Artist talk: Yuji Hamada, Yosuke Takeda, Yusuke Yamatani, Masumi Kura
For Four From Japan at Condé Nast Gallery
Mar 08, 2016
Artist talk moderated by Christopher Phillips (curator of ICP) on Sept 17, 2015 for the exhibition Four From Japan at Condé Nast Gallery.
Text: Rasa Tsuda, Anna Gonzalez Noguchi
Artists in the top image from left to right, are Yuji Hamada, Yosuke Takeda, Yusuke Yamatani and Masumi Kura.
Four From Japan: Contemporary Photography, curated by Alison Bradley for the Condé Nast Gallery NY, premiered works in the United States of four groundbreaking contemporary photographers from Japan; Yuji Hamada, Yosuke Takeda, Yusuke Yamatani and Masumi Kura (in the photo from left to right). The exhibition was held from July 20th to September 25th, 2015. Although these four new talents are from the same generation and country, the artists' talk moderated by Christopher Phillips illustrates the diversity of their work and their approaches to photography.
“I was always interested in the gap between what you see and what you think you see.” – Hamada
- Christopher Phillips: We are here this evening to hear from the artists Masumi Kura, Yusuke Yamatani, Yuji Hamada and Yosuke Takeda, whose work has never been seen in the United States before. There is once again a movement of interest in Japanese photography in New York and we have a great opportunity to hear from the most inventive and innovative photographers working in Japan today.
- Let’s begin with Yuji Hamada. Please give us your presentation.
- Yuji Hamada: The series titled Photograph is about “light”. I wanted to see what light looks like because light itself can’t be seen and does not have a real shape. Therefore I wanted to capture the unseen light in our daily life. I made the light installations and, using a 4×5 camera, I shot long exposure images. My selection of cameras and techniques is important in expressing my observations through a photograph. I’ve always been interested in the gap between what you see and what you think you see. This “in-between area” is fascinating and I explore it in my work.
- Primal Mountain is made up of photographs of typical mountainscapes. Through these photographs I am interested in the relationship between my concept, presentation of the photograph, and the experience evoked by the viewer. We tend to look for things that we can recognize and once that connection is made, it expands our outlook and triggers our past memories.
- Christopher Phillips: In your series Photograph, you used salt and a fog machine to create unusual moods in these images. Do you see these photographs as having a mood that is calm and peaceful or do you see them as mysterious or dangerous?
- Yuji Hamada: It isn’t my intention to control the impression of the photo. What is more important is the fact that light exists everywhere in the world and is universal. I wanted to capture light that exists close to me, which is a light that also connects to everywhere else in the world. It’s not up to me to leave an impression—that is up to the viewer.
“Find timelessness in my photography.” – Yamatani
- Christopher Phillips: Next, Yusuke Yamatani. Please give us your presentation.
- Yusuke Yamatani: I’ve always been interested in the past. I sometimes forget what age I live in. Therefore I want to find timelessness in my photography. I want to figure out what is the value of “timelessness” and if it exists for humans.
- I began to photograph at 22. After travelling around Japan, I wanted to reconnect with my friends and bandmates, as a photographer. I moved in with my old friend in Osaka and went out to rock concerts every night to have fun, which lead to making the series exhibited here, Tsugi no yoru e (The next night).
- I have another series which records the “change in time” in a music venue. For this series I took photographs of the floors in music venues in Tokyo and made life-size prints of them which I laid down over the same floor before a concert. This was my new style of photography. The prints revealed emotions and actions through the stains left by peoples’ shoes and alcohol. This became a new method of photographing a record of an event and it led to the creation of my series, Ground.
- Christopher Phillips: You have created a distinctive look for your photographs and have also made distinctive photobooks and zines which have been popular. What’s the difference between showing your works as prints in a gallery and showing your works in photobooks and zines?
- Yusuke Yamatani: I am curious about things of the past, since in Japanese tradition, photographs of the past are considered important. I consider both the presentation of photographs as well as the concept, and I merge these together. Through this, I can have an impact on contemporary art.
“My selection of works was developed from observing my family.” – Kura
- Christopher Phillips: Next, Masumi Kura. Please give us your presentation.
- Masumi Kura: I live and work in Tokyo and have been taking photographs of people on the street. First I will explain the black-and-white work which is titled after my family name, Kura. This series was photographed from 2000 to 2009. I wandered the streets with my camera. When I found something that created a feeling, I took a photograph. I express my way of observing people through my photographs. My perception of the world might be different from the way that the majority of people generally want to perceive it.
- Next I will explain the series of color photographs titled Himi. Himi is a small rural town in the Hokuriku region (northwest part of Japan), where I was born and raised. My family and relatives live there. I started shooting photographs there without any particular reason in 2000 and continued to do so when I returned home. I tried to capture people and places from an objective point of view like I did on the street. In 2011, the tsunami disaster caused an accident to the nuclear power plant which affected the Tohoku region (northeast part of Japan) rice farms. My mother has always sent me rice from my hometown so that I can eat it in Tokyo. Although my hometown was not affected by the disaster, afterwards I realized how precious food is and the meals I have eaten should not be taken for granted. I gradually became more interested in food and as a result, I went to shoot my relatives’ rice fields. In these two series you can find many images of family and children. My selection of works was developed from observing my family.
