Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Japanese Photography" - Two Current Exhibitions in Tokyo -and- (Bonus!) Two Good Sources

Caption: 'Boy Wearing Armor' by Suzuki Shinichi (c. 1882-1897) | GOTO SHINPEI MEMORIAL HALL

Photo and text from The Japan Times, 3/28/17.

There are two photography exhibitions currently showing at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum that are thematically and chronologically unrelated, but together make a strong testimony of the extent to which Japan embraced photography from its earliest beginnings, and how the medium is a strong suit in Japan’s contribution to the contemporary art scene. One is a celebration of the extensive history of Japanese photography in the 19th century; the other a solo show featuring the extraordinary work of photographic artist Hiroshi Yamazaki.

“Dawn of Japanese Photography: The Anthology” is the latest volume in the museum’s long-term project to bring together images from archives around the country in an extensive display of samurai portraits, landscapes, carte de visite (the pictorial and more socially oriented version of the business card) and documentary photography of construction, war and natural disasters.

The majority of images were taken by Japanese photographers for Japanese viewers, but there are a significant number by foreign travelers, some whose visits were short, such as Commodore Perry’s daguerreotypist, Eliphalet Brown, and others who were resident in Japan for several years, most notably British subject Felice Beato and the Austrian Baron Raimund von Stillfried. There is also the rare sight of samurai in 19th-century France, which resulted from the renowned photographer Nadar taking the portraits of the Second Japanese Embassy to Europe, while they were in Paris in 1864.

Around the turn of the century, the foreign market for photography in Japan favored the alluring, exotic and fantastical. This was catered to by native and nonnative photographers alike, who helped cement the iconography of Japan as the land of cherry blossoms, Fujiyama, samurai and geisha. Photography for the domestic market was more austere, personal or practical, and the value of this exhibition is to focus on the wealth of material that has, for various reasons, been underrepresented in global histories of photography.

Expressing a quiet nobility, samurai portraits taken by Nagasaki-born photographer Hikoma Ueno, for example, have a very different feel to the hand-colored images known as “tourist photos” or Yokohama Shashin destined for export, which sometimes featured day laborers or studio assistants dressed up in samurai armor in a kind of early cosplay.

The print chosen as the main promotional image for the exhibition is one of the most well-known examples of early Japanese photography: the portrait of handsome reactionary Toshizo Hijikata (1835-69) by Tamoto Kenzo. The photograph has created a romantic legacy for the sub-commander of the rebel Shinsengumi, a group that supported the last shogun and opposed the restoration of the Emperor Meiji. Hijikata lives on as a popular manga and anime character in part due to this one photograph.

The choice of Tamato’s image is good marketing, and its connection between early photography to contemporary popular culture is entirely appropriate. With a few exceptions, the exhibits were originally never intended to be viewed as high art. The material qualities of the miniature silvery mirrors of daguerreotypes, framed in ornate gold frames or the handmade crimson lacquerware of a camera body (1863) are, nevertheless, a delight, and possibly a revelation for a generation used to digital photography viewed on screens.

The exhibition shows that in its nascent stages, photography was valued for its ability to approximate the view of the human eye and to preserve a sight over time. Spreading through Japan with the ideals of the enlightenment, photography was, as the Japanese word “shashin” (literally “truth copy”) suggests, the scientific method made visually manifest. By contrast, the concurrent exhibition “Yamazaki Hiroshi/Concepts and Incidents” shows what happens when photography is liberated from the task of being literal.

Hiroshi Yamazaki is best known for his 1970s work that used long exposures to show the path of the sun through the sky. Focusing on process, rather than subject matter, Yamazaki is expert at making the ordinary look strange, and continues to create work that is strikingly ingenious.

Early pieces show that Yamazaki could imbue even relatively straight photography with unusual intensity and a sense of the uncanny. A 1969 portrait of an unshaven, plaintive-looking Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of butoh, kneeling in a hallway by sets of shoes, hints both at the creative energy and abjection of the choreographer and performance artist, with a composition of lines that is dynamic but also isolates Tatsumi from his quotidian surroundings.

