The special discussion event “Living through Photography”, part of the KYOTOGRAPHIE 2018 public program, was the final talk session for the KG+2018 × SIGMA main program.
In Japan, the term “pro photographer” evokes thoughts of either commercial photographers or established artists (with published photobooks), but in truth there are more ways to “live through photography” and promote photographic culture. Centered on this topic, Yusuke Nakanishi (KYOTOGRAPHIE and KG+ co-found/co-director), Yusuke Nakajima (director of Tokyo Art Book Fair and Tokyo-based bookshop POST) and Tomo Kosuga (director of the Masahisa Fukase archive) discussed the pro’s and con’s of photography-as-a-profession, as well as exhibition, and the differences between the world of photography in Japan and internationally.
The first KYOTOGRAPHIE
Nakanishi: The impetus for the very first KYOTOGRAPHIE photography festivalwas actually the Great Kanto Earthquake in March 2011. The world had its eyes onJapan then, and I think of that period as a time when Japan was asked what it couldtell the world. In summer of that year, I visited the Rencontres d’Arles, a photography festival that has been held for morethan 40 years in the “Photography Empire” of France. Each year all sorts of peoplefrom the photography industry around the world meets there to discuss the latestartists or business opportunities.
Nakajima: Yes, it is the world’s biggest photography festival.
Nakanishi: Despite the world-wide interest in new artists and trends in Japan, therewere almost no Japanese people present there, and no opportunity to share anyrelevant information. I had the strong impression that something needed to happen,and once I had returned to Japan, I reached out to many different people – “we needa festival here in Japan to take part in the conversation!” Unfortunately festivals arenot very profitable endeavors and come with high administrative costs, so no-onewanted to start one. However, I was convinced that someone just had to take thefirst step and I thought, “well, that someone is going to be me, then.”
Kosuga: That is remarkable. To launch such events you need the expertise of many different people and help with securing funding. Once you start to work together with public offices, it becomes an unimaginable amount of work.
Nakanishi: I lived in Tokyo when the earthquake and the tsunami happened.Everything was over-concentrated in Tokyo at the time – population, economy, information – to the degree that it slowed things down and caused confusion. If I was to start something new, I thought that it needed to be somewhere other than Tokyo. I thought it necessary for Japan to create a new direct connection with the world that was not routed through Tokyo. When I considered which city in Japan people all over the world might want to visit, the answer seemed obvious: Kyoto. I did not have any contacts in Kyoto then, but I was so convinced of its potential that I began from zero.
Kosuga: Since you mentioned Arles – I had the opportunity to hold a Masahisa Fukase retrospective there last summer and, as Yusuke Nakanishi mentioned, Arles is the one meeting spot for photography-related people of the entire world. The massive photobook “Masahisa Fukase”, which we’ll publish in September this year, began its life in Arles when I began talking about the project with Xavier Barral, whom Yusuke Nakanishi and Lucille Reyboz introduced me to.
Creating a photography market in Japan
Kosuga: There are two main types of photography events: festivals like Kyotographie and fairs like Paris Photo. What was the decisive reason that made you create a festival rather than a fair?
Nakanishi: The two of you know this very well, of course, but photography was originally invented for its ability to “record”. It only became an artform later on. The festival in Arles, too, was launched in the 1970s by individuals; photographers and writers. At the time, ‘art photography’ had not yet been a main genre. Thanks to their establishing a festival and promoting the possibilities of photographic expressions, people began collecting photographic artworks. Photographs became the object of collections of museums or private collectors, which eventually connects to the launch of large fairs like Paris Photo.
Nakajima: It really takes time for a given field to grow and spread before it matures into a market, doesn’t it?
Nakanishi: Yes, that is right. To speak frankly, I think the market in Japan is quite late, from an international perspective. There are very few people who collect photography. Creating a fair just for the sake of it, under these conditions, would do nothing to grow or develop anything here. First, you have to fertilize the soil, and so a festival was the better choice.
Kosuga: Do you consider adding a fair in the future?
Nakanishi: Yes – for example, there is an event in the Netherlands called Unseen which combines both festival and fair. We are considering the possibility for a fair, regardless of who should be involved with running it. I think that, basically, it would be best if artists were able to live off their art. Unfortunately, in Japan it is very difficult to do that today; the reality is that artists most likely need another job in order to secure your living expenses, but in the end my ideal is that artists should be able to make a living with their art.
Publishing photographs in Japan
Kosuga: For photographers in Japan, for example Masahisa Fukase, the one place to publish new works had for a very long time been the camera magazines. In other words, the perception of photographs as magazine content rather than as artworks was very strong during that period. Even though a long time has passed since then and opportunities to enjoy photographs as artworks are ever-growing, somehow this has not lead to people buying photographic prints.
Nakanishi: Yes, that’s true. It was typical for the photography professionals to publish their works in photography magazines. Also, even though prints do not sell, it is Japan’s unique strength that books are always bought, so you would just publish a photobook, self-financed if necessary, and sell that. Eventually a photobook would be picked up by a large publishing company and you’d make your ‘major debut’. This is the history in Japan when it comes to making a living off photography.
