The Getty Centre – 20th February 2016
In the 1990s a group of young female photographers in Japan attracted attention by creating work that largely consisted of colourful self-portraits, intimate images of domestic scenes and their immediate worlds. The male dominated art world in Japan reacted to this work that challenged the status quo by calling it onnanoko shashin, or “girl photographs”. This exhibition presents series of the work of five female photographers who emerged in the wake of the controversy of “girl photography” and shows the richness of their work and its progression.
Kawauchi works in a snapshot style often using a 6×6 format capturing ordinary moments of everyday life that frequently would not be noticed. Her pictures feature her home town, family and ordinary objects. The pictures have a poetic feel and even though some of them record significant events in her life they seem to have a timeless quality.
The picture below of her grandparents out for a walk shows Kawauchi’s snap shot style, perhaps in isolation it is hard is hard to interpret this image but as it was exhibited as one of a series of images depicting events in her life it gains from its context.
The bowl of strawberries again shows the way Kawauchi captures everyday objects
Onodera Yuki worked as a fashion designer before becoming disillusioned with the industry and reinventing herself as a photographer. Onodera’s work in the exhibition was a series of images of second hand clothes. These pictures all have a surrealistic quality where the clothes appear to float against the sky in a way that seems to defy reality. The pictures where all taken against an open window and were deliberately framed so the bottom of each item of clothing was cut off which strengthens the feeling that they are floating unsupported.
In a simplistic way it would be easy to say that this work derives from Onodera’s disenchantment with the fashion industry but I believe that the ghost like quality of the clothes more reflects her interest in countering the notion that photographs accurately reflect the world.
Otsuka’s work in the exhibition was a series of double self-portraits called “Imagine Finding Me” where she has taken pictures of her as a child and added a self-portrait of her older self. In the pictures she appears in a similar pose and style of clothing as her younger self which makes it appear that she is becoming a tourist in her own past.
Sawada has used self-portraiture to investigate the concept of identity. For more than fifteen years she has transformed herself into multiple personas with the help of costumes, wigs, makeup, props and weight gain all of which together significantly alter her appearance. The exhibition contained thirty self-portraits each of which was intended to represent a different type of woman. The poses and style of the pictures was intended to mimic photographs typically produced as part of the Japanese custom of omiai, or a formal meeting that occurs as part of the arranged marriage. Over time the omiai tradition has become somewhat diluted but families still exchange photographs of their children to facilitate the search for spouses.
In some ways Sawada’s work has echoes of that of Cindy Sherman but at least in the set of pictures in the exhibition the position of the work in the culture of Japan differentiates it from that of Sherman.
Shiga works by immersing herself into local communities and incorporating their histories and myths into her photographs. She works in an area that was devastated by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and has incorporated the impact these had on the landscape and people into her work.
The work shown was a series called Rasen Kaigan (Spiral Shore) that shows the gives the area she works in a dreamlike quality which is emphasised in some of the pictures through her use of flash lighting
I found the work in this exhibition fascinating and was struck the huge amount of creativity on show. I visited Japan several times in the 1990s I was also surprised by how in many ways it was a very different and male dominated society than was the case in the west at that time. Reading the gallery notes I could imagine the struggle these and similar artists have had to become accepted within Japan.
The work on show was very varied and as such it is hard to say which was my favourite, I liked the work of Sawada Tomoko partly because it has echoes of Cindy Sherman’s work that I have always admired. I also thought that Shiga Lieko’s work was fascinating show a new approach to capturing history and myth.
Even though Tomoko and Lieko were the artists whose work I liked the most I also admired the work of Yuki who was finding new ways to comment on her past life in the fashion and Chino’s idea of being a tourist in her past