Tag Archives: okinawa

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.

November Magazine Roundup

Nippon and Asahi Camera Monthly Magazines (November 2008)

Visit anywhere in Japan that shows even a hint of autumnal color this Fall, and you’ll probably see as many photographers as fallen leaves. The Japanese call this kouyou (literally red leaves or yellow leaves) and along with the cherry blossoms of Spring, it is the time when the cameras — everything from Mark II DLSRs to camera cellphones — are guaranteed to come out. So, it is no surprise that Japan’s autumnal colors dominate both of the major photo monthlies this November.

Asahi Camera

For me, Asahi wins this month’s head to head competition with Nippon. (Last month I would probably give the nod to Nippon if you’re keeping score at home.)

Asahi starts off the kouyou fest by bringing out some “heavy hitters” from Japan’s photographic past, in a special series they call kouyou yuuyuu or serene autumn leaves, which features one or two photos each from Shotaro Akiyama, Ken Domon, Shinzo Maeda and others. Some of these are known as primarily landscape photographers, but others like Domon are not. Nevertheless, given the over-saturation of this type of photography in Japan, it is hard to appreciate the individual craft of any of them — they all unfortunately turn into nice scenery.

Miyako Ishiuchi's Hiroshima work

Fortunately, it is not all autumn leaves in this month’s Asahi. Miyako Ishiguchi, who has an exhibition at the Meguro Museum of Art in Tokyo from November 15 – January 11, 2009, is featured with a few works each from her Yokosuka and Hiroshima projects (the exhibition is the same). Ishiuchi grew up in Yokosuka, the site of one of the U.S. military’s bases, and her work shot there goes back to the mid to late 70s, while the Hiroshima material (released as a small book this year) is a recent project, focusing mainly on the remnants of clothing that were worn by people when the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima. The clothing is lit from behind in a way that poignantly shows the tattered, ripped apart nature of the clothing and the lives of the people who were wearing it.

Among contemporary female photographers working today in Japan, it’s hard to think of two more contrasting styles than Ishiuchi’s and that of Mika Ninagawa, whose work is presented next in the magazine. Ninagawa will have her first career retrospective exhibition starting this month at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. The exhibition will run from November 1 to December 28 before going to various other cities in Japan for all of 2009.

Eiji Ina has a new book coming out in December from Nazraeli Press entitled Emperor of Japan and 12 images from this work are presented in this month’s issue, along with an interview with Ina. Ina has taken 8×10 photos of all 124 of the extant Imperial burial sites in Japan, and according to the photographer, was influenced by the Typologies of the Becher’s while working on this project.

Veteran photographer Shomei Tomatsu has been living and/or working in Okinawa for over 40 years, and some of his work done there is currently being shown in a “collaborative” co-exhibition with Yasuo Higa at the Canon Gallery in Tokyo (until December 16). Higa is someone I’m not familiar with but it’s clear his main focus is on documenting the unique customs and rituals of the Ryukyu Islands. Tomatsu has also done work similar to this (notably in his book Hikaru Kaze: Okinawa, 1979), but here (judging by what’s presented in the magazine) the work focuses on his “chocolate and chewing gum” work that will be familiar to those who were able to see the Skin of a Nation exhibit that traveled in the US and Europe in 2006-7. In addition to the sampling of work, there is also a short interview with Tomatsu, who is now in his late 70s and who reveals among other things that he recently upgraded his Canon Kiss Digital to a 40D, claiming that the “high amateur” camera is in keeping with his current “amateur” status.

Nippon Camera

Unfortunately, this month’s Nippon Camera is on the whole rather disappointing compared to its breathren.

Shinichiro Kobayashi, who as the photographer behind Deathtopia and many other similar books has established himself as the leading practitioner if not the founder of the ever-popular “Ruins” or “Urban Exploration” genre of photography, has recently issued a book of rather different work entitled Umihito: 1977 – 1988. The book consists of photographs taken in black and white along Japan’s beaches and coastal areas during the years in question, and a few pages worth of these are in this month’s Nippon Camera. Unfortunately for me, while the photographs are admittedly nice to look at and Kobayashi is certainly a very proficient photographer, the book comes with a healthy dose of saccharined nostalgia that ultimately is not very different from the Ruin books.

Russell Scott Peagler is an American living in Japan, and his work shot in Tibet is given a few pages. Given to blown out Tri-X that would make many a Japanese photographer proud, the work was unfortunately just okay for me. Judging from his modest Flickr stream, clearly the magazine didn’t pick the best representations of his work.

Lastly, Kazuo Kitai has a few pages for his “Out walking with my Leica” series, and this time he visits the printing company in Nagano that did the printing for his latest book of photographs shot in Germany, The Journey Into 1920s German Expressionism.

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