The Art of Living Nature

•2 February, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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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.

Interview and images here…

Tokyo Portraits in London (interview with Carl Randall)

•20 January, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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In the middle of last year I spoke with British artist Carl Randall about his extraordinary portraits of modern Japan. Randall recently returned to the UK and has been receiving tremendous interest and success with his works since that time.

He is currently presenting a solo exhibition in London, ‘Tokyo Portraits’, featuring many paintings which are previously unseen in the UK. I spoke with him about this work, and expanded upon some of the issues we discussed in our previous interview, describing many of his themes and techniques in great detail. Follow the link below.

The exhibition, at The Daiwa Anglo Japanese Foundation, runs from January 16 – March 12.

Here’s the interview…

Rilakkuma + Yamanote

•24 August, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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It’s always an interesting experience to stand in a train carriage with advertising devoted exclusively to one product. It doesn’t happen every day, but a few times a year one discovers such a thing on the Yamanote Line, the loop line around central Tokyo.

Usually the brands or products advertised are tangible (GAP, Sony, Panasonic, Uniqlo, etc.) but recently it was the turn of Rilakkuma, a rather popular character celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Click here for a ridiculous number of images…

Summer 2013 – the Summer of Squid

•23 August, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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As surely as the sun rises and sets, trends in Japan will come and go.

In recent years we’ve seen huge surges in popularity of various items and creatures including pandas, bananas and tails (yes, tails).

This year, it’s squid.

Giant squid have been appearing around Tokyo, eliciting squeals of delight and amazement from passersby, and of course lots of photographs.

Here are just a few examples:

Click here for the full story…

Night Tunnels

•18 August, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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At night, Tokyo resembles a clean, atmospheric, beautifully lit film set.

Quiet streets, soft curves of a road leading to tunnels under railway lines, occasional trains rumble past on their way somewhere, nostalgic, comforting, safe.

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3d viewing guide here


Street Full of Dinosaurs

•31 July, 2013 • 1 Comment

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Kawaiification of the urban environment is never a surprise to see in Japan, but the novel ways in which it is done never ceases to amuse and delight.

Previously there were fish, and here we see dozens of “dinosaur heads” protruding from the roadside in a street near Tamachi.

Check them out in 3d:

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And here they are on Google Maps


Nine is Better than One!

•29 July, 2013 • 2 Comments

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Japan is a character-lover’s paradise. They’re everywhere!

Sports teams of course have their own mascots (as they do around the world), but in Japan it goes much further: almost every company and product seems to have its own character – from pandas to unidentifiable creatures.

There are the very famous ones, the “tier one” characters. But there are far more characters populating tier 2, tier 3 and the lower realms of characterdom.

These are the characters that, for whatever reason, never quite make the leap to popularity. Their lack of appeal may be due to any one of a number of variables, but the bottom line is they simply don’t have that special formula or x-factor that would elevate them to iconic status.

Like these guys:

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Nevertheless, such characters still appear on merchandise and in public and duly attract large groups of happy onlookers.

One new approach for such characters might be what I witnessed the other day: strength in numbers. Not one but a staggering nine characters from various locations paraded together as a group. The strategy seemed to be to overwhelm people with sheer variety.

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And at first glance it seemed to be working, with hundreds of smiling people snapping hundreds of photos of the group as pretty girls in short skirts handed out stickers of the characters to passing shoppers.

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But if we look further, we see the clear evidence that these characters are likely destined for life on the lower tiers.

One of the best ways to judge the quality of characters is by the reaction of children when confronted with these oversized real-life cartoons. And with these nine, the verdict seems to be an unequivocal rejection, as parents were forced to “encourage” their kids forward…

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