Nakajima: That is true, yes. I opened the photo- and art-book shop POST in Tokyo’s Ebisu district in 2011. Before that, I ran an antiquarian bookshop for which I bought books from abroad – I only bought books that I loved myself. But with this method, you end up with a selection heavily influenced by my personal tastes and values. I started POST with the idea that a bookshop should have a broader, more public appeal, especially considering the fact that photobooks and artbooks could be the first time someone comes into contact with art. I thought that if my broader, less personally-influenced selection of books at the shop could help people buy photobooks and come into contact with more art, and perhaps see the actual works, maybe even buy them eventually, that would be a great pleasure to me.
Nakanishi: You started very early too, didn’t you? It is a very sharp trend, but it is becoming a location which spreads the beauty and interestingness of photobooks to many different people.
Merits and possibilities of contemporary photobooks
Nakajima: Thank you very much. At POST, we choose a different publishing company to focus on each time, and then introduce their books in our bookshop. I think most people usually don’t pay much attention to the publishing companies [which published their books], but they’re all rather unique. If you make visible the typical style of a publishing company, which you can’t tell from just a single book, then this could lead to new encounters with artworks and artists. The German publisher Steidl for example or English publisher MACK each have their distinct book formats and styles.
Nakanishi: You could call photobooks the product of a collaboration between photographer and designer, is that correct?
Nakajima: Yes, that’s true. What makes the photobook so different from exhibitions is the fact that stories may emerge as you turn the page, or the three-dimensional experience to them as you hold them in your hands. With all these additional sideeffects, photobooks are a very important way to express photography. And most importantly, they’re a very effective way to deliver photographs to an even larger audience.
Nakanishi: It was already mentioned during the talk session the other day between Go Itami, whose works are exhibited here, and photobook designer Hitoshi Suzuki that the relationship of trust between photographer and designer is incredibly important.
Nakajima: Yes, that’s true. I think it’s the photobook’s great strength that it can offer new possibilities and methods to present a given work by incorporating design and editing ideas of someone whose understanding of the work is more objective than the photographer’s.
Nakanishi: There are many people who worry about the future of photography, considering the decline of printed matter and the ongoing trend towards digitalization, but I am rather optimistic. Photobooks, with the many designs, sizes and forms available and paper varieties and cover images to choose from, offer so many possibilities for each single book. Furthermore, very high-quality photographs can be acquired by individuals in the form of a book, and the pleasure of owning such an object will not disappear anytime soon, I think.
Nakajima: The number of photobooks being published in the world is actually on the rise. Compared to the past, the barriers to publish books have become low enough to be within reach for individuals, and there’s a great increase in opportunities to regard the book as a medium of creative expression
「The ’60s and ‘70s: birthplace of Japan’s unique photography
Nakanishi: Instead of selling prints, Japan created a unique and rich photobook culture. It has since received quite a lot of attention throughout the world.
Nakajima: Yes, the photobook profited from Japan’s Galapagos Syndrome – mostly isolated from influences from the outside world during the 1970s and ‘80s, it evolved towards a unique direction. It was an era of abundant experimentation, which lead to interesting new creative possibilities. You can still feel that sense of excitement when you look at photobooks from the ‘70s today.
Nakajima: It’s only hearsay, but apparently John Szarkowski, the MOMA’s photographer curator, has an interesting definition of what connects photobooks since the 1960s. With the idea that the photobook is to offer a faithful reproduction of the images in it, he supposedly said “under no circumstances do you crop, and the images need to be presented on white ground.” And in truth, if you look at foreign photobooks from the ‘60s and ‘70 they are mostly in this format. But Japanese photobooks knew no such reservations. There was abundant cropping and cutting going on, and – now a standard way to do things – they had subsequent pages which formed a sort of story. Their editing was distinctly different from the rest of the world. I would say, if you tried to identify the source of the modern photobook style, the influences of Japanese photobooks in the ‘60s and ‘70s, especially those by people like Nobuyoshi Araki, Takuma Nakahira, Daido Moriyama, have been very strong.
How to start and manage an archive
Nakajima:: I have the impression – based on my experiences – that photographers are exceptionally well at putting images and thoughts into words. Even texts about the backgrounds of their own works or interpretations. Photographs are a sensual medium, yet as a guide to help the audience understand works on a deeper level, I feel that language is still an indispensable tool.
Nakanishi: Yes, that is true. The Masahisa Fukase exhibition at this year’s KYOTOGRAPHIE made me realize the importance of artists’ archives. We are able to look at Fukase’s lifetime of works today thanks to Tomo Kosuga’s organizing Fukase’s works and materials. There are many cases where this work has not happened. No matter how great the photographer, after their death their works are often scattered or end up in storage somewhere.
Nakanishi: So, as with the fruitful efforts of Tomo, if more people from the younger generation were to start archives of master photographers, there might be a revival of interest in already forgotten artists.
