Tag Archives: paris photo

A Singular Full Of Plurals — Ken Kitano

Profile by Yu Hidaka for Japan Exposures. Please also see our extended gallery of Kitano’s work.

Note: click on images to see large

The photographs of Ken Kitano are both extremely concrete and highly philosophical at the same time. Kitano, whom the critic and curator Vince Aletti picked as one of current five photographers in the world to watch in the April, 2009 issue of Modern Painters, recently published his second book, Flow and Fusion this winter. This book attracted attention this past Fall at Paris Photo, an international art fair held every November in Paris, where Kitano has continually been a big hit. This warm reception follows upon Kitano’s 2008 appearance at the same fair, where “Flow and Fusion” was short-listed for the Paris Photo BMW Prize. His “one day” series was similarly nominated and showed during the 2009 fair.

In the series “Flow and Fusion,” Kitano captured the cityscape of Tokyo by means of a slow shutter speed during the 1990’s, which was a kind of apocalyptic period of such events such as the bursting of the bubble economy, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, and the terrorist actions of the Aum religious cult . We can read Kitano’s photographs as a trajectory of his deep meditation on our existence as human beings and the world we live in.

Kitano’s way of fusing such plural existences together into one trace of light is his consistent and unique style.

In that sense, “Flow and Fusion” should perhaps be looked at in detail first in order to understand Kitano’s whole photographic vision. In “Flow and Fusion”, the use of long exposures causes people as plural existences on the street to melt into one flow of light. Kitano’s way of fusing such plural existences together into one trace of light is his consistent and unique style, and can be seen through all three series of his photography, “Flow and Fusion”, “our face”, and “one day”.

In responding to the chaotic conditions of society at the young age of 20, “Flow and Fusion” undoubtedly became the starting point for Kitano’s search for who he is, and what the border or contour of a person is, and what divides him or her from others — that is, how a photographer can grasp the identity of each person. He resorted to the seemingly contradictory idea where people’s rigid contours, which as depicted in photographs can be seen as something endorsing identity, are put in danger of disappearing by melding them into one trace of light. In this time of people swinging and living in an unstable social environment, how can a person exist as a solid being with actual feelings for his existence? — that seems to have been a crucial question for Kitano at that time.

Even after the chaotic upheaval period of the 1990’s had apparently passed, Kitano continued to explore the difficulty of seeing our contemporary life clearly with actual feelings. The series “our face” shows the next stage of his search for human conditions in this contemporary world.

Ken Kitano, from our face, 24 guards in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 2009
Ken Kitano, from our face, 24 guards in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 2009

Kitano widens the field of his photographic investigation from the cityscape to the globalized world in this portrait series. He superimposed finely detailed portraits of each subject located in a specific region and situation in the world into one collective portrait photograph, and named it “our face.” The choice of “our face” for the series title represents the conflicting union of the plural idea of “our” and the singular form of “face.” He seems to be waiting for the emergence of a new form of our identity in his photographs that is beyond contradiction. Although such qualities as the fine-grained of his photographs reveals his desire to see things in atomic level as a cold realist, “one day” also presents a hot visionary artist keen to envision the image of our identity in a difficult time, and one eager to believe in the solidity and graveness of our identity.

Kitano has continued to pursue this portrait project as he attempts to superimpose people in different parts of the world, a sort of endless and perhaps impossible journey to capture all of us. This epic idea of photographic research might remind us of that of the great photographer August Sander, who tried to represent the “Citizens of the Twentieth Century”.

Ken Kitano, from one day, Classroom, Kanagawa Kenritsu Soubudai High School
Ken Kitano, from one day, Classroom, Kanagawa Kenritsu Soubudai High School

Kitano’s newest series, “one day,” is a landscape series and a work-in-progress that he has been pursuing off-and-on throughout the last decade. In this series he captures, in a single long exposure photograph, a full day in various places, both common, everyday sites like a high school classroom, as well as historical sites in Japan. Here Kitano expands his study of the human condition and further moves us from that territory which we can grasp consciously into a place beyond our consciousness.

Furthermore, he investigates the identity of photography in this process. He transforms the concept of photographic moment to a prolonged and continuing time. He accumulates moments of time and weaves them into a singular landscape. “One day” invites us to read something overlooked and underlying as a vision of our world. The landscapes of “one day” and the people in “our face,” the origins of which can both be traced to “Flow and Fusion,” might be read as a coupled mirror with which to see our life in this world.


