Close to the Edge: New Photography from Japan @Miyako Yoshinaga

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing a total of 25 photographic works from five Japanese artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. The exhibit was curated by Russet Lederman.

The following artists/photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works, their processes, dates, sizes, and editions as background:

  • Kenta Cobayshi: 4 inkjet prints, 2015, each sized roughly 29×20, in editions of 5
  • Mayumi Hosokura: 3 type c-prints, 2014, each sized 40×30, in editions of 3
  • Taisuke Koyama: 3 archival pigment prints, 2015, each sized 26×20, in editions  7
  • Hiroshi Takizawa: 10 inkjet prints, 2014, each sized 18×12, unique
  • Daisuke Yokota: 5 inkjet prints, 2015, sized either 12×9 or 20×14 (or reverse), in editions of 8

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: One of the inadvertent consequences of the hyper-connected world we live in now is the significant collapse of artistic distance, and with it, the slow harmonizing of cultural differentiation. While a few decades ago, we could assume that photography made in Europe or Asia would be deeply rooted in local concerns and regional aesthetics different than those in America, much of the work being made today is converging toward an “international” style and well aware of up-to-the-minute trends from New York, Amsterdam, and Shanghai. And given this constant interplay and cross-pollination of ideas, it is no longer impossible for an artist from a distant locale to meaningfully contribute to the action on the front edge of the medium – newness is filtered around the globe with such rapidity at this point that it is often hard to clarify where true innovation is originating and the causal sequence of who is influencing who.

This group show gives us a fresh report from contemporary Japan, offering a sampler of work made by photographers there in the past year or two. And if there is an overarching summary to be derived from this particular selection (made by SVA professor and Japanese photobook expert Russet Lederman), it is that many young Japanese photographers are wrestling with the same fundamental questions that photographers from across the globe are continuing to grapple with. How do digital effects get incorporated into a modern photographic aesthetic? How does the physicality of the photographic object manifest itself? And how do layers of process-centric reworking get integrated with underlying imagery? These aren’t “Japanese” questions really, but universal issues being explored by a new cohort of artists including this talented group from Japan.

Two potential answers to the digital-centric questions come from Kenta Cobayashi and Taisuke Koyama. Cobayashi’s works are filled with expressionistic Photoshop smears, liquifies, and glitches, breaking down representation until it reaches the borderlands with abstraction. Executed in bold colors, they investigate the same issues as Gerhard Richter’s overpainted photographs, but do so using digital tools and techniques rather than paint. Koyama pares his images back to the essence of captured light, using a pair of matched scanners (rather than a camera) as his recording device. His pictures traverse similar procedural terrain as works by Travess Smalley, Jannemarein Renout, and most recently Eileen Quinlan, but constrain themselves with fragmented white on black, the light fracturing into stuttering wrinkles and crackles that dance across the surface.

The issues surrounding photographic physicality and objecthood have been ably taken up by Hiroshi Takizawa. Starting with textural pictures of broken grey concrete, he’s wrinkled, crumpled, folded, balled up, and generally manhandled his prints into the confines of glass frames, mixing the tactile roughness of the concrete slabs with the glossiness of the printed page and then interrupting that contrast with active physical intervention. These works share a conceptual kinship with the works of Letha Wilson, but with the underpinnings of a more specific time and place and a more machined, urban reality.

And the possibilities of intentional rework have been examined by Mayumi Hosokura and Daisuke Yokota. Hosokura’s nudes are bathed in saturated tints of pink and purple (added in the darkroom), unbalancing male/female gender expectations and adding layers of soft melancholy and quiet desire. She’s taking her own photographs and reinterpreting/intensifying them, opening up new avenues for potential (or implied) narratives (her recent photobook Crystal Love Starlight reviewed here). Yokota’s works go further in terms of reprocessing, turning black and white interior nudes into atmospheric studies full of dust, dirt, and textural crackling, where a knee seems to take on the pebbled grain of leather and hairs intermingle with blurred grain. Yokota’s hand-crafted techniques push him toward a kind of peformance, where the creation of a finished work is the outcome of multiple physical steps and chance occurrences/degradations (his recent photobook Taratine reviewed here).

While we once might have narrowed our analysis of contemporary work like this to see it solely in a direct chronological progression going back to Tomatsu, Moriyama, Hosoe and other greats from the photographically-fertile 1960s and 1970s in Japan, surrounding these new artists with that specific cultural context seems overly easy, and likely a misrepresentation of where their influences might truly lie. Smart shows like this one remind us that conceptual ideas in photography are being investigated in parallel around the world, creating a synchronicity of invention and experimentation that frustrates simplistic nation-by-nation categorization. This leaves us with a much harder critical problem – how to discern (and evaluate) the tiny nuances/biases of culture or geography that are being tacitly used as part of an artist’s approach to a broader conceptual concern. In this post-Internet world, “Japanese photography” becomes a thornier (and less relevant) moniker for much of the best work made by contemporary photographers from Japan.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows:

  • Kenta Cobayshi: $1800 each
  • Mayumi Hosokura: $4200 each
  • Taisuke Koyama: $3200 each
  • Hiroshi Takizawa: $1500 each
  • Daisuke Yokota: $2000 or $2800 based on size

Many of the photographers included in this exhibit are represented in Japan by G/P Gallery (here). The work of these photographers has yet to find its way to the secondary markets in any consistent way, and as such, gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Daisuke Yokota, Hiroshi Takizawa, Kenta Cobayashi, Mayumi Hosokura, Taisuke Koyama, Miyako Yoshinaga

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JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2023 (no website link). Hardcover (21.7 x 28 cm), 98 pages, with 58 black and white photographs. Design by the artist. (Cover and spread ... Read on.

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