Japanese veteran photographers capitalise on traditional photographic methods – Tokyoartbeat


Master post-war Japanese photographers Kozo Miyoshi and Asako Narahashi have been practising photography from the era before digital for over thirty years, and both are deeply revered by today’s contemporary photographers.

We couldn’t resist giving you a heads up about this compelling interview with Tokyoartbeat by Randy Shank. Kozo Miyoshi talks about why he photographs cherry trees in black and white, Kozo Miyoshi explains her emphasis on ‘taking’ over ‘making’ and both veteran photographers express their views on non-digitalised photographic techniques, seeking beauty in nature.

Click here to read the full interview with Japanese photographers Kozo Miyoshi and Asako Narahashi on Tokyoartbeat.

Kozo Miyoshi, '2272 Nakayama, Yamagata', gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inch. Image from Toykoartbeat.com.

Kozo Miyoshi, '2272 Nakayama, Yamagata', gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inch. Image from Toykoartbeat.com.

Kozo Miyoshi on cherry trees and traditional photography

Kozo Miyoshi has been taking photographs since the 1970s and currently lives and works in Tokyo. In the last decade he has turned his lens to making photographic series of blossoming cherry trees, which he names the “Sakura project“. Miyoshi prefers to take time away from city life, and this preference had a direct influence on the project’s conception,

In 1998, I left my house in Yoyogi, Tokyo and followed the ‘cherry blossom front’ through Nagano, Fukushima, and Yamagata prefectures up to Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. Since then, every spring, I repeat the same journey to meet ‘my cherry trees’. For me, it’s like a journey of discovery. Every year I get to meet new friends and then, of course, there are my old friends who are waiting for me.

The Tokyoartbeat interviewer probes deeper and we find out why Miyoshi chooses to create only black and white photographs,

When I look at cherry blossoms, I don’t see colors; I can only see different shades of gray — especially those very pale grays which are closer to the color white. This is the kind of effect I try to achieve with my photography…. My work consists of translating these forms into a play of light and shadow through black and white photography.

Kozo Miyoshi, four gelatin silver prints, 16" x 20", "Sekura project". Image from english.1839cg.com.

Kozo Miyoshi, four gelatin silver prints, 16" x 20", "Sekura project". Image from english.1839cg.com.

Photographic selection process

Maintaining a distinctive style over the years of his career,  Kozo Miyoshi opts for quality and precision over quantity, a series is created over two or three years, sometimes five.

In the beginning, I used 35 mm film. The ‘problem’ with that is you always end up taking too many pictures, and then you have to sift through them and choose what you really like. I find this process utterly empty and futile. For me, the selection should be made before actually taking a picture. That’s why, in order to achieve this result, I’ve progressively used bigger and bigger cameras, especially the 8 x 10, that I started using in 1982, and the 16 x 20, that I mainly use now.

Traditional photography over digital

Kozo Miyoshi, '2325 Yotsuya, Tokyo', 1999, silver gelatin print, 8" x 10". Image from 8x10.jp.

Kozo Miyoshi, '2325 Yotsuya, Tokyo', 1999, silver gelatin print, 8" x 10". Image from 8x10.jp.

Unaffected by this age of heightened technology, Miyoshi remains faithful to traditional methods of photography, determined not to “run the risk of forgetting our great photographic tradition.” Yet, he admits that digital cameras are practical and is happy to acknowledge contemporary digital methods have a place alongside traditional photographic methodologies. The photographer states,

When it comes to creating a work of art I express myself better through gelatin prints, but digital cameras have their place in my work, especially as a means to gather and order data and information.

About Kozo Miyoshi

Miyoshi was born in Chiba prefecture in 1947, and graduated from the Department of Photography of Nihon University in 1971. Over the last thirty years he has held several solo exhibitions, both in Japan and abroad. Miyoshi’s work is displayed in the public collections of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, National Museum of Modern Art in TokyoThe Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and shown in the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, among others.

Miyoshi participated in the “Cherry Blossoms of Memory” exhibition at Ricoh Photo Gallery RING CUBE in Ginza, Japan, earlier in 2011. A photograph from the ongoing photographic series “Half Awake Half Asleep in the Water” by Asako Narahashi was also featured in the exhibition.

Asako Narahashi on her approach to photography

Asaka Narahashi, 'Kawaguchiko', 2003, C-Print. Image from yossimilo.com.

Tokyo-based photographer Asako Narahashi‘s career spans thirty years and she takes a starkly different approach to photography when compared with Kozo Miyoshi’s practice. The making of her photographic works involves little theorising. Narahashi’s famous series “Half Awake Half Asleep in the Water” is a collection of C-prints of various coastal sites in Japan. Since beginning the project in 2001, the artist has photographed over fifty locations with a Nikonos 35mm waterproof film camera.

I was on vacation at a place by the sea and I happened to have a waterproof camera with me. I was just floating in the water like a sea otter, taking pictures with my camera half submerged. I liked the results but I did nothing with them for about one year. Only later I had another look at those photos and suddenly I was struck by something and began to regard them in a different light. That was when the series really got going.

Asaka Narahashi, 'Yunohama', 2004, C-Print. Image from yossimilo.com.

“My work is more about ‘taking’ than ‘making'”

Asako Narahashi refuses to manipulate and alter her photographs on the computer, unlike many contemporary photographers and she only takes pictures of things that get her attention. She uses between five and ten 36-picture rolls of film. The process is done by herself independently from start to finish. Yet if the photos are too big, the film is developed by a laboratory because it involves the use of chemicals.

“Open to any kind of external influence”

Divulging further on her “somewhat careless” approach to photography, the artist said,

Chance plays a big part in what I do and the results I get. Under the right circumstances, which are also something [that] I don’t decide [on] beforehand, any place and any subject can be good for shooting pictures. I’m fairly open to any kind of external influence. In a sense, I entrust the camera with taking pictures for me, like when I shoot in the water without actually looking in the viewfinder.

After being widely overlooked abroad, Japanese photography has only recently become popular with collectors. Narahashi explains in the interview why photography is still not accepted fully as an art form even in Japan.

Yes, it’s been a long journey, like mine. Even me, for twenty years I couldn’t make a living through photography and had to work other jobs in order to support my passion. This is quite common in Japan. Abroad, I think many people decide at a pretty early age whether they want to or can pursue this career professionally. In Japan, though, many people keep shooting just for the love of it, without really being concerned about money or having a career. This, in a sense, has been a blessing in disguise for Japanese photography. Of course there is also a negative side to it: Abroad it is normal to see photography as an art. Many people go to photo galleries and actually buy pictures. In Japan unfortunately it’s not so easy. Maybe it’s because the habit of taking pictures is so pervasive, instead of purchasing an artist’s work, many people prefer to hang their own photos in their house.

Asaka Narahashi, 'Zeze', 2005, C-Print. Image from yissimilo.com.

About Asako Narahashi

Narahashi was born in 1959 in Tokyo, Japan, and she began experimenting with photography in the mid-1980s. Her photographs are held in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the International Center of Photography, New York. The artist currently lives and works in Tokyo.


Related Topics: Japanese artists, photography

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