Yu HidakaYu Hidaka is an Assistant Professor at Gunma Prefectural Women’s University, where she teaches on visual culture. Her book, Reading Contemporary Photography: Toward Democratic Vistas, was published by Seikyu-sha in June, 2009. She has written on photography and other forms of visual media for various Japanese publications, including “Studio Voice” and “Asahi Camera”. She received her MA in the Course of Culture and Representation from Tokyo University.

Ken Kitano Gallery

The medium of photography was invented out of our strong desire to create a likeness of our reality — and ourselves in it. We then learned that the camera would see what our eyes never could — time being brought to a standstill. However, in actuality during the early days of the medium the relationship of photography and time was quite the opposite; long exposures, often using all of the daylight of a full day, had to be used to record a visible image onto the light-(in)sensitive material. And large format photographers to this day know of the tragic mistake of accidentally inserting their film holders more than once and recording multiple exposures involuntarily, spoiling the image. Ken Kitano masterfully takes us back to these immutable properties of photography creating images that we may have had already relegated to history. Images with deep substance, but with no detectable moment.

The terms flow and fusion ring ever so true when looking at these images. The flow of time, an hour, a day or even more, fusing in an eternal cosmic moment. The flows and traces of different lives of distinct individuals, unified in what could be the very essence of a human being.


Japan Exposures is honored to have the opportunity to present an extended gallery of Ken Kitano’s work. Please also see our profile of Kitano.

Kitano’s book our face is available in the Japan Exposures bookstore. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Kitano’s Flow and Fusion, please contact us.

Ken Kitano — from One Day

Ken Kitano was born in Tokyo in 1968, and graduated from Nihon University’s College of Industrial Technology in 1991. Since 1993 he has been a freelance photographer. Kitano came to prominence with the release in 2005 of his “Our Face” series of group portraits made by combining many individual portraits into a single work, and won the Newcomer’s Award from the Photographic Society of Japan in 2007. For the last three years Kitano has been one of the major hits of the prestigious Paris Photo art fair, and in both 2008 and 2009 was among the short-listed candidates for the BMW Paris Photo Prize. The critic Vince Aletti last year picked Kitano and one of five photographers “to watch”, saying “Kitano…isn’t working with ideas, he’s working with people, and his faces are mesmerizing — strong enough to draw me in from across a very crowded room.”

This coming May, Kitano will be an artist-in-residence for three months at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Beijing, where he will continue work on his “Our Face” project.

The above photograph comes from Kitano’s most recent series “One Day” begun in 2007, a series of landscape works which attempt to capture a given location from sunrise to sunset in one long exposure. You can see more from this series, as well as Kitano’s two other major series “Our Face” and “Flow and Fusion” in a special gallery we have prepared. Please also see our profile of Kitano.

Acchi Kocchi: Here and There on the Web

From <em>Persona</em>, by Hiroh Kikai
Lens Culture has put up an interview with photographer Hiroh Kikai that was done by French curator and critic Marc Feustal, presumably conducted recently while Kikai was in Paris for the recently-concluded Paris Photo fair. I always appreciate photographers who are also articulate with the written word like Robert Adams, and have had a sense that Kikai, who studied philosophy at university and whose essays have been extensively published would fit this mold. However, only a few of his writings are available in English.

Truth be told, Kikai tells Feustal that “the idea of writing has always more or less paralyzed me,” and his take on writing and how it compares to photography is just one of several interesting insights into Kikai that the interview provides. I particularly appreciated this part:

To be completely honest with you, I must admit that I never look at the work of other photographers. I am always concerned that I will be destabilized by the fact that some of them are much better than I am. If a photographer cannot look at this work objectively, then he is not a true photographer. A photographer must constantly put himself into perspective because photography is not an innate language. It is not because I spend 24 hours running through the streets looking for photogenic models to pose for my camera that I will get good results.

