Monday, October 29, 2012

Eikoh Hosoe at Japan Society

A few weeks ago, photographer Eikoh Hosoe gave a presentation at Japan Society. Hosoe’s seminal projects of the 1960's dealt with the relationship between man and woman as well as the continuation and adjustment of tradition within a social context undergoing a process of radical change. He collaborated with the nationalist author Yukio Mishima in one series (Barakei – Ordeal by Roses in 1961) and the butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata in another (Kamaitachi in 1969).  Hosoe also experimented with the photographic process itself, creating high contrast images that border on abstraction through a manipulation of the chemical process.

The majority of the lecture and subsequent discussion centered on the collaborations with Mishima, Hijikata, and another butoh dancer, Kazuo Ohno. Although Hosoe didn’t say this explicitly, my sense of the impetus behind these series of images was his attempt to define or redefine what it is to be Japanese in the wake of the Second World War. 

The collaborations with Mishima, Hijikata and Ohno combine a sense of implied narrative with performance and myth-making, while being simultaneously grounded through Hosoe's pictorial precision.

With regards to the image above, Hosoe said that one does not see faces like this in Japan anymore, faces which bear the traces of the hardships of the early to mid twentieth century.

Hosoe said something else which grabbed my attention in an unexpected way: when asked about his preference for black and white verses color, he replied (paraphrasing) that in black and white, what you see in the picture can be whatever color you want. It is an interesting point of view, which forced me to consider: when looking at a black and white photograph, to what degree do we imagine color?

Hosoe's work is somewhat under-appreciated in the United States. The lecture was a great opportunity to hear firsthand from a photographer considered a legend by many speak about his life and work. And of course, to see his photographs: images that are at times provocative, but always eloquent and poetic.

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