Exhibition in Tokyo.
Hello, and once again thank you for reading my newsletter. I hope you have been enjoying the summer.
Midyear is always hot and humid in Tokyo, but this year has been more brutal than most. My family and I were fortunate to escape the worst of it by decamping to the mountains of Nagano. It astounds me that a few hours after driving out from the largest city on earth, one can be high up in such rugged, serene mountains. We were outdoors hiking, biking, and playing in the mountain rivers at every chance.
By this time, I own a fairly good sized shelf of camera gear—camera bodies, lenses, tripods, filters, and the rest. It’s all useful, and I enjoy using it when working by myself. But during this trip I left the heavy stuff behind and relied on my phone’s camera.
My main complaint shooting with a phone is the time it takes me to turn it on and put it in camera mode, and then the delay between pressing the button and the moment when the photo is actually taken. In fast moving situations, I often miss the shot I want. But for landscapes and family snapshots, my phone works great, and not having to think about gear means more enjoyable times with my family.
If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen a few of these snapshots in my stories. (In general, I’m posting less on social media these days, but I’m still around.) The primary destination for these, though, is the end-of-year books I make with my family. The quality of print-on-demand photobooks, at least from the right vendor, is simply astounding. If you haven’t been turning your favorite photos into books, I highly encourage it. It changes the way you look at and share your photos.
But now I’m back in Tokyo, preparing for VoidTokyo’s annual exhibition. We will be showing in a different space this year, Blank Gallery in Koenji, Tokyo.The exhibition will run from August 23 to August 28, 1pm to 7 pm each day (5 pm on the last day).
I briefly thought about exhibiting some favorite photos from the past year. Instead, though, I’ll be using the exhibition as an opportunity to explore some ideas in ways that can’t easily be done digitally.
It has been on my mind that a lot of us who shoot with digital cameras want to feel that we are shooting with film. So we have digital cameras that are designed to look like film cameras, and “emulations” to make digital photos appear as if they were shot with certain film stocks.
I think it much more interesting to ask, what is it that the digital camera can do, distinct from any other medium? I will be meditating on that in my exhibition.
To start: compared to a film photographer, a digital photographer can take far, far more photographs in a given amount of time. Acknowledging and exploring this can affect the way we think about photography and about the subjects we photograph. And so, I will be covering a wall with as many small photos as I can from among the 3,000+ photos I took on a single day, of a single location, in 2021. I hope the effect will be to emphasize that each snapshot—the “good” ones as well as the mundane ones—shows just a fractional part of a larger, yet transient, existence.
I look forward to sharing the results of that with you in my next newsletter. If you are in Tokyo and able to come by, I’d love to hear what you think.
I’m also creating a very limited edition print-on-demand photobook to accompany the exhibition. Print-on-demand gives the artist complete control over printed work, and the ability to produce it in a short time with minimal financial risk. As such, it is a compelling—and underused—opportunity to explore ideas in new ways. If viewing these photos all at once on a wall emphasizes their fragmentary nature, I hope that seeing them sequentially in book form will restore the flow of time.
Those who follow the Japanese photography scene may have been seeing the name Tokuko Ushioda quite a bit lately. Her new book (actually, a two-book set), My Husband, was published by Torch Press this year, and has been accompanied by exhibitions at PGI and Book Obscura.
Ushioda has won many of the most important awards available to Japanese photographers. However, she has not become famous outside of Japan—I suspect in part because she has no truck with the grainy, high-contrast aesthetic that brought fame to other Japanese photographers of her generation. Within Japan, she is perhaps best known for her series Ice Box, showing the interiors and exteriors of refrigerators in Tokyo in the 1980s and 1990s. It is a work that is at once formal, social, and humanistic. Check out some images from the series here.
Like many women photographers, Ushioda found her trajectory interrupted by the birth of a child. While her husband, the photographer Shinzo Shimao, continued to leave the house and photograph, Ushioda stayed home with her daughter. The photographs in My Husband were taken during this time, about thirty years ago. Given the title, a surprisingly small number of photographs actually portray her husband; the ostensible subject is largely her daughter and her domestic life.
Yet the title is apt, because, one can feel her husband’s absence. Stacks of laundry, unwashed dishes, a child at play: she seems to feel nearly overwhelmed. Yet somehow, she still finds the quiet stretches necessary to photograph, for these are not quick snapshots, but carefully framed medium format photos. (The second book of the set contains additional photos taken with a 35mm camera that have a more casual aesthetic).
When Ushioda’s husband does appear in the photos, he seems to be barely of help, domestically: he sleeps while his daughter waits in a highchair, is lost in his own paper while she clamors for attention.
Reactions to these photos are necessarily affected by how we now think about family roles. Ushioda’s work certainly pull my mind in different directions. But these photos are not nostalgic, and nor are they critical of her husband: rather, they suggest a calm acceptance by Ushioda of what her life is.
The book concludes with a pair of essays, one by the critic Yuri Mitsuda and one by the photographer Yurie Nagashima, that offer dueling assessments of this body of work. In particular, Nagashima’s essay is one of the best essays on photography I have read this year, taking stock of the impact of sexism on photographic practice and considering the ways in which parent-photographers balance the demands of professional and personal life.
That’s all for this month! Fall is (hopefully) around the corner and along with it, I look forward to thinking about new work.
Koenjikita 2-18-9, Suginami,Tokyo.