and fertility, but also bad and evil. It is also a place where the spirits of the dead will go to when the time has come.

I aimed to visualise Nirai Kanai as a place existing in this world where we live now. This idea derived from my feeling that our lives are much too vulnerable in the state we are in today. Thus, the world of death is often perceived as being close by us, making us feel as if our spirits are ceaselessly crossing the ocean as we live our repetitive daily lives.

Nirai is a soothingly thoughtful and, within the right frame of mind, emotionally greatly accessible if not intense photo book. I very much enjoyed looking at it, and I thank Manabu Someya for producing it.

Please also see a special gallery with more images from Someya’s book.


Signed copies of Nirai are available for purchase in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.

Manabu Someya — from Nirai

Manabu Someya was born in 1964 in Chiba prefecture. He graduated from Nihon University College of Art majoring in photography. He is concentrating his view on Asia and Okinawa and in his work he attempts a perspective on life and death.

Please see our review of Nirai, Someya’s photo book published by Tosei-sha, as well as an extended gallery drawn from the series.

Signed copies of Nirai are available for purchase in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.

The Built-Up Country, in Detail — Zaisyo

Review by Peter Evans for Japan Exposures.

Z aisyo means something like the country or one’s country. The photographer is Mitsuru Fujita, and this is his second photobook. The book tells us that he was born in 1934, became a freelance photographer in 1961, set up a company called Fujitaman in 1966 (man is an alternative reading of the character for Mitsuru), won various advertising awards, taught photography part time at a technical school and a university for 26 years, closed Fujitaman in 2007 to concentrate on the photographs he wanted to take, and has had a number of photo exhibitions.

Zaisyo, published by Tosei-sha in May of this year, presents about 140 monochrome photographs, reproduced 24×17.5 cm, of scenes that are almost all in the Japanese countryside, much of which (I add for readers who haven’t been there) is as densely populated as suburbia elsewhere in the world. Most were taken between 2000 and 2009, although some date back to 1995. Almost always it’s the built-up countryside, and often much of the frame is taken up by buildings less than ten meters away. (There are few distant vistas here.) No people are directly visible, even – so far as I notice – in the background. The complete absence of people might warn that the project is dogmatic and sterile, but this isn’t so: Fujita does sometimes photograph a building head on, but he works to no template: he prefers diagonals and indeed he points his camera in whichever direction he wishes.

Mitsuru Fujita, Toujin, Saga City, January, 2007 -- from Zaisyo
Mitsuru Fujita, Toujin, Saga City, January, 2007 — from Zaisyo

Fujita seems to like old-fashioned buildings: those covered with wooden slats, and traditional earthern warehouse kura. But he also clearly likes corrugated iron. What with the rust, dark clouds, puddles and little pick-up trucks, this book is no tourist souvenir. Yet there’s no insistence on age, wear, the vernacular or even the rural: on p.53 is a glass-fronted building in Saga City. (Right next to the building is the entrance to a temple, however.) And there’s also no insistence on architectural quality, oddity, authenticity or a conventionally pleasing ensemble: on p.69 for example is charmless nowheresville, a view redeemed by a dark sky. Yet anonymity is outweighed by quiddity: the one view (p.71) of Tokyo shows what appears to be a suburban fortress, incongruously supporting a prefabricated house of modest size with an imitation exposed timber frame.

The complete absence of people might warn that the project is dogmatic and sterile, but Fujita works to no template — indeed he points his camera in whichever direction he wishes.

I lack the expertise to say whether the printing (by Toppan) is duotone, tritone, quad-tone or something else, but it’s excellent and it’s easily good enough for the non-fetishist. The grey isn’t grey, exactly; instead, it has an hint of gold for an appealingly warm tone to the whole. (Only a hint – there’s no “sepia” for canned nostalgia.) And the resolution is so fine that you’d be able to see any grain visible on prints of the same size.

Mitsuru Fujita, Gojo, Nara Prefecture, January, 2003 -- from Zaisyo
Mitsuru Fujita, Gojo, Nara Prefecture, January, 2003 — from Zaisyo

Yet there seems to be no grain. Depopulated townscapes are of course the province of view cameras, and indeed there’s sign of lens shifting for perspective correction. The angle of view seems to be wide, sometimes very wide, and I started to wonder what gadgetry had produced it. This isn’t mentioned in the short preface by Fujita, or, it seems, in either of the substantial afterwords by the photographer Osamu Kanemura and a Mr. Hayashi. (Indeed, Kanemura seems not to mention the work or its creator, though he does have a paragraph on Gregor Samsa.) However, googling brought blog commentary that said Fujita had used an 11×14 camera. Fujita’s first book, Ki‑ryo 羈旅 (2000), does show and describe the equipment he used. Sure enough, 11×14: film size 355×280 mm, image size 345×265 mm. For that earlier book he used a 165 mm and a 210 mm lens (divide by ten for the rough equivalent at 36×24mm). The camera weighed 11.8 kg and five film holders added 11.6 kg. If this is what he used for Zaisyo too, then the reproductions in it are about half the size of mere contact prints. With today’s emulsions, it’s not obvious why 5×7, let alone 8×10, isn’t enough for anything other than bragging rights; but anyway this man deserves a floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography to exhibit thundering great silver gelatines of what we see miniaturized in the book.

Aside from the information it gives us, the earlier book merits a look. Ki‑ryo is B4 format, so the reproductions are bigger than in Zaisyo. But Zaisyo has almost three times as many of them, and is less than half the price. (And the reproductions in Ki‑ryo lack the hint of gold that subtly helps Zaisyo.) Best of all, the work itself in Zaisyo is on average more interesting than that in Ki‑ryo. For Ki‑ryo, Fujita mixed material similar to that in Zaisyo with head-on portrayals of Famous Buildings (and Ancient Trees) that – with apologies to Eiji Ina (Emperor of Japan) – I already get quite enough of in old postcards. So even aside from value for money, Zaisyo is the first choice.

Mitsuru Fujita, Ogi, Niigata Prefecture, September, 2000 -- from Zaisyo
Mitsuru Fujita, Ogi, Niigata Prefecture, September, 2000 — from Zaisyo

And so back to Zaisyo. It provides at least five Y-junctions (pp. 13, 31, 72, 75, 92) for your inner Yokoo. As well as the timber, corrugated iron and asphalt, you get individual private houses, riverfronts, and even the occasional viaduct (p.39) and station platform (p.57). The mood often tends to the melancholy, but it’s rarely if ever bleak: the sun does shine in numerous pages. There’s plenty of detail to draw you back. Every photograph is inconspicuously but clearly captioned on the page, so you don’t have to keep flipping to and from the back; yet in the back there’s also a list of photographs so you can quickly see what’s on offer from, say, Okayama prefecture. Though the book is covered in cardboard rather than cloth, it’s well bound in sewn signatures. As the colophon is in English as well as Japanese it’s odd that nothing else – captions, preface, afterwords – is in anything other than Japanese. If you can put up with this absence and you appreciate black and white views of the stuff of man-made Japan, this book is for you.


Please also see our extended gallery of images from Zaisyo. Signed copies of the book itself are available in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.


Peter Evans lives in Tokyo, among piles of photobooks.