- Lastly, in my latest work, Men are beautiful, I take photographs of attractive men on the street in an attempt to make a contemporary adaptation of Winogrand’s photographic series Women are Beautiful.
- Christopher Phillips: In 1975, Winogrand’s book Women are Beautiful was filled with photographs of women on the street around the US, often portraying them with a sexualised gaze. I am curious to know how you became interested in Winogrand’s photographs and what your reaction was to Women are Beautiful.
- Masumi Kura: Winogrand’s work is popular in Japan and when I encountered his snapshots I both admired and envied the fact that he had the freedom to go out on the street and shoot people like that, which is a freedom that I cannot enjoy today. At the same time, in Women are Beautiful some of the women portrayed are seen as sexy initially. However I don’t think Winogrand’s perspective is sexualised. I think he is portraying women in a positive and celebratory way, as beautiful beings.
“Lenses grow over many years and shape their individual character” – Takeda
- Phillips: Finally, Yosuke Takeda. Please give us your presentation.
- Yosuke Takeda: All my works are shot with a digital camera. However, recently I have been using old lenses. Some of the latest lenses you can buy are incredibly high quality and in effect don’t make us notice that lenses are made up of many layers. Lenses are rarely considered to be very important, as they were always only a means by which to take a photograph. Old lenses sometimes will have different effects, even when you use the same model. This is nothing special, it’s just like us. Lenses grow over many years and shape their individual character, which is irreplaceable. To bring out such character through new technology is the concept of Digital Flare. The relevance of digital flare is the possibility of the diversity of people. The ability to connect different people is significant. This diversity is our future.
- Christopher Phillips: You started to make photographs with darkroom processing, but you said you feel lucky to be working in the period of transition of film to digital photography. Tell us how you made the images in the Digital Flare series and how this series can open new possibilities for photography.
- Yosuke Takeda: I enjoyed using the darkroom but I also felt I wasn’t quite suited to it. I did go through the transition into digital and, as someone entering into a new era, I knew I was going to find and choose a new meaning. Today I work with digital photography, but with old lenses allowing me to create the works you see today. While using old lenses I am still able to take photos and view them through the digital camera’s monitor. I am fusing my interest in an old medium with new technology and creating something entirely new. This fusion resolved any regret I had for quitting the darkroom.
Four different attitude to the masters
- Christopher Phillips: Let’s get questions from the audience.
- Audience: You all are young and contemporary photographers. In America, most of us are familiar with older Japanese photographers. How do you feel facing that generation gap? Are you challengers? Are you adding something new to the old generation? How do you feel about their role?
- Masumi Kura: Our culture is to respect your elders so this question is very difficult to answer. It’s not so much about photography but more about Japanese culture. Speaking about older Japanese photographers, Daido Moriyama, for instance, is more than two generations older than me and still very active today and I admire him — not only his skill as a photographer but also his personality. He is a witty, kind individual and he has devoted his life to photography. I don’t think it’s about trying to prevail against older generations but learning from them.
- Yusuke Yamatani: I want to play with and pick out their work. They are good subjects and materials. I think the younger generation is easy and light-hearted. I am not critical of my current generation, but their lightness of being is a fact. So I want to use humour in my work.
- Yuji Hamada: I don’t want to restrict myself to talking about Japanese photographs in the 1960s, , 90s and 2000s. I don’t feel any generation gap and I don’t feel compelled to compare myself to them. At the same time speaking about Araki, for example, I learnt from him that it’s important to do what I can do now. I don’t want to compete with other generations. Although I am different, I am inspired by their spiritual and psychological toughness, methodology and skills.
- Yosuke Takeda: Daido Moriyama is an important artist for me. I know all of his photographs and I read all of his books and essays and therefore respect him. Speaking of his recent work, I think the sensibility on display is very new so I don’t feel a generation gap with him. I feel he is my contemporary. He is alive and he is a fellow artist. He is now using a digital camera so he is my rival.
- Read Interview: Christopher Phillips. We interviewed him after this talk.
- Christopher Phillips
- Christopher Phillips has been a curator at the International Center of Photography in New York City since 2000. He has organized numerous exhibitions of historic and contemporary photography, including “The Rise of the Picture Press” (2002) and “Caio Reisewitz” (2014). He has curated many exhibitions exploring Asian photography, These include the first major U.S. exhibition of Chinese contemporary photography, “Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China” (2004) as well as “China and the Chinese in Early Photographs” (2004), “Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan” (2008) and “Wang Qingsong: When Worlds Collide” (2011). Mr. Phillips teaches courses in the history and criticism of photography in the ICP/Bard MFA program and at Barnard College and New York University.
- Alison Bradley
- Alison Bradley is a private art dealer and curator, specializing in photography and Japanese post war art, based in New York.
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