Read the whole thing. It’s not terribly long but very insightful. Kikai’s Asakusa Portraits was published by the International Center of Photography and Steidl earlier this year, marking his first non-Japan published book. We have several earlier Kikai books in the bookstore (both new and used), including a small paperback version of the Asakusa Portraits, as well as my own personal favorite, Tokyo Labyrinth, now unfortunately out of print and a bit pricey.
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Curious to find out more about Marc Feustal, I was taken to Studio Equis Limited, which puts together exhibitions and publications focusing on post-war and contemporary Japanese photography. Feustal is one of Studio Equis’ directors along with Tsuguo Tada and Helen Feustal.

Studio Equis was behind the Eyes of an Island exhibit that was held in London in 2007, and a Hiromi Tsuchida exhibit in Los Angeles earlier this year. Not surprisingly they were involved in Paris Photo as well, where they presented Tokyo Stories, featuring nearly 100 rare prints by Hiroshi Hamaya, Tadahiko Hayashi and Shigeichi Nagano. The Studio Equis website has ample slide shows illustrating each of these exhibitions, as well as the Japan: a Self-Portrait, Photographs 1945-1964 one they will be putting on in Tokyo and Nagoya next year.

You can also browse photographs by artists including Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Toshio Shibata, and the aforementioned Hiroh Kikai, among others.
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Michael Hoppen Gallery is currently showing Hana Kinbaku, a series of “handmade, one-off diptychs, never before seen in the UK” by Nobuyoshi Araki.
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I have been looking for some sort of online blogging or reporting about Paris Photo but have not really come up with much. I’m probably not searching hard enough, although it isn’t exactly the kind of event that inspires “live blogging”, I suppose. 5B4/Errata Editions’ Jeffrey Ladd was there and he has a brief report on some of the proceedings, although nothing touching on the Japan side of things except for a picture of Koji Onaka signing books (scroll right to the end of this photo strip). It looks like he’s signing a copy of Tokyo Candy Box, which we are carrying in the bookstore (signed as well).

The event organizers themselves have posted five videos over at Dailymotion, of varying lengths (nine are listed but they include 4 duplicates). They’re a mixture of meandering through galleries and booths, and interviews with various participants or spectators, and more or less professionally done. Sound is mainly French or English depending on who is being interviewed. Japan-related content is scattered amongst all five videos.

YouTube has a few videos up which give a taste of the event. Start here or here (the latter more a slide show of pictures of the event).

This Flickr user has a few photos of the event at the beginning of his photostream. There are more photos here as well, although not so many on the Japan angle. Another gallery is here, along with a video if you scroll down the page. I was sort of expecting there to be quite a lot of photos on Flickr but there aren’t. It’s probably too early since past Paris events are well-represented.

Paris Photo: November 13 – 16

This year’s Paris Photo photography fair gets under way tomorrow and you’d have to live under a rock not to know that this year the fair has selected Japan as it’s “foreign scene” of focus.

Indeed, talking with various people this past week, you have to wonder what Japanese photographer is NOT going to Paris. Even those who have no books to sign or photos to show will be going to soak in the limelight of attention as Japan’s rich and vibrant photographic history and current scene are displayed for the denizens of Paris to see (although according to the press information, 40% of the anticipated 40,000 visitors are expected to come from outside France).

Mariko Takeuchi is the guest curator for the Japan spotlight, and you can read her overview of Japanese photography over at Lens Culture.

If you’re not going to Paris but would like to drool along with me and lots of other folks who won’t be going, I recommend taking a look at pages 8 – 22 of the Press Kit .pdf which gives a pretty thorough rundown of anything and everything connected with Japan on display or view. Suda Issei, Ogose, Saitama Prefecture, from the series Fushi Kaden, 1976<br />Vintage silver print<br />22,7 x 22,6 cm<br />© Issei Suda, courtesy Galerie Priska Pasquer, Köln Particularly intriguing are the Project Room which will present a series of contemporary videos by Japanese photographers — such as a DVD copy of a 8mm film shot by Daido Moriyama in Shinjuku in 1973 — and the Central Exhibition which aims to highlight the central role of the photo book to Japanese photography and features five Japanese publishers like Seigensha and Tosei-sha.

Speaking of books, here’s something that will really make photography and photography book lovers drool: a list of scheduled book signings (.pdf) taking place over the four days. Of course Japanese photographers are healthily represented, but signers also include William Klein, Alec Soth, and Stephen Shore.