All posts by Kurt

Shintaro Sato’s Tokyo Twilight Zone Back in Stock

We recently ran out of signed copies of Shintaro Sato’s Tokyo Twilight Zone, currently our best selling book. Fortunately, Sato-san was kind enough to sign some more copies for us, and these have now arrived in stock.

Sato-san told us recently that Seigensha, his publisher, is doing a second printing of his book (our in stock copies are first printings, however). He also tells us that his work will be featured in the January/February issue of European photography magazine Zoom, so if you’re a fan, please look for that.

10×2 Vol. 1 – Easterwood | Rösler

10x2 Cover

We are pleased to publish the first book of what we hope to be an ongoing series of books by photographers in a Japan context.

The series is called 10 x 2 and the idea is relatively simple — to present a series of 10 photos each by two different photographers. To kick off the series, the photographers in this case are myself and Dirk Rösler, the people behind the Japan Exposures web site.

The set of photographs by myself is entitled “Couple Suru” and contains work I have shot in Japan and Honolulu over the last few years. As the title perhaps hints at, the series looks at what it means to be a couple.

Dirk’s series titled “Between City and Nature” assesses the boundary between city and nature in the suburban and quasi rural Japanese landscape, reviewing what connects “civilised” human life and “wild” natural life.

Alright, you get 10 pictures together, I get 10 pictures together, and we’ll call it 10 x 2.

There were several ideas originally behind the project. First, after several aborted attempts at something collaborative, both Dirk and I were looking for something that could be done without minimal fuss. I believe it was while we were standing at the ticket gates of Kita-Senju station that one of us just said, “Alright, you get 10 pictures together, I get 10 pictures together, and we’ll call it 10 x 2.”

One of the other ideas that we felt was important for pushing along the project quickly — and adding an element of chance or mystery — was that we would gather our respective series of images independently, and that we would not allow our choices to be then second-guessed by whatever the other submitted. I’m happy to say that both of us stuck to this idea.

Of course, once you get to a certain point and the book starts to take shape, it’s hard to just “throw it together” and we did take some time and back and forth in terms of how the book should look, whether there should be introductions to the series, and even little things like page numbers or extra blank pages can very quickly become big deals. The devil remains in the details.

And of course, there was the decision about where to have the book printed. I had had previous experience with Lulu and Dirk had had iPhoto and MyPublisher books done, but based on a variety of factors we decided that Blurb best suited our needs, or perhaps was the best compromise for a short-run book, and we are quite happy with that decision. Ideally we would like to have found a local Japanese company to self-publish the book, but rather distressingly, almost all books come in a square format which is perhaps nice for wedding photos but doesn’t really fit with our work.

Going forward, we would like to use this 10 x 2 structure we have created to publish books by other photographers working in Japan.

Kurt Easterwood | Dirk Rösler

The book can be purchased via Blurb. This book can be previewed here or by clicking the 10 x 2 image at the top of the page.

By easterwood | rösler

Nobuyoshi Araki’s Koushoku Painting

Nobuyoshi Araki’s recent Koushoku Painting show at Rathole Gallery (October 17 – December 7, 2008) featured 10 very large silver gelatin black and white prints that Araki had then painted over with various colors. Most of the photos depicted different models in various states of bondage, or “kinbaku” as it is known in Japanese. This is of course very familiar territory for Araki, and on first thought it was hard to get excited about the prospect of seeing more of these, but the show was well worth seeing.

The majority of the painting has been applied in an abstract way, splotches of color here and there, brushstrokes here and there, all with bright, primary colors. While the paint obscures what we can see in the photos — sometimes frustratingly so — it is also quite appealing in its own right. There were also more literal uses of the color, such as in one photo where an eating fork looks to pierce the model’s breast, and here starts a brilliant red daub of paint that eventually runs down the remainder of the canvas. It’s obvious to be sure, but coupled with the artifice of the photo itself, it seemed in keeping for this “wound” to erupt in blood-red paint splotches.

