Photography Reviews

Hanafuda – Will Matsuda

Will Matsuda, grew up in Honolulu and now based in New York created a series called Hanafuda during an artist residency which reminds him of home and his Japanese Heritage. “Hanafuda” which translates as “flower cards” is a 200-year-old Japanese card game with roots in gambling. The game is a 48-card deck with a dozen suits. Each suit has its own flora that represents a month in the year. His grandmother taught him how to play the game when he was young, and when he found similarities of these flowers during his stay at the artist’s residency, he started to create this series as a way to connect to his family and his home.

© Will Matsuda, from the series ‘Hanafuda’; Source @ Will Matsuda

I love his diptychs. As he mentioned in an article published by NPR, “Some of the resulting photographs look nothing like the cards, and that’s okay. When immigrants can’t find ingredients from back home, they go to the local store and make familiar but entirely new dishes.”

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Photography Reviews

To be called mama – Miki Hasegawa

I am a total sucker when it comes to photobooks or series about family and home. Japanese photographer, Miki Hasegawa, focuses her works on maternal love, and social issues revolving around that. The more well-known work, Internal Notebook, is about the emotional cries of children raised in abusive homes (which she started as she was worried she would be doing the same thing to her daughter). She took portraits of those children along with the diaries and notebooks they have kept. The book was made with Yumi Goto at Reminders Photography Stronghold workshops.

This work was interesting, no doubt, but her other works Jewels, Teck-mac-mah-ya-con and To be called mama caught my eye more. The trilogy talks about her relationship with her daughter, in their everyday life, from seeing the world through her daughter’s eyes, to worrying about her flying away somedays and seeing a glimpse of her feminity. They are all stages of life which are universal between a mother and a child.

When you read the images, there are subtle differences in the feelings you get from the images or the series. Jewels give a more naive and playful point of view, that mirrors the action of a 3 years old child.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘Jewels’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

Teck-mac-mah-ya-con has a sense of about to disappear.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘Teck-mac-mah-ya-con’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

To be called mama really portrays the feminity of 5 years old as if she is a grown-up lady.

© Miki Hasegawa, from the series ‘To be called mama’; Source @ Miki Hasegawa

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Photography Reviews

The Second Shift – Clare Gallagher

Sometimes I like photography work that is highly representational, but sometimes I love works that are just simple and more directive, that it doesn’t take a genius or knowledgeable brain to pick apart or understand. You know, entirely simple and close to us in our everyday.

Clare Gallagher, an Irish artist based in the UK, made laundry and the everyday chores just as beautiful. “Although there has been progress, women still resent the day-to-day reality of housework, its draining repetition and the anxieties it breeds,” Gallagher says. “The more I research the subject, the more I think it is tied to the relentless drive of capitalism, and informed by deeply embedded notions of female duty and respectability. What’s really annoying is that you become good at it – cooking dinner, cleaning, coaxing the kids, doing the laundry and making sure it dries fast. And then you go to your actual paid job. In both contexts, you are constantly being measured up and judged.” From the Guardian by Sean O’Hagan.

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© Clare Gallagher, from the book ‘The Second Shift’; Source @ Clare Gallagher

‘Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition. The clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.’ — Simone de Beauvoir

‘And what’s worse is that all of it, all of this work that I shouldn’t be doing, is taking place in the one place I shouldn’t have to be doing work at all: in fact, the one place I come to get away from work. It is taking place at home.’ — Edward Hollis

Get the book here: The Second ShiftReview of the book by Jorg Colberg

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Photography Reviews

The Unforgetting – Peter Watkins

I’ve read much about this book The Unforgetting by Peter Watkins, from Tim Clark at 1000 Words and Brad Feuerhelm at ASX to being mentioned by a few as top favourites of photobooks 2019, to be honest, I didn’t quite get it at first other than the captivating cold black and white images of object assemblages and memorabilia. As Tim Clark mentioned, “the work is spared of sentimentality: objects are catalogued and composed in a manner that evokes early scientific photography or evidence gathered at a crime scene.”

The work is based on the history of his own family marked by the suicide of his mother when he was nine years old. The heart of the artist’s project is his reconciliation to that loss, through an examination of their shared German heritage.

“This is a work that explores the machinations of memory in relation to the experience of trauma,” says Watkins. “The culmination of several years work, The Unforgetting is a series made up of remnants, as well as the associated notions of time, recollection and impermanence, all bound up in the objects, places, photographs, and narrative structures circulated within the family.”

