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I’m always interested in observing how Japan is represented abroad, but the last month hasn’t had anything to do with representation: it’s more like taking stock, just trying to process what’s happened. The Fukushima crisis is still unresolved, but it’s my feeling that the destruction in Tohoku is the real story. I really can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up one morning, go about your day, and by the evening have your entire town washed away. I’ve been thinking about the number of people currently displaced – it seems to be at least 250,000 – and the impact this will have on the course of not just their own lives, but the lives of people who they’ve met in their temporary locations which could become permanent.

So far most of the photographs to come out of Tohoku are, naturally, taken by photojournalists. I’m keeping track of links to earthquake-related photos, which I’ll update as new work comes through. It’s probably not yet the time for representation, though photographers with few professional obligations to “inform” their audience are also in the region. It may take longer to produce a body of work which represents, say, one effect of this massive displacement, but I’m sure that we’ll see it. The ROLLS TOHOKU project is one of the most interesting things to come out yet. A photographer gave disposable cameras to some regular people (including children) in areas badly affected by the tsunami. Someone also told me that Ishikawa Naoki, a young photographer who’s published some well-regarded books, is already shooting up there. I hope it’s not just a rumor.

As for Tokyo, on the face of it things have more or less returned to normal, though there are small clues that they aren’t quite the same: unilluminated McDonald’s signs, cordoned-off subway escalators, signs posted at stores informing you of a limit on water purchases. Not to mention the incredibly frequent aftershocks. A Japanese friend here said, “I think all we can do now is continue to live as usual.” This could be read in a negative light, but I think making an effort to “live as usual,” whatever that may mean, is one of the more optimistic things we can do here. With that in mind, I want to turn to an excellent photography book which came out a few months ago,
©Seiji Shibuya

“Dance” is published by Akaaka-sha, which has been one of the most exciting photography publishers in Japan for new work. Almost one year before “Dance,” Akaaka published Aya Fujioka’s “I Don’t Sleep,” which has already had the LPV treatment. “Dance” and “I Don’t Sleep” are similar only in that they share a quality which I call “akaakaesque,” a term loosely defined as a book that’s in color, printed with rich tones, and above all, has no concept or function other than expressing the photographer’s aesthetic point of view. 2010 was actually something of a down year for Akaaka, but “Dance” really stood out.


©Seiji Shibuya

What really draws me to “Dance” is the way that it takes the concept of lightness as a legitimate starting point for a work of photography. The Japanese photography scene has not been blighted by the self-flagellation I sometimes feel in American or European artist statements, but at the same time it’s rare to find a photographer who is willing to mount a proper defense for the place of humor in photography. In a sometimes poetical statement that accompanied the exhibit for “Dance” at Akaaka’s gallery, Shibuya writes: “There’s a difference between the world seen by the eye and the world seen by photographs. Here I feel humor, and hope… like a new bud sprouting, or seagulls flying overhead, let your cheeks be filled with smiles.” As Kool Keith once said, “people don’t always do this,” but it’s exciting to see humor taken seriously! A weighty statement could have easily ruined these photographs.


©Seiji Shibuya

“Dance” was put together from all of Shibuya’s photographs, including ones he said he’d forgotten. He told me it took roughly one year to edit, and the sequencing of the book is one of its strong points. Many of the photos in this book are very elemental, and there are a few different passages which riff on the same subject, like fire, or flowers. Himeno-san, Akaaka’s editor, used a similar technique in “I Don’t Sleep,” but in that book it was used to convey emotional tension. Here, it’s more like prolonging something pleasurable. Hedonism and photography go hand in hand, but I think this is a unique way to represent it. This short video shows a little over half of the book, including two of these passages:

Aside from this editing technique, Shibuya’s work also stands out for some individual snapshots which are really well done. At times the photos are a little bit vague, but they are balanced out by other photos with exceptionally strong composition. The photo of a woman sitting on a bench, together with cherry blossoms and an ad for chocolate particularly struck me.


©Seiji Shibuya


©Seiji Shibuya

Shibuya is not trying to say anything too obviously “important” with “Dance,” but there’s a place for that even in light of what’s happening in the rest of Japan. His work has a clear direction, and he’s brought this concept in line with his photos without forcing anything. This unburdened approach to photography strikes me as a breath of fresh air, and it’s certainly not a bad time for that now.

“Dance” is available at the Japan Exposures bookstore.


©Seiji Shibuya

Related posts:

  1. Letter from Tokyo #1
  2. Letter from Tokyo #2: Beyond Moriyama and Araki
  3. Total Strangers by Michael Cinque

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BBC Viewfinder Blog is doing a series of articles this week, each one by a different author looking at the world of photojournalism from a number of angles….