On a purely visual level, the works were stunning. The size of each canvas (each over 130cm by 160cm), the sumptuousness of the black and white, and the vibrancy and texture of the color paint, created works which were gorgeous to look at, despite whatever reservations one might have about the subject matter.

Coming from crude triangular cut-outs hiding the genitalia, to be confronted with life-size, full-blown labia, was needless to say a rather breathtaking experience.

Personally I found the works to be highly erotic, which was surprising to me. Frankly I have never cared for this side of Araki — nor of this side of Japanese sexuality and eroticism. Although I realize that I’m looking at it via Western eyes, it remains for me threatening, violent, and when you get right down to it, just not my cup of tea. Despite these prejudices, however, I found myself quickly warming to the idea that there might be more to this art form — and Araki’s treatment of it — than I previously was prepared to cede.

One thing that immediately jumps to mind when you look at the works is that it isn’t often you see such unabashed exposure of the female nude form, especially in Japan with its somewhat outdated restrictions against showing the pubic area. Araki’s own early books are a perfect example of this censorship, with their crude triangular cut-outs hiding the genitalia. Coming from this, to be confronted with life-size, full-blown labia, if you pardon the expression, was needless to say a rather breathtaking experience. More than erotic though, the pictures were very beautiful. And, as with a lot of Araki, they are also ugly and base.

One of the most arresting pieces in the show was one where the model has been suspended in mid-air by ropes. Because we don’t get to see the apparatus by which she is hanging — coupled with her calm, reposed expression — the ropes lose something of their menace. The model seems to be floating, like a diver in water, or an astronaut in gravity-less space. Unlike other kinbaku of this type, where an apparatus is used to suspend the woman in mid-air, and where the photos of models suspended like this are often shown hung upside down, or with their bodies contorted, Araki instead opts for a frontal approach. The model faces us, her legs suspended with ropes in a way that makes her look like she is sitting down for us. It could almost be a portrait. As such, she is presented as a more complete entity than the models in other photos.

The background in this photo helps to set it apart. It is clear that it was shot in a traditional Japanese house, and through open doors we can see outside beyond the model to what we imagine is a Japanese garden. Whereas the other works’ settings have a decidedly Western — or neutral, in the case of one photo with a studio backdrop — feel, spaces enclosed by walls with peeling patterned wallpaper and occupied by old Europe furniture, the airiness of this particular setting enhances the floating impression. On the floor lies an object which looks like one of Feininger’s seashells or some kind of elongated snail. Compared to a Godzilla figure or a rubber lizard that feature in other works, it is non-threatening, but earthy, helping to collapse interior and exterior space. The model’s kimono pushes the traditional aspect further, as does her fringe haircut. With its elaborate design, its excess of material and folds, the kimono makes this particular model the most-clothed of those on display. It is therefore with some irony that anatomically speaking, this is the most exposed of all the models, and Araki has resisted obscuring the woman’s sex with daubs of paint as he has done elsewhere.

There is another work by Araki done along the same lines, not shown at the Rathole exhibition but included in the accompanying catalog. It makes for an interesting contrast with the just-described photo. Here too a woman is hoisted in the air. Again, we cannot see from where she is hanging, only that she is suspended in air, giving us the same sensation that she is not hanging so much as floating. And here too, the model assumes a calm, almost bored expression. However, unlike the image in the show, the background is yet another interior, with a mock-Doric column nightstand with a black cat doll atop it. More importantly, here the model is completely nude. Because she is without clothes, there is no mistaking that her hands are bound behind her back. In fact, the hands can be seen dangling behind her, like a perverted extension of her vagina, or something — a fish, a butterfly — emanating from it. It’s a disconcerting appendage, if you will, but it also viscerally notches up the woman’s vulnerability. It’s a shame there wasn’t enough space to include this and a couple of other works that are shown in the catalog.

The lizard is a stand-in for a Warhol-like Araki that we know instinctively is just off-frame, turned on by the spectacle, and turned on by his control of the power cords.

