Between plants and consciousness

Mikiko Hara

Since the 1990s, Mikiko Hara (b. 1967) has been using a Zeiss Ikonta camera from the 1930s to create her snapshot photographs. She takes photographs often without seeing her subjects through viewfinder and she is unable to check what she has photographed until the film is developed and printed. In the current digital age, where photos are taken with utmost sharpness and each shot is instantly viewable on an LCD screen, the ambiguity and uncertainty of Hara’s photographs raise questions about the nature of the relationship between looking and photographing, between seeing something and storing it in one’s memory.

If -for a moment-we compare photography to recordings of a voice, then Hara’s photographs, which show gently scooped up pieces of the world, also capture an amplitude of ambient noises and reverberations, and seem closer to hearing an agglomeration of sounds and utterances rather than clearly spoken words. In her images of street scenes and train carriages, she captures not only people’s actions and appearances but also manages to include the circumstances of their surroundings as well as physical sensations that are part of the scene. Although her photographs also express more concrete meanings, to the viewer, these finer nuances manifest like echoes of an unquiet sound.

Untitled, 2006, from the series, "Humoresque" ©Mikiko Hara

In some of Hara’s photos which seem to show deserted places, or photos from which human subjects seem deliberately or accidentally absent, the center is occupied by plants – thickets, grasses, trees growing in gardens or along roadsides. When plants enter our vision in an everyday-life context, they often retreat into the background as a part of the scenery; they do not usually become objects that are particularly gazed upon. The plants in Hara’s photographs, however, seem to abandon their place in the background to suddenly turn into foreground objects in our consciousness.

Untitled, 2009, from the series, "Still" ©Mikiko Hara
Untitled, 1999, from the series, "Primary Speaking" ©Mikiko Hara

As an example, let us consider the photo of a blooming cherry tree with women near it, facing away from the tree. The tree is shot from a lower perspective, looking up. In the image, an almost tactile sensation pushes the foreground, with the warmth from the descending sunlight, the shadows of the branches and flowers and the exaggerated roughness and three-dimensionality of the tree’s bark. Or the photograph of fenced off flowers facing the road – longer stems stretch out from the wild growth and lean into the fence, while on the left side of the image a cat has just gone out of view, only her tail to be seen.
In both of these images, the accidental presence of animals or people opens a crevice, and in that crevice appears a strange sense of distance, one that until then had not been part of our awareness. The discovery of this new sense of distance, hidden from my consciousness, had me surprised.

Mika Kobayashi

Photography researcher / Visiting research scholar at Tokyo Museum of Modern Art

Active in many fields including conducting lectures and workshops on Japanese and international photography, planning exhibitions and contributing to magazines.

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