What About Japan?


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When we think about Japan, we might end up amongst a mixed up diversity of terms and Japanese topics. Exotic, legendary, far away oriental land. Prominent History, Zen, samurais and kimonos, sunrise landscapes, temples surrounded by gardens full of cherry blossom trees, mount Fuji, Haiku poetry. Extremely good manners and quite a number of cultural stereotypes. Japan, cradle of new technologies, over populated large cities and photo cameras all over. Photo cameras? What about Japan and photography?

What is it in Japanese photography that makes it distinctive? What is it exactly what enhancesJapan as a showy country towards western cultures? Is there indeed any difference between Japanese and western photography? After all, every work and photographer hasan own vision, so why does Japan capture our attention? It’s the big distance, the unknown. The circumstances and moments far removed from our own reality. (Why is an image of a Zen monk more special than the image of a nun?). It’s the difference which keeps us intrigued,which increases the mystery. Because we do not participate in the daily Japanese routine, it will always be more attractive to imagine the new points of view, the opposite behaviors, the strange rules and codes. The atypical... for us.

The Japanese imagination
The visual image that remains in our memory goes deeper than anything else. Enteringthe Japanese imaginary the window opens and we find a world of poetical approach,straight subjects, transparent reality and a sense of discretion. All this is shown in amaximum purity of sense and, seen through western eyes, a Japanese sensibility in ashape of subtle styles. Pure colors and shapes lead us to a path filled with deep culturalbackgrounds, sharp technologies, new inspirations and interesting personalities.Looking backwards on the history of Japanese photography, there has not been muchdocumentation on the subject till around the last two decades, when some Japanese startedto knock on western doors and picked up the attention of galleries and art relatives.

Observing the artistic panorama on this other side of the planet, we barely see any sign of Japanese photography. After a visit to the latest edition of the Amsterdam’s Kunst Rai 2006 we discovered that it had seldom examples of artist’s images from the rising sun country. And when it is time toshow them, it always ends up with the same names on the walls again. Not that it is boring to see Nobuyoshi Araki’s work hanging next to Daido Moriyama’s, it’s actually a compliment to see two of Japan’s best-known photographers sharing space. However it is sad in the sense that it is almost the only work that is exported to a ‘supposed’ international art fair like the Kunst Rai. Where are the other consecrated ones, the new talents or the modern samples of Japanese photography?

Looking ahead
There are obviously more Japanese examples than Araki with his famous nudes series of Japanese young ladies, sensual fl owers compositions, Polaroids and the book he made on his cat, amongst his endless career of creating work. Also Daido Moriyama counts as well with a long career filled with photo books, international exhibitions, and a personal black and white access to stories and daily movements of millions of Japanese walking the same soil. For example there is the hilarious Yasumasa Morimura blinking an eye to the masters of painting while becoming part of the western art history himself; and Hiroshi Sugimoto who is exploring the themes of memory, time and dreams. Also see Masao Yamamoto eclipsing the viewer with a romantic rainbow of sensations and emotions of his daily surrounding. Understand Shomei Tomatsu and his impressive black and white images from the post war and his delicatecompositional snap shots -which are on display in a large retrospective at the San Francisco Moma till the middle of August. And what about Naoya Hatakeyama and his explosive and deconstructed landscapes and of course young photographers as Takashi Yasumura and Rinko Kawauchi, which latest works can be seen in the international photo festival PhotoEspaña 2006 in Madrid till the middle of July.

The list goes on and on since the more you look at it, the more you will admire it and befond of it. This is just a glimpse, take it all in and enjoy it till the top.


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