If it was possible to have a show-stopper in this exhibition of show-stoppers, it was one photo where a woman lies on a hardwood floor with her legs kicked up in the air, her hands reaching up to grab her heels in an ultimate “do me” pose. Her arms and legs are tied together as if to seal her available condition. Her head is completely obscured and the ropes give the impression of tied-up meat or a stitched together assemblage of Hans Bellmer body parts. A vibrator has been inserted into her vagina. We presume that it is “turned on” because we see it tethered to it’s battery-powered controller lying on the floor, and because the picture allows us no other realistic choice. As if to power the point home, on the floor lies another vibrator, still sheathed in a used condom, as if it had been castrated in flagrante delicto. The two vibrator cords are mildly tangled up with each other, and together with the slack power cord of a lamp in the background, they all seem to be mocking the taut ropes that bind the model. Near the vibrators is a rubber lizard, its mouth agape, poised between a lascivious grin and a heckling laugh. More threatening than a snail, yet much less self-consciously artificial than Godzilla, the lizard on the periphery of the action is a stand-in for a Warhol-like Araki that we know instinctively is just off-frame, turned on by the spectacle, and turned on by his control of the power cords.

Beyond the ropes and these props however, it is with his paint — the paint that is after all this show’s reason for being — that Araki gives us his final coup de grace. Unlike the majority of the works in the show and accompanying catalog, where the paint is applied relatively sparingly, here the entire canvas of the original print seems to have been stained with some sort of yellowish layer of paint. Since it shows up most clearly against the naked white body of the tied-up model, it gives one the further impression that this is no longer a woman on the floor but mere body parts, as if they were soaking in formaldehyde. But Araki doesn’t stop there. He has painted a circle around the model. This circle, even as it marks her as the haloed/hallowed focal point around which the tawdry props revolve, also demarcates the limits of her existence. Of course the shoot will end, and the model’s rope burns will fade with time, but as canvas she will, like Rauschenberg’s goat, be trapped in that circle, the paint mixing with silver gelatin to fix her twice.

The catalog accompanying this exhibition, Nobuyoshi Araki: KOUSHOKU PAINTING, is available for purchase from the Japan Exposures bookstore. Images from the book can also be seen there.

2008 Nikon Salon Awards

In November, Nikon Salon announced that Kenshichi Heshiki* and Yasushi Nishimura were the 2008 winners of their annual Ina Nobuo and Miki Jun prizes, respectively.

The gallery, which since opening in 1968 has been instrumental in furthering the career of many a famous Japanese photographer, established the Ina Nobuo Award in 1976. The winner is chosen from amongst all the exhibitions held at the gallery in a given calendar year (October – September). The award is named for photography critic Nobuo Ina (1898-1978), the famed photography critic who headed Nikon Salon for its first 10 years of existence. Past winners have included Masahisa Fukase, Hiromi Tsuchida, and Hiroh Kikai (a full list of winners is at the bottom of this page). The winner receives a cash prize (this year, ¥1,000,000) as well as Nikon camera equipment.

This year’s 33rd annual Ina Nobuo Award winner Heshiki is a 60-year old photographer born in Nakijin, a village on Okinawa Island. His exhibition entitled 山羊の肺 沖縄1968-2005年 (Lungs of a Goat — Okinawa 1968-2005) — which was held at the Nikon Salon in Ginza in May of this year — brought together roughly 90 images showcasing nearly 40 years of work focused on the everyday lives of Okinawa’s citizens.

The Miki Jun Award was established in 1998 in commemoration of the gallery’s 30th anniversary, and is given to a photographer under 35 years old and is chosen from among artists exhibited at Nikon Salon’s Juna21 gallery space. The prize is named after the photo journalist Jun Miki (1919-1992), one-time pupil of Ken Domon who worked for Life Magazine and other photo news magazines after the war, and was later president of the Nikkor Club. Renowned first and foremost for his photo reportage, Miki also played an accidental but important role in establishing the worldwide reputation of Nikkor lenses.

This year’s winner was Yasushi Nishimura for his exhibition entitled 彼女のタイトル (Her Title), a depiction of a young and troubled young woman’s life over a year and a half period. The 26 year old Nishimura is a member of the Photographer’s Gallery collective.

