A wall of photos.
Since the last newsletter, there have been a number of new subscribers—thank you! So, a bit of housekeeping.
I’m Joel Pulliam and I am a photographer who lives in Tokyo. In this monthly-ish newsletter, I write about my own photography and the Japanese photography scene.
This newsletter is completely free. I write it because thinking and writing about photography makes me a more deliberate, creative photographer. If what I write interests you, I’m thrilled. (And if you know of someone else who might be interested, feel free to pass this newsletter along). On the other hand, if this isn’t your thing, don’t feel bad about unsubscribing. There’s a link at the bottom of the newsletter.
I am a member of a collective of photographers called VoidTokyo. It was organized by Tatsuo Suzuki, one of Japan’s most well regarded street photographers. Our goal is to document this rapidly changing city in which we live and work.
To say that we “document” is perhaps misleading because we each have highly subjective viewpoints. For my part, over the past two years a primary theme of my photography has been impermanence. Everything changes, everything disappears, it’s always happening before our eyes. Yes, photography can be used to preserve chosen moments, but I am lately more interested in how it might be used to say something about this constant process of change.
Part of what we do as a collective is hold exhibitions. I love exhibitions, the way they create new contexts for a photographer’s work, how they fix particular works into the life of the photographer.
VoidTokyo’s annual exhibition was held from August 23-28 at Blank Gallery, with eight of the collective’s members participating.
The other exhibitions I’ve participated in this year have been curated by someone else. By contrast, VoidTokyo makes all its own exhibition decisions. So, it is a chance to do something more experimental. My work is on the right side of the below photo.
About the photographs: last year, I stood on a single street corner and photographed it from morning until evening. As the shadows shifted, different types of people came and went: delivery people, businessmen rushing to work, retirees about daily errands. Each photograph is a record of a moment that that has never happened before and will never happen again.
I’ve shown some of them before, in sequential order with a projector. However, for this exhibition I wanted to put as many as I could on a wall together, to illustrate the impermanent nature of things. Surely, some of the photos are more interesting, and some less, yet no single photo is decisive. Their meaning, if any, is found in the composite view.
Here is the statement I wrote to accompany my part of the exhibition. I placed it among the photographs rather than to the side, hoping to raise a few questions and ideas in visitors’ minds while they were viewing the photographs, rather than before or after.
What possibilities does digital photography have, distinct from those of film or of any other medium?
Perhaps just the ability to take hundreds, even thousands, of photos in a very short time.
One fine spring morning, I stopped walking. I pointed my camera at a street corner in Kanda and took 3,213 photographs.
It seems to me that each of these images is but a fragment.
Existence is made up of billions of passing, connected moments. Every one is precious, whether noticed or not.
The Tokyo photography community is large, and there are a number of exhibitions happening every week. I was grateful that a number of well known photographers took time out of their schedules to visit, to say hello, and to see what I and the other members of VoidTokyo have been up to.
I was equally happy to watch as photographers and non-photographers alike spent a significant amount of time studying my work. For some, seeing my presentation raised questions about my photographic process that we later talked about (yes, these were taken with a tripod!) Some saw it as a critique of street photography (does the photographer need be walking around?) Some viewed it as a study of changing light, while others focused on the people.
My favorite visitors, though, were the young children who unexpectedly popped in off the street, unaccompanied by parents. Where else does this happen besides Tokyo?
Exhibitions can be fun (this one certainly was). Comparatively, making books can be a laborious, and sometimes frustrating, endeavor. Late last year, I attempted to make a book with a select number of images from this project. Due to issues with my printing partner, that project failed.
This year, as I printed the photos for the exhibition, I continued to think that they were also interesting in book form, and that perhaps a larger number would be better. At the same, I wasn’t ready to again go down the road of a full scale production. However, when I tested making a print-on-demand paperback book at my neighborhood printer, I was very pleased with the result. The paper is good, details are well preserved in the shadows. The book measures 15 centimeters square, contains 240 pages of photographs, and is easy to hold and flip through.
That book became part of the exhibition, and as I showed it to visitors I asked them to think about the ways we view photography. Many commented on how the book form invites the reader to compare a few photos at a time, and creates a sense of narrative time.
I further offered a very limited edition of 20 copies for sale along with the exhibition. This small edition just felt right as a way of wrapping up my work on this particular photographic idea. I do still have a few copies left. The price is $35 USD / 5000 JPY, and they are signed and numbered. If you are interested, send me a note.
This exhibition is the sixth one in which I’ve taken part this year. Four were group exhibitions, and two were solo exhibitions (which unfortunately I was unable to attend due to travel difficulties). On top of that, I’ve also participated in two group zines, and made one solo zine, plus the book mentioned above.
All of which is to say, whew! It’s been quite a year, and we’re not even to autumn yet. But I think that the VoidTokyo exhibition was my last one of the year and as the weather cools, I look forward to turning my attention toward making new work. I’ll be using this newsletter space to think about that, and also to continue to write about photographers whose work I am studying and perhaps other things that inspire me.
I’m particularly looking forward to The Camera on Two Legs, an exhibition of Issei Suda’s color work from the 1980s at Tokyo’s Fujifilm Square Photo History Museum. It opens on September 29. Perhaps I’ll have something to say about it in my next newsletter.
I hope you will continue to follow along.
With warm wishes,