Articles – Michael Kamber: Photojournalism Today (BBC Viewfinder: December 2010)

Articles -  David Campbell: Photojournalism in the age of image abundance (BBC Viewfinder: December 2010))

Articles – Guardian: The Month in Photography (Guardian: December 2010) New Review’s monthly guide to the 20 best photographic exhibitions and books, with images by William Eggleston, Gerda Taro, Bill Brandt, W Eugene Smith, Richard Avedon and many more.

Books…books…..and books…..

A lot of talk about these couple of booklists during the last few days…

Articles / Books – Guardian: Sean O’Hagan: 2010′s best photography books: my personal pick (Guardian: December 2010)

Articles / Books – Guardian: Photography books of the year – reviews (Guardian:  December 2010)

Books The Friends of Phonar Book List (Phonar: December 2010) “We contacted some of the worlds most inspirational photographic practitioners, thinkers, authors and publishers and asked them for a book nomination that “is notable/ inspiring/ seminal/ provocative, in it’s narrative structure/approach or perhaps in it’s ‘discussion’ of narrative” “

Another two book lists…

Articles - Little Brown Mushroom: Alec Soth’s Top 10+ Photobooks of 2010 (LBM: December 2010)

Blogs Best PhotoBooks of 2010 by Jeff Ladd (5B4 blog: 2010)

Damon Winter has done a series 360 degrees panoramas of US Soldiers in Afghanistan for the New York Times’ A Year At War series

Features and Essays – Damon Winter: Panoramas: Views From a Year at War (NYT: December 2010)

Features and Essays - TIME: The Best Portraits from TIME 2010 (TIME: December 2010)

Features and Essays - Camine Galasso: Too Painful to Remember, or to Forget (NYT Lens: December 2010) the book

Features and Essays - Katja Heineman: Living with HIV (AARP: 2010)

Features and Essays - Danny Wilcox Frazier: Detroit (burn: December 2010

Features and Essays – Shiho Fukada: Christians in Iraq (NYT: December 2010)

Features and Essays - Tyler Hicks: Blast in Kandahar Kills Six (NYT: December 2010)

Kudos to New York Times…….they commit to hiring Joao Silva, full time…

Articles - Nicholas D. Kristof: What Makes an Employee Proud (NYT: December 2010)

Articles – NYT Lens: A Special Visit for Joao Silva’s Recovery (NYT Lens: December 2010)

Articles – Guardian: Photo Editor Roger Tooth: William and Kate: Mario Testino fails his history test (Guardian: December 2010) If the royal family must commission official portraits, let’s have some stiff formality – not this 80s sofa warehouse effort

VideosThe Genius of Photography (Youtube: 2010)

Interviews and Talks - Joop Masterclass 2010 Masters Jodi Bieber and Alejandro Castellote (WPP: 2010)

InterviewsEamonn McCabe (PDN: December 2010) What makes a lasting image, and how choosing photographs for a history book differs from choosing images for daily news stories.

InterviewsMatt Craig (Leica blog: 2010) Matthew Craig, a professional photographer and photo editor, lives in the core of the Big Apple — New York, NY. A founding member of MJR and Page One Photo Editor for The Wall Street Journal.

InterviewsAdam Patterson (LCC Head of College blog: December 2010)

PhotographersUlysse Lefebvre

Grants – PDN: Grant deadline: Humble Arts Foundation accpeting applications for $1,000 grant until Dec 30. (PDN: December 2010)

Parallelo Zero has a added yet another photographer to their roster

Agencies – Parallelo Zero photographers: Simone Cerio (PZ: 2010)

Amanda Rivkin on Verve Photo….

Articles – Verve Photo: Amanda Rivkin (Verve: December 2010)

Awards - BJP: Canadian photographer wins Travel Photographer of the Year title (BJP: December 2010)

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Sent to me by Jim Krantz, the highly talented photographer who is one of the original Marlboro photographers (and much of whose work was borrowed by Richard Prince). This ad promoting the launch of the Polaroid SX-70 reminds us of one of those magical moments when it seemed like the future had arrived and it was all good. What's particularly surprising is the degree to which the history and art of photography is referenced. And while photography is much more appreciated, studied, and written about today - it's highly unlikely that a digital camera would be promoted in this way.

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Features and Essays – Michael Christopher Brown: China (Burn: July 2010)

Features and Essays - Paolo Pellegrin: Storm (Magnum Photos: July 2010) Pellgrin’s new book: Storm

Features and Essays – Stuart Franklin:  Life in Grand Isle after the BP oil spill (Guardian: July 2010) The Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin visits Louisiana where the Grand Isle community is dealing with the aftermath of the spill.

Features and Essays – Paulo Jorge Ferreira Montero: Profound Azores (Visura Spotlight: July 2010)

Features and Essays – Taryn Simon: Contraband (New York Times Magazine: July 2010) These images are from a set of 1,075 photographs — shot over five days last year for the book and exhibition, ‘‘Contraband’’ — of items detained or seized from passengers or express mail entering the United States from abroad at the New York airport. The miscellany of prohibited objects — from the everyday to the illegal to the just plain odd — attests to a growing worldwide traffic in counterfeit goods and natural exotica and offers a snapshot of the United States as seen through its illicit material needs and desires.