Since 2003, as part of the Miki Jun Award, Nikon Salon also gives out two “Inspiration Awards”. This year’s winners were 23-year old Hatsumi Matsushita for her series of amusing self-portraits, and Kaori Inbe, a 28-year old Tokyo-based photographer, for her ironically entitled exhibition “Moral Society”. You can view online galleries of the three Miki Jun winners at Nikon’s “Independents” site. (Click on the second “Enter” button on that page. The prize winners are galleries #28 (Nishimura), #31 (Matsushita), and #27 (Inbe). For some reason, the site only works with Internet Explorer for me).

Nikon Salon will re-mount each of the five winning exhibitions in December and January at their Shinjuku and Osaka salons. See this page for details.

* Please note that Heshiki’s surname is also romanized as Hirashiki on some Nikon Salon web pages.

Fujica 35 Auto-M

This ad for Fujifilm’s Fujica 35 Auto-M is from the back cover of the April, 1962 issue of Asahi Camera, and was “on sale now” as the red lettering says in the top left corner. The tag line plays up its magical quality by telling us “You don’t need to touch either the aperture ring or the shutter speed dial.” (Literally, “The aperture, as well as the shutter — No Touch!”). There’s probably a good reason why they balanced the camera vertically on the globe, rather than the more logical horizontal placement, but I don’t quite get it. It does make the ad more interesting though.

Presumably the M stands for “magic” and comes as a result of the Copal Magic B shutter the camera employed, although Copal isn’t mentioned by name in the ad — unlike an ad for Copal in the same magazine, which features a picture of hands assembling a shutter and lens and the caption indicating that the camera in the photo is this same Fujica 35 Auto-M. The Fujifilm ad refers to the Auto-M as the world’s first camera to come with the “magic” shutter.

The text of the copy (more or less) reads “You don’t need to make any adjustments. Both the aperture and shutter speed are chosen automatically so that when you press the shutter button, you get a perfect exposure. In the past this functionality was only a dream, but this is a completely brand new camera.”

Among the Fujica line of fixed-lens rangefinders — there were about seven different models released between 1957 and 1967 — the Auto-M was unusual in that it didn’t have a focusing thumb-wheel at the back of the topcover (an interesting quirk of the Fujica rangefinders that can be seen here on the 35M model). The lens on these was a Fujinon-R 47mm that opened to F2.8 (the text says something lost in the translation about the lens having a sharpness that cuts deep).

The 35 Auto-M listed for ¥14,500 plus ¥1,500 for a leather case. That would have been about $40 US Dollars at the exchange rate of the day. Buying such a camera in Japan today would cost about ¥70,000 if we look at the relative value of the yen. Needless to say, one of these in today’s used market won’t set you back nearly as much.

Elsewhere on the web

There’s not too much specific to this camera out there, but these might be worth a look:

Murakami-san’s “As Is” review (in Japanese, with a few sample shots)
Japan Family Camera (Japanese; see this page for more (!) Fujica cameras)
Sylvain Halgand’s Auto-M page (in French; scroll down page for more Fujicas)
Chris Eve’s old Fujica site (now defunct, but available via the Wayback Machine; see this page for non-SLR Fujicas)

Tomoe Murakami – Water

MURAKAMI Tomoe. Murakami was born in 1980 in Chiba, Japan, and is a graduate from the Art and Literature department of Waseda University (2004). She was awarded a Jun Miki Prize in 2004, and completed a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 2006. Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows in Japan and abroad over the last four years. She currently lives and works in Tokyo, and is represented by Punctum Photo + Graphix Gallery in Tokyo, where her new work, including our cover photo, will be shown in a solo exhibition entitled “under the stars and the water”, running from November 22 to December 6th.

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.
– – –
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.
– – –
Michael Hoppen Gallery is currently showing Hana Kinbaku, a series of “handmade, one-off diptychs, never before seen in the UK” by Nobuyoshi Araki.
– – –
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.