In Japan, not unlike the rest of the world, one finds an enormous amount of unoriginal and rather bland contemporary photography. Week after week exhibitions are held of generic, derivative work, and one can be hard-pressed to tell any of these photographers apart, or even remember any of the works minutes after walking out of the gallery.
The influence of a few of the more highly-regarded names in Japanese photography is clearly one factor at work. More often than not, exhibitions seem like disappointingly dull replicas of styles made popular by the likes of Moriyama Daido, Ninagawa Mika, Kawauchi Rinko, Sugimoto Hiroshi, Yanagi Miwa and a handful of other big names.
There is also a quite mystifying trend of “snapshot artists”, people whose work resembles a random collection of everyday subjects and unmemorable moments, thrown together with no apparent continuity, theme, intended idea, meaning or even technical quality.
Yet, among this vast ocean of mediocrity, some incredibly original and powerful work occasionally appears. In the coming months I will feature a number of such artists and photographers.
One name recently gaining more coverage and attention is that of Matsuhara Akitoshi, from Japan’s traditional capital, Kyoto. I first came across his work in 2011, at an exhibition of his (then) most recent work, and have followed his progress since, during which time he has exhibited in various solo and group exhibitions, nationally and internationally, and been presented numerous prizes and awards.
From a distance, the often large-scale works appear to have a simple form and calm tranquility which belie the remarkably vibrant intricacy and dynamic energy which they exude as one approaches closer. This apparent contradiction is intimately connected to the ideas which influence Matsuhara’s practice, and which he continues to pursue – a hybrid of science, spirituality and wonder.
I spoke to him recently to discuss aspects of his thinking and technique, and to share some insights into the process behind his work.