The 1978 series “The Sun is Longing for the Sea” experiments with photographing the sun over time, resulting in images that feature a blazing white line reflected in blurred seascapes. Yamazaki called these experiments “optical incidents” — the action of working with photographic equipment and using their particular characteristics to go beyond human vision. More recent work looks at chromatic aberration — the optical defect that photographers generally try to avoid through buying expensive lenses, or using software correction — and photograms of hands creating ripples in water.

“Dawn of Japanese Photography: The Anthology” runs until May 7, ¥700; “Yamazaki Hiroshi/Concepts And Incidents” runs until May 10, ¥600, at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thu. and Fri. until 8 p.m.). Closed Mon.

For more information:


We have been discussing "Japanese Photography" in class lately. These two sources have been helpful:

Photography and Japan by Karen M. Fraser (2011)

Blurb from The University of Chicago Press Books: In Photography and Japan, Karen Fraser argues that the diversity of styles, subjects, and functions of Japanese photography precludes easy categorization along nationalized lines. Instead, she shows that the development of photography within Japan is best understood by examining its close relationship with the country’s dramatic cultural, political, and social history.

“Uniqueness” in Japanese Art Photography: Toward Situating Images in Context by Pablo Figueroa (2015)

First paragraph from article available at Asia Pacific Perspectives: All nations assert cultural difference through contrast with other countries, and Japan is no exception. However, the country believes it is extraordinarily unique, and has built pervasive cultural myths that claim uniqueness to anything Japanese. Could “uniqueness” in Japanese art photography be one of those myths?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Writing with Light Photo Essays - A Collaboration between Cultural Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review"

Today in my Documenting Japan class the students are starting their Two-Frame Photo Story Presentations. The assignment was inspired by my participation in a visual literacy workshop run by John Condon and Miguel Gandert at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication Workshop in 2009 and the film Life Through a Lens about photographer Annie Liebovitz. The experimentation of experience with photography combining image and text remains important and relevant. See announcement below:

Writing with Light is an initiative to bolster the place of the photo-essay—and, by extension, formal experimentation—within international anthropological scholarship. As a collaboration between two journals published by the American Anthropological Association (AAA), Cultural Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review, Writing with Light is led by a curatorial collective that aims to address urgent and important concerns about the sustained prominence of multimodal scholarship. Anthropological projects based in video, installation, performance, etc. take as a given that multimodality changes what anthropologists can and should see as productive knowledge. Such projects compel anthropologists to begin rethinking our intellectual endeavors through an engagement with various media, addressing the particular affordances and insights that each new form of scholarship offers. How, for example, does photography produce different types of knowledge than text and/or film? What criteria might we need to interrogate and evaluate each of these forms of multimodal scholarship? As part of a broader set of questions about the relationship between forms of scholarly work and knowledge production, we explore the ongoing relevance of the photo-essay.

The Writing with Light collective focuses on the photo-essay in the belief that multimodal (or visual) forms are not a singular paradigm and that a consideration of a singular research form might help us to rethink a broader array of anthropological questions. How does the photo-essay configure our engagement through its unique form of mediation and composition? We believe that the photo-essay provides a critical opportunity for reevaluating the word–image relationship. Conventionally known for its narrative qualities, the photo-essay is especially useful in reconsidering the relationship between words and images in photographic storytelling, as well as efforts to generate innovative anthropological knowledge with the capacity to go beyond storytelling. For example, we are especially interested in the photo-essay’s potential to generate insights focused on issues of mediation and representation, as well as methodological questions with the potential to shift how anthropologists conceive of the discipline itself.

This initiative is unique in that it draws on Cultural Anthropology’s wider view of emerging trends in anthropology, while foregrounding the particular concerns of Visual Anthropology Review as far as theorizing and critiquing practice-based modes of ethnographic scholarship. By relaunching the existing Cultural Anthropology Photo Essays section as a collaboration with Visual Anthropology Review, the initiative aims to open new spaces for interaction between sections of the AAA and corners of the discipline. By merging the literary and epistemological critiques of an earlier generation with the formal and aesthetic critiques driving visual anthropology today, we draw on the etymology of the word photograph for inspiration: thus, writing with light.

