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24. A New Year.
Happy new year!
This evening as I write, a neighborhood volunteer is outside walking the streets, knocking wooden blocks together. He is making the same sound that has been heard here for hundreds of years, whenever the weather is at is coldest. It reminds residents to be mindful of fire hazards as they keep their homes warm. It was perhaps a more important caution when Tokyo was built of wood, but regardless, I appreciate the sound. Winter has indeed arrived.
December was warm in Tokyo this year. It still felt like fall when my family and I left at the end of the year to spend a week in the south of Japan. Unusually, it was colder there than in the capital and there was quite a lot of snow.
We started at the hot springs town of Beppu, eventually making our way to Nagasaki. For part of our trip, major roadways were closed and we had to carefully thread our way through uncleared mountain roads. It indeed felt like the holidays, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Speaking of the season—while I was away, Tour Dogs released a special edition winter 2022 zine that includes a few of my photos. I’m absolutely thrilled to have my work in the company of several photographers I admire.
The zine is a larger format than Tour Dogs’ usual, and in the spirit of the holidays they’re being almost gifted away at the absurdly low price of $2.83. Check it out!
Coming back to Tokyo, I finished preparing my works for the inaugural exhibition of the Jinny Street Gallery. (I discussed the exhibition in my previous newsletter.) That exhibition is now open and it looks fantastic.
Here’s a map of the exhibition; you’ll find my work in lamps 2, 10, 15, 23, 29, and 38. If you are interested in walking the exhibition with me and talking about photography, I will be in the neighborhood on the following Monday afternoons: January 23 and 30, and February 6 and 13.
I will be keeping these to small groups, so should you want to join, please send me an email and I’ll let you know if there is space available, along with meet-up details.
I have spent quite a bit of time this month looking through my book collection for photos addressing the New Years holiday. There are surprisingly few. Given that New Years is associated with family, with partying, with nostalgia—all great photographic subjects—I expected to find more.
Perhaps the photography that most me in the mood of New Years is the late work of Robert Frank. Frank is best known for The Americans, the seminal book that broke with existing rules of photojournalism as it documented the contradictions of 1950s America. After its publication, Frank turned his back on photography for a while, only returning to it in his later years, to use it as vehicle to explore his private world. These works are marked by a focus on memory and often feel palpably cold, befitting Frank’s life in Novia Scotia.
Frank has a work from this period that explicitly addresses the New Years holiday: New Years Day/Be Happy, 1981.
The words he scratched into the emulsion are no mere feel-good bromide. Seven years prior, Frank’s daughter had died in an airplane crash. (In an earlier photograph, he had carved the words “I think of Andrea every day.”) I don’t know where his head was on January 1, 1981, but to me this photograph suggests that he was still in a fairly dark place. And so the exhortation to “Be Happy” feels like he was expressing something he thought was difficult, but important. It was, perhaps, a resolution—in the most meaningful sense of the word.
Despite his reputation, Frank’s collections of work from the last ten years of his life suggest to me that he ultimately found some happiness: not in worldly success or the pursuit of new experiences, but in his relationships and in his memories.
Photography is at its strongest when it is used to reflect on and remember our relationships. Or at least it is for me. And so, in the coming year I will be focused on making my work more personal.
I hope that we can each find our measure of happiness in 2023.
With warmth from Japan,
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