Features and Essays - Matthew Niederhauser: Beijing Continues Its March of Modernization (NYT: July 2010)

Features and Essays – Martine Franck: Women (Nowness: 2010)

Interviews - Matthew Niederhauser Matthew shoots his first video for the New York Times on a 5DmkII (DLSR News Shooter.com: 2010)

Articles – BJP: University students address children photography conundrum (BJP: July 2010) Amid the rising “paranoia surrounding the laws of photographing children in today’s society,” two Kingston University photography students have reproduced traditional school photographs with one twist – all the pupils have their backs to the camera

Articles - NYT Lens: ‘Step Away From the Camera!’ (NYT Lens: July 2010)

Facebook - FB page for Alixandra Fazzina’s book A Million Shillings – Escape from Somalia (FB: 2010)

Photographers – Pierre Marsaut got in touch to inform that he has a new website here

Blogs - 1000 Words Blog: Payback 2010 (1000 Words Blog: July 2010) Every photographers deserves Payback

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Interview Stefan Dauth

Photography is a mirror and a window at the same time.

Interview Salvi Davide

I believe that viewing the world thru a lens is a lifestyle choice.

Interview Natalia Herrero

Photography has become my way to show my faults and say I’m sorry.

Interview Amelie Zadeh

Every face is a beginning of a story.

Interview Manuel Fernandez

To me photography is a way of collecting the things and places I love.

Interview Violet Parr

Photography is a way of actualizing time.

Interview Fabien Seguin

Creating images has become the most important thing in my life now.

Interview Brian Ferry

Photography is an essential part of my everyday life.

Interview Barrett Emke

This idea that a photograph can be as visceral as any sort of memory is very fascinating to me.

Interview Cyrille Weiner

Photography is an intimate, sensual and sensitive relationship with the world and people.

Interview Natascha Libbert

Photography gives purpose to questions I have.

Interview Sophie Eekman

You go out and all these photos are there somewhere.

Interview Vins Baratta

Photography is a fusion between my dreams and those made by the people portraited.

Interview Cécilia Jauniau

Photography is the way to read the insides of life.

Interview Jacqueline McCullough

It gives me a voice that I don’t have with words.

Interview Robin Jonsson

I might have to grow up one day.

Interview Alexandra Wolkowicz

Photography helps me to go through life with a more open mind.

Interview Ron Pruitt

Photography is my whole life, yet I find it can be a curse rather a blessing.

Interview Nika States

“How grand that the world keeps happening, and how grand that we happen with it!”

Interview Jordi Huisman

Photography is a way of dealing with time.

Interview Viviane Sassen

Photography is the most magical and beautiful medium I know.

Interview Liam Henry

Photography changes the way I spend my whole day.

Interview Koichi Nishiyama

The photograph gives me an intimate relation with the world.

Interview Magnus Pettersson

Photography is a way to see who I am, it’s my own reflection.

Interview Martin Cregg

I ‘dabbled’ in photography and it became my life.

Interview Thomas Wieflingseder

Photography is about taking bits and pieces of the so-called real world.

Interview Andris Feldmanis

Photography gives me the perfect reason to pull myself together and step out of my apartment.

Interview Liz H. Kaufman

Photography means nostalgia.

Interview Drew Kelly

Photography is a very limited medium for description.

Interview Agatha A Nitecka

Photography is the best balance I’ve found between the internal and the external reality.

Interview Adam Kremer

Photography is my thought process.

Interview Roddy Laroche Samsonoff

« Memorie doesn’t film, it takes pictures ». Milan Kundera.

Interview Ylenia Arca

Photography allows me to spend some time to observe things.

Interview Thomas Morris

I want to create photographs that ask questions rather than answer them.

Interview Alain Greloud

I consider photography as being a poetic introspection.

Interview Van Robinson

Photography was the first thing that stuck.

Interview Meral Güler

I became an onlooker, a photographic storyteller.

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by Claire O'Neill

I've never seen the Pieta or the Terracotta Army. I mean, obviously I've seen them if I'm linking to them — but not in person. What's interesting is that before photography, people would make pilgrimages to see these works of art. But, if you're like me and studied the photos in your high school history classes, there's less of an urgency to see the legendary creations in person.

In that sense, sculpture has been inextricably linked to the image since the advent of photography. This idea is being explored with a new exhibition opening later this summer at MOMA: The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today.

Where sculpture meets photography

Credit: Photos courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art

I have seen The Thinker and Unique Forms Of Continuity In Space (phew!) and a few other favorites, and I must say: a photo is a nice preview, but sometimes art is worth a pilgrimage.

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