For more information:

I am cheating on my own two-frame story today by borrowing two photos from Japan Today both published today to examine and ponder current housing conditions in Japan.



I am not suggesting that these housing types are representative of Japan by any means. But it is mighty sad and one wonders about the priorities of the Japanese government as it increases its military budget and pledges aid for developing countries (aid = business opportunities). What about the people in Japan that need assistance? These are urgent and important concerns that need exploring...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Gov't seeks installation of visible fire alarms for hearing impaired"

From Japan Today, 3/16/17.

The Japanese government has called on municipalities across the country to install visibly recognizable flashing fire alarms for deaf or hard-of-hearing people.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency has asked local authorities to install more flashing fire alarms in public spaces such as stations, airports and welfare facilities. The introduction of such devices is still limited in Japan.

Installation of fire detection devices including emergency bells is mandatory at such places as stations, airports, nursery homes for the elderly and care facilities for the disabled above a certain size.

But meeting the needs of those who cannot hear fire alarms has been a challenge, with visible fire alarms only introduced at a limited number of places including the international terminal of Tokyo’s Haneda airport and some welfare facilities.

The flashing alarms, fitted on walls or ceilings, show blinking signs when they detect outbreaks of fire.

In its first guideline compiled last autumn, the agency also called for introduction of the devices at commercial facilities visited by many people with hearing impairments.

It also recommends setting flashing alarms less than 10 meters above floor level and using white light so that those with color perception deficiencies can easily recognize alarm signs.

Chieko Yamashita, 69-year-old chair of an association of the deaf in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, expressed hope for further introduction of the devices.

Yamashita, who has participated in an emergency drill with a flashing alarm, said, “With strong flashing light, I immediately noticed that I needed to evacuate even though I was looking down.”


"Surveillance cameras to be installed in every subway car in Tokyo"

From Japan Today, 3/15/17.

Surveillance cameras will be installed in each of the roughly 3,800 subway cars in Tokyo, their operators said Tuesday, part of an effort to improve public safety ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Starting in 2018 or 2019, Tokyo Metro Co will begin installing a camera above every door of each subway car, while Toei Subway will install several cameras on the ceiling of every car over the period of just under 10 years from next August.

All video footage will be saved to hard disk drives and kept for around one week, and only a limited number of employees will have access to it, according to Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, which is managed by the Tokyo metropolitan government’s Bureau of Transportation.

Tokyo Metro will start fitting cars on the Marunouchi and Hibiya lines with security cameras first.

Cars on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Hokuriku shinkansen bullet train lines have already been fitted with security cameras. Tokyu Corp, which operates railways in the Tokyo area, plans to follow suit by 2020.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Ethnography and Street Photography" (New article at Anthropology News) plus some bonuses...

Really interesting article incorporating text and photos by Brent Luvaas recently posted at Anthropology News. Short excerpt:

Street photography, notes Magnum photographer Alex Webb, is a practice of harnessing serendipity. Photographers never know what they are going to find when they go out on the streets. They have to stay open to what comes their way and be ready for it when it does. They have to let go of expectations, plan to have no plan. They are, writes Webb, “at the mercy of the world and the world only gives them so much” (Webb and Webb 2014, 56).

Ethnography is like that too. Anthropologists, once out in the field, have to let go of our pre-conceived notions of what our projects will look like or how they will unfold. We have to adapt to the circumstances as they present themselves, go with the flow. Sometimes, we have to disregard our research plans entirely. Designed in front of a computer with the input of advisors and colleagues, the best laid ethnographic plans often fail to conform to the realities of ethnographic research.

Check out the entire article and photos:

BONUS! Sources regarding experimentation of visual + text by G P Witteveen:

SEE2THINK - thinking with pictures:

ethnographic vignettes:

Lots of good visual anthropology to explore...

