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2015, Mar 02
Conversation with J

Talked with J yesterday. J is a photographer I respect, and I want to record some notes about this conversation here.

J was speaking with an art history professor. The professor said she was planning to have her students speak about one photo each week, three hours at a time. J said that doesn’t make any sense, that there is no point in talking about a photograph for more than 10 minutes, that it’s not truthful, or that that discourse is something else, a kind of empty pontification—that’s not his word, but something like that. He says he saw another professor give a talk a couple of years ago, where he thought 90% of what was said was irrelevant.  For him, taking a photograph isn’t a deeply considered experience, it’s done quickly (for one reason or another). And so because there’s not much time involved, it’s pointless to spend all that time talking about a single photograph. Lee Friedlander, for example, he doesn’t line things up carefully, he’s just snapping away. When looking at another photographer’s work, there’s no value in looking at a single image—everything should be seen in aggregate, as part of the photographer’s larger project.

Compelling arguments can be mobilized against this view, and some were indeed put to J, unmoved as he was. I am recording this conversation here because I know that I will read this post later, and perhaps at that time I will be glad I was reminded about this.

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2015, Feb 28
Report from an academy #1

“In the manuscript, shashin is employed both to point to illustrations in natural history books and to sketch a portrait of Keisuke. Viewed from the perspective of modern academic disciplines, these two types of work appear to be completely separate categories of illustration. For Keisuke and Yoshio, however, these differing pictorial works shared a deeper commonality as visual records of the relationship between the depicted subject and its proper name. Their use of the term shashin for these images rested not on an association with Western picture making but on these pictures’ ability to attest to a concrete and verifiable relationship between a name and a representation.”

Maki Fukuoka’s excellent book The Premise of Fidelity: Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in Nineteenth-Century Japan 1 examines the usage of the word shashin in 19th century scientific contexts.


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2015, Jan 12
Loose ends

Last year was a crazy one—in a good sense, I think. I let a couple of things go by unmentioned, so I’ll collect them in this post.

  • I’ve uploaded the essay 1 that I wrote for the “Transmission” exhibition at 35 Minutes.
  • I contributed a text to Jason Fulford’s book The Photographer’s Playbook. 2 The book’s 307 contributions are ordered alphabetically, so I’m first up.
  • An interview I did with Atsushi Fujiwara appeared in the 10×10 Japanese Photobooks 3 book. Fujiwara articulated the “traditional” tradition of Japanese photography in a compelling way.
  • I also helped out Bryan Formhals and Stephen McLaren with their book Photographers’ Sketchbooks 4, which featured Naoya Hatakeyama, Daisuke Yokota and Wataru Yamamoto. I translated a couple of texts, including one by Hatakeyama which was typically brilliant. This is my favorite part:

    The English photographer Michael Kenna once said to me, ‘The camera is a pencil.’ Kenna was probably thinking of William Henry Fox Talbot’s book ‘The Pencil of Nature’ when he said this, but he continued: ‘A novelist uses a pencil to write a story. A painter uses it to make a sketch. An accountant uses it to calculate sums.’ I think he meant that there are many people in the world who are obsessed with cameras, but that the camera is nothing but a tool—the important thing is the actual result. When we line up the actual results produced by a pencil—‘story’, ‘sketch’, ‘calculation’, the degree to which these items differ, in other words their multiplicity, is stunning. If the camera is indeed a pencil-like tool, then we, like Kenna, should be able to see this multiplicity within photography.


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2014, Dec 05
“This is the only way”

"Economic Recovery: This Is The Only Way"

To briefly return to the theme of political photography in Japan 1: I was more or less horrified to see this ad, with its entirely cynical slogan, show up on Facebook the other day. I can’t bring myself to say much here, just want to note this and move on.

"Stay The Course For Economic Recovery"


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2014, Nov 20
Jun Tsunoda at 35 Minutes

Once again I am pained to miss a show at Studio 35 Minutes. This time Jun Tsunoda (painter, art director [the good kind], senpai to your favorite Japanese artist of the last 20 years) is showing drawings, or writings, that he’s done on top of proofs of books by Moriyama, Hosoe, Suda and so on. All the information is up there. Go!

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2014, Nov 12
To hell with good intentions

There is a 30-minute video floating around the internet called “Reely and Truly,” shot by fashion photographer Tyron Lebon. It is effectively a series of what we could call “studio visits” with photographers, in which they explain their work in a very well-shot and well-edited clip. The entire video, actually, is shot on various stocks of film, and to the video’s credit, it does not trumpet this fact loudlysurely the last thing that any of us needs is another harangue about the “authenticity” of film. Here I have more or less run out of good things to say about the video, and I will now list a few bothersome things about it:

All men. Not literally of course, it just feels that way.

Fashion. No knock on Teller, but when he’s given top billing status, I can only think: “they picked the wrong German!” There are certainly people unrelated to fashion here—it can hardly be a coincidence that the most illuminating segment is with Fumiko Imano—but the momentum of the video pushes us in this direction. Scenes of Sean Vegezzi trespassing through the depths (and heights) of Manhattan represent the video’s worst fashion tendency, which is of course its misplaced gravitas.

Asia. We begin in the Southern Hemisphere, where we get a taste of “wild Asia” in Bangkok, before ten seconds of poor Aveek Sen’s disembodied voice is given to represent something (?) of India. Then on to Japan, of course, where we seebut do not hear—a caricature of Nobuyoshi Araki. Then Lebon talks to Takashi Homma, a cunning, perhaps even dangerous man who needs to be approached with guile to spare. Here, Homma has taken Lebon for a ride, masterfully spinning the tall tale of Japanese exceptionalism once again.

No Africa?

I’m sure that the director of the video would be able to explain in all sincerity why certain choices were made, and so on and so forth. To quote Mclusky 1 by way of Ivan Ilich 2, though, to hell with good intentions…


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2014, Nov 12
Interview with Keiko Sasaoka

© Keiko Sasaoka

Kristian Häggblom has posted an interview with Keiko Sasaoka 1 on his blog. Sasaoka, a member of photographers’ gallery, has been photographing Tohoku since the 3/11 disaster.


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2014, Nov 03
Ryuichi Ishikawa in Shibuya

Ryuichi Ishikawa 1, a promising photographer from Okinawa who I’ve introduced here, has a show at a space in Shibuya from 11/7 – 11/24.

Update 11/8/2014: Ishikawa will also be releasing two photobooks with Akaaka 2 very shortly. Big moves!


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2014, Oct 23
Kikuji Kawada in New York

Kikuji Kawada will hold a solo exhibition, “The Last Cosmology” at L. Parker Stephenson 1 in New York, from November 7 until January of next year (I don’t know what day). I’m sure it will be worth a visit.


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