Marc Feustel

Marc Feustel talks about the metamorphosis of Japan.

Wednesday night was spent in the company of Marc Feustel (eyecurious and papercuts) as talked about the current exhibition on Japanese photography taking place at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. The content of the exhibition, which is based on his book Japan: self portrait covers the period from the war to the Tokyo Olympics, thus representing what was happening before the start of the "Provoke" period which garners much of the interest in the nations photography from the Western world.

Marc Feustel talking at the Open Eye Gallery, 25/2/15

Marc is clearly a knowledgable chap on the subject, and he spoke of the radical change in the country, socially, economically and photographically, as they transitioned from Pictorialism through Surrealism in the pre-war period to a more documentary approach of social realism (Ken Domon's "unstated snapshot"). Damon's vision was for a very pure documentary aesthetic - nothing to artful, but rather providing a direct window into difficult situations and subjects (homelessness and beggars for example, but not in the same way as the "beggar photography" that swept America).

After Domon, there was a shift towards more of a French Humanist approach with Hamaya and Kimura, featuring more of HCB's "decisive moment" and generally with a more positive outlook - a different way of working, with a greater scope although remaining documentary in nature. Subject matter tended towards questions of "what is Japan?", covering the folklore and rural areas that were not so devastated by the war (these areas had always known hardship, and had avoided the bombing as they were not of military significance).

From 1956, there was a wave of newer photographers who had not been active during the war (Ishimoto for example). These photographers sought to break away from the past - the "old ways" were no longer really applicable as things had changed so much. Again, there was an increasing influence from outside of Japan, Ishimoto for example studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind in America at what was considered to be the "new Bauhaus" school (Chicago Institute of Design). The compositions were becoming very meticulous, and a long way from Domon's approach.

Eikoh Hosoe produced what might be considered his signature work in the 1960s, with 
Barakei, Kamaitachi and Man and Woman. The work can still be considered as documentary, although not in the traditional sense as he is documenting a collaboration with other creatives - he's documenting ideas or movements rather than the day to day. (This work is particularly stunning...)

Also in the 60s, the photography began to take on an unsettled air and a darker edge, as can be seen in the photographs of Shomei Tomatsu and Kikuji Kawada, who both revisited the scenes of the bomb, Kawada in Hiroshima and Tomatsu in Nagasaki. Kawada's
Chizu (one of the ultimate photobooks as objects) provided a collective memory in order to try and comprehend the incomprehensible, with the well known image of the trampled flag representing the state of the nation in the aftermath of the war. Tomatsu was more symbolic as he photographed items from the peace museum, such as the watch that was forever stopped at 11:02, the time of the bombing and also the title of his book on the subject.

The photographic style was also becoming more visually chaotic, leaving the idea that documentary needed distance, poise and neutrality. Instead of blending into the background and being "invisible", he was coming more to the fore, putting himself within the scene, even if not directly within the frame. The photographer is becoming part of the world. From here. the path to Provoke is clear...
Whilst much of this is something I was aware of from my own interest in the subject and writing the essay as part of the degree, it was really good to hear someone talking about it, reconfirming my own ideas and actually adding extra bits of detail from his own research, talking to the photographers themselves and his own interpretation of the subject. It was also interesting to hear his view (albeit briefly) on the contemporary scene. Yes, he mentioned the well known names (Kawauchi, Homma, Araki, etc.) but also others that were beginning to make their mark - Daisuke Yokota, Go Itami, Nagoya Hatakeyama and Lieko Shiga. Yes, I know the first two (I have books by both), but the latter are potentially new to me (I may have seen them in passing, but not registered their names).