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It has, for me, been a long and less than productive winter.
At the end of January, we marked the passage of three years since the death of my daughter. It wasn’t just a single day that hit hard; for weeks, I felt weighted down, unable to concentrate.
I was grateful during this difficult period to fortuitously find a copy of Graciela Iturbide’s 2002 book, Pajaros. I’ll write about it in a minute; but first let me share news from the past month.
Tokyo Flaneur, Jinny Street Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, successfully concluded. The exhibition received excellent media coverage, including from the Asahi Shimbun, which is perhaps the most respected daily newspaper in Japan. But more than that, I am thankful to everyone who visited, who shared comments, and especially to the organizers who invited me to take part. It was a valuable experience: I worked through new presentation techniques, combined existing photographs in a new format that spoke to me, and made friends as I did.
During the past month, I was also interviewed on the Street Life Podcast.
Listening to podcasts, despite the lack of a visual component, is a surprisingly great way to learn about photography. Conversations are relatively unfiltered and can connect together a variety of disparate subjects.
The Street Life Podcast focuses on street photography and is produced and hosted by Mark Davidson and John St. As perhaps the leading podcast on the topic, they have had a fantastic roster of guests, including Knox Bertie, Jesse Marlow, Betty Goh, and Gustavo Minas (to name a few). So, I was a bit nervous heading into it. But Mark and John put me very much at ease, and I enjoyed our hour of free flowing discussion. Check it out here, or on your favorite podcast app.
On a more somber note, as photographers in Tokyo may know, VoidTokyo recently mourned the passing of its own Hiroki Fujitani. Hiroki roamed widely throughout the city, and shared new photos almost every day, many of them involving smokers, street portraiture, and the geometry of light and shadow. Several of his works are classics of Tokyo street photography.
We have put together a memorial exhibition of his best and most representative work. It will be held at BLANK gallery in Koenji from February 28 until March 5. There are always many exhibitions going on in Tokyo, but I think this one is truly special. If you are here and if you have an interest in the photography scene, I hope that you might have a chance to visit and to reflect.
And with that, I’ll offer up a few thoughts about a book I recently acquired, Pajaros.
The Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide is widely recognized as one of the most important Latin American photographers of the the past century. She took up the art after the death of her six-year-old daughter. For a time, her work focused on the rituals surrounding the deaths of children. She eventually moved on to other subjects, but regardless of subject her work remained profoundly lyrical.
Iturbide exhibits frequently. Her work is collected in major museums and has been the subject of several major retrospectives. Yet she publishes relatively few photobooks and they can be hard to find.
Her 2002, book, Pajaros is a book of photographs of birds. Birds in flight, of course, but also birds in cages, birds slaughtered, birds in every environment imaginable. Iturbide’s impressions of birds speak to me now more than ever, as I have just worked through my own photographs of birds to put together the Jinny Street exhibition.
Fans of Japanese photography might be tempted to compare Pajaros to Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens—a book that is not so much about the birds as it is about the photographer’s tortured soul. Indeed, both books contain the same sense of unease, and looking at the two books side by side, it is hard to avoid the impression the Iturbide was influenced by Fukase. (It is worth remarking here that Fukase’s Family series addresses, among many other topics, the death of his sister’s five-year-old daughter.) Yet, in clear contrast to Fukase, Iturbide has said that taking photographs of birds set her free from her suffering.
Ravens is certainly the stronger overall sequence. Indeed, it is one of the greatest sequences in all of photography. But with regard to individual photographs, I find the best of Iturbide’s to be more than the equal of Fukase’s, in part because her birds maintain a life of their own; they are poetry, yet they are not reduced solely to the role of metaphors for the human condition.
Some of Iturbide’s photos were reprinted in 2019, in Editions Xavier Barral’s Des Oiseaux series. However, her 2002 book, with its full bleed images printed from tritone separations, has far greater impact. Highly recommended.
Also: Fukase will be the subject of a major retrospective at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum from March 3 until June 4 of this year. I am very much looking forward to it.
Let me conclude on an optimistic note. As time continues to move forward, signs of spring have begun to appear: strawberries in the grocery store, tulips at the florist. And even though in the past month I have taken fewer new photos than I might like, the last few weeks have found me hard at work and I feel good about the month ahead. I look forward to writing again soon.