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Self Portrait (2011), an image that pictures the artist stripped from the waist up and seated on a hard wooden chair. His face is cast down, fist clenched, shoulders hunched. Numerous large circles scar his smooth skin: the legacy of cupping, a well-known Chinese treatment for depression. Source @ 1000 Words

© Peter Watkins, from the book ‘The Unforgetting’; Source @ Peter Watkins

What really inspired me about this work was that the work has taken several different iterations since he began in 2010. He started out quite differently, with more of a documentary approach, visited the place where his mother had died, and filmed the village where she grew up, and interviews with family members. “What I came to realise was that everything seemed too literal to me, it was too sad and too sentimental and obvious somehow. I noticed from the filmed interviews that my family’s recollections had somehow blurred and merged into a kind of unified narrative as if the passage of time had stripped away any sense of complexity and subjectivity from each individual’s experience.”

“I didn’t want the project to feel sentimental in the way that projects about this subject so often tend to feel. It was about finding a balance between thinking and feeling. e.g. the Super 8 canisters contain home movies of my mother and her family on holiday. Instead of using those kind of seductive Super 8 images, which carry an unavoidable nostalgia, I came to think of that one picture as a way of conflating all [of the others] into one single, mysterious image that resists that kind of sentimentality. It’s an important part of the work, that resistance to the obvious or the overtly emotive.” he says.

References:

https://fotoroom.co/the-unforgetting-peter-watkins/

http://www.1000wordsmag.com/peter-watkins%E2%80%A8/

https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/06/show-peter-watkins-the-unforgetting-at-the-webber-gallery/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/13/peter-watkins-photography-ghostly-reflection-on-grief-and-loss

https://americansuburbx.com/2015/02/peter-watkins-the-pain-of-loss-is-a-motherfucker.html

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Photography Reviews

Entrance to Our Valley – Jenia Fridlyand

“Entrance to Our Valley” was one of the picks from Photobookstores as one of the best photobooks 2019. Jenia Fridlyand, a Russian photographer, photographed with a large-format camera the 200-acre farm in the Hudson River Valley that Jenia and her husband bought for them and their entire family. The beautifully poetic black and white images of this place, which was purposed for a multi-generational home – “for our parents, who are now living more than five thousand miles from the place of their birth; for my husband and I, both first-generation immigrants; and for our children, so they could have the privilege of coming back to a place where they grew up.”

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© Jenia Fridlyand, from the book ‘Entrance to Our Valley’; Source @ Fotoroom

Her work reminded me of photographic works by Raymond Meeks, Mark Steinmetz, Bryan Schutmaat, Jonathan Levitt etc. To me, they all possess a similar type of visual aesthetics which is intimate, calm and subtle that feels timeless yet still contemporary. Maybe it’s the everydayness that I like about these works, as it is not context-specific which everyone can easily relate to. I can easily resonate with most of the images here even though I am not a Russian, nor do I have a farm or live in the States.

Other references:

https://collectordaily.com/jenia-fridlyand-entrance-to-our-valley/

 

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Photography Reviews

Mama – Serey Siv

Cambodian-Canadian photographer Serey Siv, also the director of Mirage which is a contemporary art space based in Cambodia did a personal project about his mother during 2017’s Angkor Photo Festival workshop. Diving into his family roots, the work investigated the dual identity of his mother, and showcased how she feels pride in being both a Cambodian and a Canadian. Using both memorabilia and archival images, he also for the very first time bathe his mother as a Khmer ritual to thank his mother for everything.

© Serey Siv, from the series ‘Mama’ ; Source @ Serey Siv

I love the soft and tenderness throughout these pictures, the care he puts into when making these images can be felt immediately through his choices of light and angles of shooting. The work stamps from a simple idea yet at the same time speaks to audience who also have similar experiences, hence his expanded project “Language Barrier” which is about mixed-race Cambodian children.

Earlier at the 15th Edition of Angkor Photo Festival he shared his viewpoint when making images,

“Often before I start a piece of work, I ask myself – who is the audience? Is it just for your family or is it for a wider audience? Who are they? The other question I constantly ask myself is why I want to do this work, what motivates me deeply in the core that drives me to continue or to work on this project. Only you know best what is right for you.”

He also spoke about his respect for the timeline of a photography project, relating it to how he creates music as a song-writer. He mentioned that some projects are small and some are big and need more time. He disagrees with the myth of documentary projects that needs to be long-term and keep on going.

“What it is is what it is.”

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Photography Reviews

Buttons for Eyes – Priya Kambli

Recently, I’ve been looking a lot into theories of photography for sure, and also photomontage works. I used to have this narrow vision of photography of Bresson’s decisive moment, praising Magnumphotos as God, and that was it for me for photography. Blindly ignoring what a big world is out there for making work with images. Maybe it was a good thing, so to just focus on one type of photography or maybe it was a bad thing, because there are so so so much more other possibilities with photography.