Kosuga: Outside of Japan, it is usually art museums, universities or associations specializing in archives who take care of the organization and archivization of artists’ works. You could say Japan is still in the early stages regarding this when it comes to photography. That’s because this is only now starting to become a problem, as the artists influenced by the camera’s sudden and explosive popularization after the war are now beginning to die. If an artist dies, it is usually the bereaved family which takes care of their work, on an individual level. But just organizing the works takes considerable time and costs. Furthermore, you need professional knowledge and equipment – and a vision of how you would like to present the works to the following generation. There are many high hurdles to overcome when creating archives.
Nakajima: It seems very difficult.
Kosuga: If many individual organizations find themselves grappling with the same problems, then you could say it might be time to pioneer a set of guidelines to follow. It is also important that living artists begin to think about what will happen after their death. And for Japan, the country that contributed so many internationally beloved cameras and films, I think it is time to take the initiative as a country to preserve our rich photography culture for later generations.
Preserving vintage artworks & the importance of digitalization
Kosuga: It is easy to think a single photographic print is not that difficult to deal with, it is just a sheet of paper, after all. But once you’re dealing with a photographer’s lifetime collection of prints, you’re looking at a minimum of several thousand, possibly several hundred thousand photographs. And there are the original sources of the photographs – tens of thousands of negatives. So even though you’re dealing with the creative output of just one artist, the work required to store it is enormous.
Nakanishi: That is a problem, yes.
Kosuga: Also, prints and negatives ask for a certain environment in order to be preserved. When we began to review Fukase’s works in 2014, some of the negatives had suffered from the so-called Vinegar Syndrome. They were in a very bad condition, with cracks and bubbles having formed in the actual negatives. Even the printed photographs had suffered from mould. Until then I had thought photographs were pretty much everlasting. But in actuality they decay just like everything else.
Nakanishi: I imagine many audience members here today are involved in photography themselves. I think the degree to which a photographer organizes their own work also has a large influence, doesn’t it? Also, the requirements for film photography archives and digital-era archives have very little in common. Digital archives seem easier to organize, but there’s the fear that the data could simply vanish at once…
Kosuga: Data does not leave behind any physical objects if it disappears, yes. Of course, while archives can’t avoid the process of digitalization, there also is the question of what the purpose of the digitized photographs is. Ignoring photographs shot with digital cameras, if you scan photographic prints that were once shot on film and turned into images in a chemical gelatin-silver process, any new prints you create based on that digital scan will never become like the original print.
Nakanishi: Do you digitize any of the works at the Fukase archives?
Kosuga: Yes, we do. Reproductions made with a digital camera are much more trueto-life than a standard scanners could achieve, so we digitize his works one by one with a camera. Of course, digitization is a necessary tool for the organization of an archive, and the digitization is a necessary process when creating books together with publishers overseas. In the “Masahisa Fukase” book that we publish in September, for example, we mainly worked with digitalizations of his vintage works.
Nakajima:: Regarding the truthful reproduction of colors, I think you cannot beat digitizing with a photo camera.
Kosuga: Yes, especially when dealing with large prints, where using scanners is difficult.
Nakanishi: Would you say that practice and learning from tradition are important to the art of archiving?
Kosuga: Finding good rules and standards for your situation is important. For example, we decided against creating new, posthumous prints from the negatives in the archives. Like the famous Ansel Adams has said, if the negative is the score, then the print is the performance. Once an artist has passed away from this world, I think you ought to preserve the prints created during their lifetime, in Fukase’s case until 1992, for the generations to come.
Born in 1968. As a lighting technician, Nakanishi worked in many fields, including movies, theater, concerts, fashion shows and interior design. Nakanishi created an objects series called “eatable lights” and worked on installations for the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (Tokyo), School Gallery (Paris), Nuit Blanche (Kyoto) and more. In 2013, Nakanishi founded the KYOTOGRAPHIE International Photography Festival together with photographer Lucille Reyboz.
Nakajima opened the bookstore POST in Tokyo’s Ebisu district in 2011. With the exception of a permanent corner for German publisher Steidl, POST regularly updates the books on display, choosing a different publisher to focus on each time. Nakajima presently works as the director of POST and is responsible for the book selection, planning exhibitions, publishing books, coordination POST’s library and more. Since 2015, Nakajima is a co-director of the Tokyo Art Book Fair. He enjoys shooting with his SIGMA dp2 Quattro.
In his role at the Masahisa Fukase Archives, Kosuga is responsible for planning exhibitions and book publications of late Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase (1934-2012). As an art producer, Kosuga writes and curates exhibitions, mainly in the field of photography. Kosuga has curated or co-curated exhibitions such as “Masahisa Fukase: Private Scenes” (Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, 2018), “Masahisa Fukase: PLAY” (KYOTOGRAPHIE, 2018), “Masahisa Fukase: L’incurable égoïste” (Les Rencontres d’Arles, 2017), “Roger Ballen & Asger Carlsen: NO NOKE” (Diesel Art Gallery, 2017), “Masahisa Fukase: The Incurable Egoist” (Diesel Art Gallery, 2015) and many more. Kosuga supervised and contributed texts to the photobook “Masahisa Fukase” (Editions Xavier Barral, October 2018 (English & French version) / Akaaka, September 2018 (Japanese version), which covers the works created by Masahisa Fukase during 40-year long career as a photographer. Kosuga shoots with a SIGMA DP