P.O. Box 2116 Austin, Texas 78768-2116 PIZ 472-1369 Japanese photos, continued from page 29 attack on a city full of people. Japanese photographers have constantly found new ways to treat traditional subjects. Early landscape photographs recall classical Japanese watercolors and woodcuts. In the 1920s, photographers like Ogawa Gesshu made gorgeous inky, pointillist bromoil prints of majestic gorges, rivers, and mountains. In the 1930s, the prints became sharper but the subjects were often similar: lyrical landscapes and gardens and seasonal themes, like Fukuhara Shinzo’s. By the 1980s, Hatakeyama Naoya’s photographs of the cement-lined remains of Tokyo’s rivers look more like someplace the Borg from Star Trek would live if they had better taste than anything that might inspire a haiku. Many of the photographers featured in the book are working on ways to make sense of the new physical and cultural landscapes of Japan. A few have worked explicitly on questioning whether it’s possible to make sense of the world. In the 1980s Sugimoto Hiroshi traveled the world, photographing the ocean from places like Jamaica and Finland. In each picture, the sea is always dark gray, the sky is always light gray, and the horizon was always centered. \(Only one of the phobeen taken anywhere. In her essay, Dana Friis-Hansen quotes Sugimoto Hiroshi as saying, “The world of meaning, which enclosed me like a net, has become unraveled.” Moriyama Daido made a more visceral \(and less monotohe joined the short-lived Provoke collective, a group of photographers and writers which aimed to “capture the shards of reality that existing language cannot possibly grasp, and to aggressively confront language and confront thought with a variety of data,” as they wrote in one of their manifestos. Moriyama photographed in gritty industrial areas and redlight districts, shooting blind from a speeding car or re-photographing newspapers and television shows. He made underexposed and blurry negatives, grainy, contrasty prints, and cheaply reproduced books. It would have been nice if the editors had provided a broader sampling of some of the longer-form works that Japanese photographers have produced. Araki Noboyushi has produced more than 100 books, each with dozens of photographs. It’s hard to get a sense of the scale of that from a handful of images that fit in a compilation like this. Imagine trying to understand the films of Kurosawa by looking at a couple of stills from Yojimbo and a screening of Dreams or Ran on a small television. In my fantasy there would be facsimiles of more pages from more of these great books and more work from each of the photographers. But the fact that I want to see more isn’t so much a problem with the book as a symptom of the ill that the book is trying to treat. After centuries of stability, the Japanese have been struggling to understand and to live with the consequences of their constantly changing culture and society over the course of the last 150 years. They’ve had to deal with militarism, terrorism, terrible economic and natural disasters, and the utter upheaval of their social systems. Friis-Hansen writes, “In fact, as domestic observers have pointed out, during the 1980s and 1990s the Japanese populace found little consensus or common direction in national or foreign affairs, nor did they find much solace from nature or community” As cracks have appeared in the mythical, monolithic Japanese culture, photographers have always been at home among the fissures, not just documenting the fault lines, but running and jumping over them, diving down between the plates, sometimes chipping away at the edges, sometimes filling in the gaps. As Anne Wilkes Tucker points out, even the earliest Japanese photographers, who were making seemingly conservative pictures as part of the traditional feudal power structure, were embracing a new technology from a completely foreign culture. Japan is a nation that’s been unified for 1,000 years, a civilization that’s been evolving for more than 2,000 years without cataclysmic change.The artisans who made the frames for those radical photographs worked in deeply conservative craft traditions. They would have had to serve long apprenticeships during which they would learn to use and respect the same tools and techniques that their forefathers had used for centuries. Even the cinema in Japan had an institutionalized system. Kurosawa had to start out making B-movies about wrestlers and swordsmen. From the beginning, Japanese photographers have been transgressive almost by definition. They borrowed the basics from the western pioneers of photograph, and then proceeded to make up their own art from scratch. They were amateurs who wrote passionately about aesthetics in popular magazines and middle-class college students who bailed on careers in industrial design and decided to launch movements designed to provoke a whole new way of thinking about images, language, and reality.They published their own books, invented their own movements, and madeare still makinga body of images that document, lyricize, and help create the connections and relations that build a new culture. And that is a package worth unwrapping. Jake Miller recently completed a train trip around the country. Now he can finally say he’s been to all the lower 48 states; Texas is still one of his favorites. 42 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 811103
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