What changed me was, I got tired and bored of decisive moments. They are yes, decisive moments, of what claims to be moment of “truths”. Yet theories of photography opened up the question of photography as a medium. I mean, really opened up how I view and understand this medium. And photomontage, is one way of working with images that I feel I’d like to have a taste on. Similarly to decisive moments, there are already materials to work with (former, with what’s happening around the world; latter, with archival images and other materials).

Most immigrants exist in two worlds, the world of memories and visual connections of their growing up and the new realities of living in a culture where all is not familiar. This search for what is home, for the roots of that connect them to the most primal self is the main theme of Priya Kambli’s work.

“Buttons for Eyes” talks about loss, memory and identity (I guess I have a subconscious love for identity and loss, because of the work I’m drawn to). Kambli physically manipulates old family photographs and then rephotographs the altered artefacts. She uses light and flour as manipulative elements to add layers for starting a dialogue about cultural differences and global similarities.

© Priya Kambli, from the series ‘Buttons for Eyes, 2017- ; Source @ Lenscratch

She works with archival images which allows her to connect the past with the present, to bring forward memories, and to reimagine them adorned with tokens of the everyday – in a sense, making these memories physical. The way in which she maintains the photographs is akin to how Indian housewives tend to their kitchen deities – hence the use of flour. The meticulous patterns crafted on it symbolises the “Indianity” of her past identity (literally these patterns of flour can be blown away in seconds) – imprinted onto a physical form that she is re-creating for the present.

Much of the work talks about the separation and the exchange of cultural differences and similarities between herself and her sister, whom chose to stay in India whereas she immigrated to the US after their parents passed away.

There’s a final layer of narrative to this work which comes from the title “Button for Eyes.” It comes from a question her mother used to ask, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?” Her mother’s concern was about Kambli’s inability to see trivial objects right in front of her, but also about our collective inability to see well enough to navigate the world. “It is a question laced with parental fear,” she says. Which goes back to, are we ignorant to these cultural differences and global similarities in the world? The laced patterns on the images may also symbolises not only the ignorant we ourselves may have, but those that derives from the parental fear in order to protect their children.

References: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/female-in-focus-buttons-for-eyes/

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Photography Reviews

Masahisa Fukase

The renowned Japanese photography work “Ravens” by Fukase has recently has his “Family” book reprinted by UK publisher MACK. Family has always been a topic that’s close to my heart. Knowingly that the “Ravens” work was really an antidote of the aftermath of his wife and muse Yoko leaving him, bringing him to use “ravens” as a symbolism to characterised his solitude of loneliness, pain and sorrow, the work “Family” is somewhat a different visually narrated work.

The cover and the design made my very first impression of the book. The design of the cover was very much similar to the Chinese 族譜, a documented scroll of written names of the ancestors and family branches in the entire history of e.g. the Chans. The 33 plates images (all done by dry plate technique) are studio portraitures of his immediate and relative families beginning and closing with the house that he lived in.

 

They are, in fact, no ordinary portraitures. In all the plates, his wife Yoko stands out the most, even when in group photographs where all face backwards. From the review by Jorg Colberg, he mentioned that “she is allowed to only wear what I learned is a traditional undergarment for women (koshimaki). In effect, she is naked, and it is only said garment and her long flowing hair that allows for some form of modesty.” For me the work speaks a lot about the masculinity power and how women and females are positioned in Japanese families. According to Colberg, the work also talks about cruelty and the relationship between Fukase and his father. Without knowing the history of him being terrified of his father since young, I guess personally I wouldn’t be able to nitpick this from reading the image (plate 29) alone. I do wish I can read Japanese to understand the synopsis written in his website to have a better view of his family history and the work.

What I really agree with Colberg is that “…what attracts me to this body of work, to this book, is that it resists the kind of resolution of so many other family projects where differences are acknowledged, and people might go their own ways, but it’s all good. Often enough, life just will not conform. Here, that narrative is missing, and there is just an assembly of fragmented ideas and aspects, some which are fighting each other… Sometimes, it’s good when things are not too spelled out.”

I think sometimes you don’t need to be extremely knowledgeable in the art history or skilled in visual literacy to be able to feel the the work. I guess this is the reason why this work is another masterpiece of his. The emotions, the conflicts and the tensions happenings within and portrayed in these family photographs can be felt and understood even though I’m some stranger and no family connection of his. For me, that is a timeless piece of work.

 

Side note: Towards the end of his artistic life, he also made another work called Bukubuku (means bubbling), which is his self-portraits when bathing in water, showing his solitude and isolation of the world once again through this visual diary of himself.

An excerpt of the work and article published by FOAM.

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