I didn’t do any of the things I had written about this past weekend, but I did go to the SF MOMA on Thursday evening. The big news (which is obvious if you’ve stepped foot in downtown SF or in SOMA recently) is the Richard Avedon retrospective which was pretty impressive but, to me, not that inspiring. I was much more taken by another photography exhibit on the next floor down of the museum, the Provoke Era: Postwar Japanese Photography, a multi-artist photography exhibition of Japanese photography driven by the credo “Are, Bure, Boke,” or “rough, blurred, out-of-focus.”
The exhibit featured some of my personal favorites and introduced me to a number of photographers I hadn’t known of before.
Daido Moriyama is probably my favorite Japanese photographer of the postwar error. He works solely in black and white, and his images are surprising, super contrasty, and gritty. Moriyama said he often took his photos without looking through the viewfinder. He epitomizes, to me, what a good street artist can do, which is make the mundane beautiful, and show you what you miss on your way to work every day. His most famous photograph is a high contrast, almost blown out photo of a super scary stray dog.
Takuma Nukahira is a much less famous photographer working during the same time period and capturing similar subject matter as Moriyama. His series La Nuit is a gorgeous, moody. provocative, and uncanny look at the streets of post-war Japan. The hyper-reality of his prints, their ability to oversignify, and the aggressiveness of the light in these photos struck me as cinematic (in a good way). Unfortunately, I could only find one to reproduce here.
Hiroshi Yamazaki’s series The Sun is Longing for the Sea weren’t necessarily my favorite, but there was something transcendental about these gigantic photos of the pacific ocean at sunset. Yamazaki panned his camera slowly in a horizontal line, producing the bizarre effect of a setting sun that moves left to right and not up and down the horizon. It’s most interesting in a full series, but here are two of them.
Yamazaki’s work reminded me of one of my other all-time favorite photographers, Hiroshi Sugimoto, most famous for his long-exposure shots of movie theater screens and ocean horizons. Sugimoto’s work was also on display as part of an accompanying exhibit of more contemporary Japanese photography. I’ve written extensively on Sugimoto and don’t feel like repeating myself now, but believe me when I say the effect of seeing his work in person is probably unparalleled in contemporary photography.
On display was Naoya Hatakeyam’s striking diptych of Osaka Stadium during its destruction in 1998. These huge prints showed the strange decision made to use the stadium as a staging ground for sample model homes – a suburban neighborhood plunked down in the middle of a major metropolis, set off from the rest of the city bu the empty seats of a defunct sporting arena. The second part of the diptych, which I couldn’t find online, showed the stadium after the model neighborhood was torn down. Together, the diptych pointed to the ephemeral quality of contemporary ideas of “home,” the cookie-cutter neighborhood stamped ineffectively and without conviction onto the city only to be ripped out in a week. (Below is a horrible reproduction btw. Hatakeyama is much more technically skilled than that, as can be seen below.)
The last photographer I wanted to point out is Hiromi Tsuchida, who takes large-format photographs of crowds of Japanese people. His work is somewhat in the vein of Andreas Gursky; like Gursky, Tsuchida’s framing and distance from his subjects is disconcerting, confusing, and alien. There is a conflict between a dispassionate visual style and the passion Tsuchida obviously feels for his subject matter – Tsuchida first became renowned for his work documenting the aftermaths of the Hiroshima bombings. His more recent work, which I find more interesting, is less documentary and more critical.
Other interesting postwar Japanese photographers worth checking out are Eikoh Hosoe, Kohei Yoshiyuki, and Masahisa Fukase.