Tokyo conjures a distinctive, if familiar, image: hypermodern and kaleidoscopic, a mutating urbanscape that is more Blade Runner than picturesque capital. Like any iconic city, Tokyo also exists in our mind’s eye as an idea. But Noi Sawaragi, one of Japan’s most influential art critics, speaking of the capital in these pages, punctures the idea that this ever-changing place can be neatly encapsulated.
It is said that Antinous accompanied the Roman emperor Hadrian on hunting trips, which might imply they were lovers (as is speculated). Antinous does have nice eyes, even though they are missing. It was these very black holes that startled, then soothed me when I first encountered them on the soft matte paper of the past.
I was recently looking through a large stack of ephemera that a bookdealer friend thought I might like. Halfway through, I came across the photograph above and was struck by a collector’s epiphany: “I don’t know what this is but I want it.” Up until that point I had been more aware of the legend of Jack Smith— the exuberantly uncooperative underground filmmaker who made Flaming Creatures (1963), and reedited the film while it was being screened, and whose writing, even in the context of avantgarde poetry magazines, was shocking and disruptive.
In my apartment I have two large photographs by my friend Nancy de Holl. They depict costumed contortionists striking complex poses that distort the human form to a degree that would seem impossible without the aid of digital manipulation.
I recently purchased this photograph from the Carriage Trade Social Photography IV benefit; all the donated works were cellphone pictures. Although there were many great photographs by many artists, this image, in particular, spoke to me.
In this new column, Geoff Dyer considers how a range of figures and subjects have been photographed. Roland Barthes was born one hundred years ago this year. Why do portraits of the philosopher and thinker on photography tell us so little about him?
Growing up in Braddock, Pennsylvania, LaToya Ruby Frazier saw firsthand the economic and environmental decline and racism that affected her industrial hometown, subjects she explores through a personal documentary approach. For twelve years, she photographed her mother, grandmother, and herself in a series of deeply evocative images contained in her book The Notion of Family, published by Aperture in 2014.
Baritone singer in his collegiate glee club. Developer of the cathode ray tube used for television. Part of the team appointed to separate uranium isotopes for the top-secret Manhattan Project. Consummate cruise-ship traveler. Acquaintance of Anaïs Nin, Gertrude Stein, and Allen Ginsberg.
It is often said that change is the only constant in Japan’s frenzied capital, whose boundaries are difficult to discern. Here, Noi Sawaragi, a prominent art critic, and Hideo Furukawa, a fiction writer, consider the unique character and history of the city.
Is the history of Japanese photography also a history of magazine publishing? A look through the pages of the popular technical and erotically minded magazines of the '60s, '70s, and '80s reveals the most significant photography produced during those decades.
Against a backdrop of social upheaval and anxiety about the future, artists in Japan at the close of the 1960s experimented with photography to engage a changing world, signaling a radical shift in art of the period. In the late 1960s, university students led massive protests in Tokyo and other major Japanese cities to try to reverse two internationally anticipated events of 1970.
A mythical figure in the story of Japanese photography, Takuma Nakahira is a founder of (Provoku), the short-lived experimental magazine that featured photographers like Daido Moriyama working in the are, bure, boke (grainy, blurry, out-of-focus) style of the late 1960s.
"Now, as a result of this project, I can feel that the things that I say and the things that I do are beginning to agree with one another for the first time.” —Takuma Nakahira, Asahi Camera, February 1972 On the afternoon of September 28, 1971, when Japanese critic and photographer Takuma Nakahira set foot (several days late) in the seventh Paris Biennale, he felt nothing so much as "hollowness” and "despair.”
At his retrospective in London a decade ago, Nobuyoshi Araki’s presence was likened to a tornado. Indeed, as photographers go, Araki is something of a storm. His voluminous output now forms a library unto itself: more than five hundred books of his photographs have been published since the 1960s.
Takashi Homma emerged in the 1990s as one of the leading photographers of his generation. After living in London, where he worked for the groundbreaking style and culture magazine I-D, Homma embarked on a number of projects of his own, resulting in a sequence of photobooks that engaged Japan’s capital, including Tokyo Suburbia (1998), Tokyo Children (2001), Tokyo and My Daughter (2006), and Tokyo (2008).
Cycles of time and accumulation preoccupy Cozue Takagi, a young photographer based in Nakano, a city in Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan. Takagi begins her photographic practice by observing the world and collecting quotidian details from her daily life, but the real work happens later, when she reconfigures her snapshots—re-creating some and cropping others—to arrive at the vibrant, collaged pieces that have become her signature.
Just a few years ago, Daisuke Yokota was running off zines on the copier at his local 7-Eleven; now, he is a leader of Japanese photography on the international scene. Yokota is best known for his black-and-white images and their eerie surface effects, which he realizes through a process he developed during an extended period when he was too sick to leave his apartment.
The ominous sight of a snake slithering up a doorframe, the sly glance of an intoxicated man at a festival, a street scene with an interplay of light and shadow hinting at the fantastic—these are all particular moments captured by Issei Suda, whose work invariably contains an element of something unsettling and otherworldly.
In Japan and internationally, Tokyo-based photographer Mayumi Hosokura is garnering a following for her quiet series that frequently mix nudes (of often androgynous models) with natural forms. As a literature student, Hosokura wrote her thesis on Provoke-era legend Takuma Nakahira before enrolling in the Photography Department at Nihon University College of Art and shifting her focus to the technical side of photography.
In 2001, Rinko Kawauchi published three books in quick succession: Utatane (Nap), Hanabi (Fireworks), and Hanako. With them, she established a personal photographic language in which the offhand observation of the details of her life resonates with a concrete yet nuanced poetry: families watching summer fireworks, teakettles on stoves, tiny star-shaped flowers, ants on the march, a young girl drinking water.
Known for combining technical precision with intellectual rigor, Naoya Hatakeyama is one of the most distinctive voices in Japanese photography today, equally comfortable referencing Isaac Newton, Gustave Flaubert, or Jean-Paul Sartre while discussing his work as he is mentioning photographic precedents such as the San Francisco-based Group f/64.
Kikuji Kawada is one of Japan’s most celebrated postwar photographers. In 1959, Kawada—along with Shomei Tomatsu, Eikoh Hosoe, Ikko Narahara, Akira Sato, and Akira Tanno—founded the influential VIVO cooperative, which championed an expressive approach to documentary photography.
The Japanese word obi refers both to the wide sashes worn with traditional Japanese dresses, such as kimonos, and to bellybands, those wide paper “belts” often wrapped around books in Japan. The practices of folding and wrapping are entrenched in Japanese culture—traditional furoshiki cloth is used to shroud and transport everyday objects, and delicate papers are folded into intricate shapes in the meticulous art of origami.