Fumi Ishino, Tinted Lines

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Torch Press (here). Softcover with PVC jacket (272 x 230 mm), 128 pages, with 74 black-and-white reproductions. Includes an essay by Amanda Maddox (in English/Japanese) and a single page insert. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: While bright, sun-baked light can be found in plenty of places in America, a particular kind of squint inducing whiteness is most associated with the stuccoed buildings and concrete highways of southern California. We have come to expect this kind of Henry Wessel-whitewash in photographs of Los Angeles, and so when Fumi Ishino’s photobook Tinted Lines opens up to reveal a parade of photographs set against enveloping black pages, it hardly seems possible that he’s going to offer us a vision of life in LA. It’s a bold design choice that immediately puts us on notice that Ishino isn’t resonating with the typical palm trees and Hollywood glamour version of the city.

Ishino’s Los Angeles is the striving new arrival’s LA, where the dreams of making it big are confronted with doors, gates, and fences that are often closed, especially when seen from the vantage point of the road. While a few neon signs claim things are OPEN and an ATM reinforces our hope that we can Get Cash Here!!!, Ishino’s photographs mostly tell a story of being on the outside looking in. In his images, thickets of undergrowth and greenery repeatedly block his view (with one flash lit tendril looking altogether like barbed wire), security gates and high walls guard ostentatious homes, black metal fences are adorned with DO NOT CROSS tape, and even mesh window screens have been doubled up seemingly to reduce transparency. Instead of a welcoming embrace, the city seems to be offering a quietly indifferent shrug and a lonely seat on a plastic folding chair.

In general, Ishino’s black-and-white photographs deliver a consistent dose of tight formal control. His pictures are built on a strong sense of light and dark contrast (both during the day and at night) and his compositions are carefully structured to highlight the crispness of found arrangements, geometries, and textures. Reproduced at intimate scale and surrounded by expanses of black on the photobook’s pages, his photographs feel precisely managed, with most spread pairings arranged to elicit subtle visual echoes and refrains. In an age increasingly dominated by color imagery, Ishino’s photographs reinvigorate the aesthetics of black-and-white with a splash of contemporary bite.

Ishino finds visual connections in all kinds of unlikely combinations. He sees similar curves in a woman bending a lounge mat over her head and the discarded letters from illuminated signs. He notices pieces of black tape on the pipes of a dental x-ray machine and links them to black panties on a standing woman. He connects black holes on an outdoor sign to black snaps on a transparent raincoat. He sees parallels between wire fencing and a plaid shirt, and between thin white threads holding up furniture being assembled and the stitching on a pair of jeans. Again and again, he wants us to see the linked structures of things we may have overlooked.

The mysteries of texture are also a consistent interest for Ishino. Several images explore the folds and angles of drapery, as seen in tent fabrics falling from supporting poles and ropes. Others shows us a rough pile of sand, various close-ups of dripping tar and scratched paint, several shiny plastic materials that bend and warp, and a few distorted sheets of metal that may have been the remnants of car crashes. All have been cropped down to the point that we start to lose touch with representation, opening up alternate opportunities for light/dark contrast and figure/ground shape shifting.

Many of the remaining images use the hard edges of architecture as a starting point, either from afar or closer in where the planes and lines are read even more geometrically. Outside, he transforms construction sites, highway overpasses, parking lots, and the backs of buildings into studies of stacked shapes and layered blocks, once again using extremes of black and white to enliven the flattened compositions. Inside, Ishino opts for more calmly elemental scenes, where stairways, windows, and ceiling edges and corners are arranged to highlight clean lines and simple planes (where scale is sometimes puzzling), to the point that they oscillate between abstraction and documentation.

When Ishino then interleaves all of these various themes and images into one sequence, and then surrounds the images with swaths of blackness, an understated sense of estrangement creeps in. Somewhere in the middle of Tinted Lines, a single page insert floats out, reproducing a lost cat poster. While its graphic elements match Ishino’s high contrast aesthetics, it also seems to echo the displacement Los Angeles can inflict on newcomers. In this photobook, Ishino finds the delicate balance between refined images and uneasy emotions, leaving us seduced by his perception, but just enough on edge to feel an undercurrent of apprehension flowing beneath the surface.

Collector’s POV: Fumi Ishino does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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One comment

  1. Charles Johnstone /

    An informative review does many things. Firstly it gives me a window into an artist I may know very little about as is the case with Ishino. Secondly it defines the work and gives it some historical perspective . That along with the posted images help me decide if there is enough here to interest me. Happy to say in this case I will look into purchasing the book. I am a sucker for all LA.

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