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Seeing Ainu as they want to be seen - Portrait project is the result of months spent living as part of village community"

Image (by Laura Liverani) and text (by Shannon Schubert) from The Japan Times, 3/12/17.

”Imagine this place,” says Italian photographer Laura Liverani, as she tries to conjure up a picture of Nibutani, the village where she spent two months living with and photographing the indigenous people of Hokkaido. “There’s about 400 people that live there, it’s not very well connected to other areas so it’s very rural. There’s a strong presence of the Ainu, not only because 70 percent is of Ainu descent, but because it is culturally very active.

“I would call Nibutani, if not second home, a very familiar place.” One, she says, that will stay with her “forever.”

The first fruit of Liverani’s time in Hokkaido is “Ainu Nenoan Ainu” (“Human-like Human” in the Ainu language), a photographic portraiture series now being exhibited at the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo.

Still in production is a documentary on the Ainu, a joint effort with collaborators Neo Sora and Valy Thorsteindottir, who also stayed in Nibutani. The trio call themselves Lunch Bee House, after an Ainu restaurant in the village. Liverani is tight-lipped about the content of the documentary, except to say that it focuses on two Ainu families, or “clans,” from Nibutani.

“The actual project started in 2012,” Liverani explains. “I was taking photos and talking to people informally and becoming engaged with the Ainu community. Then I thought I need a little bit more depth into the project, so I had the idea of making a documentary, but I had no experience in filmmaking.

“I’d like to call ourselves a punk band of filmmaking,” she says of Lunch Bee House, “because none of us have a clear position in filmmaking — we just wanted to get on stage and play.”

The rural remoteness of Nibutani first came as a shock. “There are no shops, no places to hang out, just one drive-in restaurant and that’s about it,” Liverani says. What it does have in abundance, however, is culture.

“There are Ainu museums and Ainu activists, and everyone is so engaged in promoting and reinventing and preserving Ainu culture and language,” she explains. “It was very passionate.”

Such efforts are important considering the community’s history. The Ainu are one of Japan’s most marginalized groups. They were only officially recognized as the indigenous people of northern Japan in 2008, following the passage of the Resolution on the Rights of Indigenous People at the United Nations. Oppression and discrimination have contributed to the erosion of the culture over the centuries of colonization leading up to Hokkaido’s full incorporation into the Meiji Japanese state in the 19th century.

The official figure for the number of Ainu in Japan now stands at 25,000, but unofficial estimates put it closer to 200,000, considering that the policy of forced assimilation into Japanese society means many people of Ainu descent may not even be aware of their heritage.

“The main theme in my series of photographs is actually the theme of identity, so how people represent themselves as Ainu,” says Liverani. “The theme of adoption through Ainu culture is very strong, a very strong point in my work.”

Collaboration was key to this project for Liverani, who insisted on including the subject of the photo in the decision-making process of orchestrating the portrait.

“My idea was to subvert the language of the anthropological portrait by engaging the people in the portrait,” she says. “So I would ask people how they would want to be photographed … so it wouldn’t be only my own projection onto the person, but it would be more a collaboration and the person photographed would have a say in how they would want to be represented. So the portrait became the only possible mode.”

But the project grew to encompass more of what constitutes Ainu culture.

“I started with portraits but obviously a portrait is just partial,” she says. “It became natural to expand the narrative with other photographs, but the portraits are still the core of the project.”

However, Lunch Bee House’s time in Nibutani wasn’t just about the film or Liverani’s photography. She says the three visitors made real, meaningful connections with the people and the community.

“We were sort of adopted by families,” Liverani says. “Of course, we were working on the documentary and on the photo series, so our position was clear, but at the same time we became friends. It was hanging out and also working — it was all entangled together. It was quite an intense and interesting experience.”

Laura Liverani’s documentary photography project “Ainu Nenoan Ainu” is showing at the Italian Cultural Institute in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, until Saturday, March 18. The artist will be at the exhibition on Thursday, March 16, 4-6 p.m. For information, please contact the Istituto Italiano di Cultura via or by phone on 03-3264-6011 (extensions 24, 10).