The Close to the Edge: New Photography from Japan exhibition at Miyako Yoshinaga looks to position the gallery as an organization that shapes the conversation around historical and contemporary photography from Japan. The gallery hired Russet Lederman, an editor, co-founder of 10×10 Photobooks, and teacher at the School of Visual Arts, to curate the exhibition. Lederman seems to have the prerequisite knowledge of the field: in 2014 she co-edited 10×10 Japanese Photobooks, a compendium of the Japanese photo books published in the last 60 years. Her guiding thesis for this exhibition is that these are all “post-internet” photographers who are moving beyond the inherited categorizations and definitions that, until now, have framed this art form.
This is an old avant-gardist story: heralding art that pushes beyond its formal boundaries and fractures long-held illusions. Close to the Edge actually accomplishes some of these ambitions, and at the same time illustrates a clear (not quite generational) dividing line between artists whose practices demonstrate a loyalty to the medium as an aestheticized conveyor of content and younger artists who don’t seem interested in that game.
Mayumi Hosokura and Daisuke Yokota both use the content of their images to entice the viewer. In Hosokura’s work, like “Cat (blue)” (2014), a studio photograph of professional models that nevertheless feels intimate, the androgynous figure has their back to the viewer, spine curving upwards, barely visible genital hair and obvious hair on the legs making me curious, giving me a puzzle to solve. Yokota’s work also trades in intimacy but with a very different aesthetic. He uses analogue, age-old darkroom techniques like putting the film through hot developer to produce massive grain in the resulting hazy photo image. However, the formal novelty is only the apéritif for a meal of the sensually naked body of his girlfriend who poses as the naïve, unaware subject. In his “Untitled (lying)” (2015), the camera’s eye piercing her privacy is a fairly typical trope that, at least in my case, successfully tantalizes me to look for details of her body.
Alternatively, the other photographers Kenta Cobayashi, Taisuke Koyama, and Hiroshi Takizawa showing no allegiance to fine-art formality, take greater formal risks and achieve greater payoffs. Cobayashi is the most casual, using an iPhone, SLR, laptop cameras — whatever is at hand — to make images of his immediate surroundings and friends that often end up in his zines. His work is trippy, color-saturated, Photoshopped, and phantasmagoric, casual almost to the point of indifference.
Koyama’s, whose work along with Takizawa’s is the most provocative and ambitious in the show, makes his practice around revealing the underlying principles of digital photography: that light is reduced to data. Images in his Light Field (2015) project are generated from him recording the light data from a flatbed scanner passing over a sheet of creased cellophane paper, that is then captured by a handheld scanner. Light being read as data spun out as a picture of light — it’s such a clever stratagem that the resulting images of endless dark waves with an occasional lightning strike coursing through don’t seem nearly as exciting as the concept.
Takizawa’s work makes the entire show worth seeing. His Concrete Is on My Mind series makes the medium of the photographic paper an extension of the content of the imagery, such as in “Figure 4” (2014). The paper is creased and folded, cut and angled, crumpled and twisted to make the materiality of concrete present in the image in a way that stretches the medium to the point where it begins to morph into something else — almost sculpture.
Close to the Edge is one of the rare gallery shows that does what it says it will do: it does explore the boundaries of photographic image making, providing some historical markers along the way.
Close to the Edge: New Photography from Japan continues at Miyako Yoshinaga (547 West 27th Street, 2nd Floor, Chelsea, Manhattan) through May 28.
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