Posts Tagged ‘Theatre of Memory

24
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 10th September – 28th November 2015

The exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum in association with Fundación MAPFRE.

Curator: Matthew Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator Department of Photography of the Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

Without reminding myself every so often, you actually forget just what a master of photography Josef Koudelka is.

Looking at the installation photographs below, without knowing the names of the individual images, is instructive. Notice how graphically strong his organisation of the picture plane is. Usually one or two, three at the most, strong vertical or horizontal elements – dark on dark, light on dark; man and hovercraft; figures on pavement; women, tree and building; assemblages of objects and light.

I believe all of his work links back to his sense of the theatre of memory, whether it be the landscapes and sceneries of the outdoors taken in Prague, and on trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy or the psychological interior of the mind of his theatre characters as he portrays them through photography. From the mystery and exoticism of the Gypsies series, to the recording of history, time and conflict of the Invasion photographs (witness the Hand and wristwatch). From the metaphysical symbols of isolation (lost animals, lonely figures, scattered objects and displaced Gypsies) in Exiles, which is the core of the Koudelka vital experience, to the destruction of ancient archaeological sites and depictions of places that have been mined, swept away or marked by the scars of industrialisation, devastated by wars and altered by time in his panoramic format photographs.

These theatres of the divine, theatres of the mind are ‘Theatres of Memory’ in which the 16th century Italian philosopher Guilio Camillo asks the question: How is the motion of the memory connected with the motion of history? How is the personal political?

Koudleka’s probing of this question is present in every one of his images. Through his inquiry “he maintains a total unity through the photographer’s vision.” The artist forms mental and physical images of the things he wants to remember, that he wants us to remember, using theatrical spaces… and his subjective thoughts bind us, closely, to collective memories.

“History… is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

Marcus

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Many thankx to Fundación MAPFRE for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE presents the most complete retrospective exhibit up to this day dedicated to the Czech photographer of French nationality Josef Koudelka (n. 1938), member for the past forty years of Magnum Photos agency.

Engineer by profession, Koudelka became committed to the photographic medium in the middle of the sixties and became one of the most influential authors of his generation. Halfway between the artistic and documentary, Josef Koudelka is now a living legend. He has received prestigious awards in recognition of his work, among others, the Grand Prix National de la Photographie (1989), the Grand prix Cartier-Bresson (1991), and the International Award in Photography of the Hasselblad Foundation (1992).

This exhibition goes through his entire trajectory that covers more than five decades of work. The extense selection with more than 150 works reflects his first experimental projects produced at the end of the fifties and during the sixties, as well as his historic series Gypsies, Invasion and Exiles and reaching the great panoramic landscapes produced in the last years. In addition the exhibition includes important documental material, the majority unpublished -layouts, pamphlets, magazines of the period among others-, that allows us to delve into the work as well as the creative process of this author.

The title of the exhibition is Uncertain Nationality, which describes the sense of not belonging to a place, a sense of disorientation so present in his work since his exile from Czechoslovakia after the invasion of Prague, and his permanent interest in territories in conflict.”

Press release from Fundación MAPFRE

 

 

Entrance view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Entrance view of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation views of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Introduction

In the mid-1950s, when a new youth culture characterised by an open mindset was beginning to emerge in Czechoslovakia following the death of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and after two decades of brutal repression, Josef Koudelka (born in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and nationalised French) left his village in Moravia and moved to the capital, Prague. An aeronautical engineer by training, Koudelka became very actively involved in photography in the mid-1960s, contributing to the creative renaissance that took place in his native country.

Koudelka not only immortalised these years with his camera but also embodied them. He spent lengthy periods in gypsy encampments in Slovakia, he compulsively photographed actors during play rehearsals, and he mingled with demonstrators and soldiers in August 1968 in order to capture the invasion of Prague by the Soviet troops. When Koudelka went into exile shortly afterwardshe acquired the official status of “nationality doubtful”, becoming a stateless person as he was unable to produce documentation proving that he was born in Czechoslovakia. He refused to be intimidated by this situation, however, and continued to travel and take photographs, allowing gypsy communities and traditional and religious festivals to decide his destinations.

Koudelka settled in Paris in the 1980s and after the fall of Communism returned to Prague in 1990 where he now has a second home. Nonetheless, he continues to be a traveller, committed over the past twenty-five years to the creation of panoramic photographs that depict landscapes around the world which have been altered and often devastated by the hand of man.

This exhibition encompasses Josef Koudelka’s entire career, spanning more than five decades of work. The comprehensive selection of images on display includes his first experimental projects of the 1950s and 1960s and his historic series Gypsies, Invasion and Exiles, concluding with the great panoramic landscapes of recent years. In addition, visitors will see important documentary material, most of it previously unpublished and including layouts, leaflets and magazines of the period which contribute to a deeper understanding of this artist’s work and creative process.

 

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Theatre section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Early years + theatre

Early years and Experiments

Josef Koudelka was immersed in the ambiance of liberalization that occurred in Czechoslovakia after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 who had subjected the country to a brutal repression for two decades. Koudelka began to photograph professionally in 1958 and create a series of landscapes and sceneries of the outdoors taken in Prague, and on trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy. Right away, the camera accompanied him on all of his trips, which would herald his impulse to work as an independent photographer and nomad for more than forty years.

Koudelka dates his first serious photographic activity to 1958. Between that date and 1962 he produced a body of work which encompassed landscapes and outdoor views taken in Prague and during trips to Slovakia, Poland and Italy. Travel and its associated discoveries were a permanent stimulus to his creativity as a photographer. During these early years Koudelka assiduously studied the possibilities of giving form to the photographic image before and after the actual shot was taken. Initially, he inclined to manipulation subsequent to exposure, such as cropping and the use of experimental techniques in the dark room.

The Theatre

In the 1960s Koudelka worked free-lance for the most important Czech theatrical companies, Divadloza Branou (Theatre behind the Door) and Divadlona Zábradlí (Theatre on the Balustrade). As such, he evolved a new way of photographing that involved the repetition and prior visualisation of the image. Working rapidly and close to the actors on the stage while they were rehearsing, Koudelka constantly moved around them until he had the desired image in his mind. The harsh, exaggerated theatrical lighting proved difficult to photograph, obliging him to force the development of his films with low exposures. Ultimately, a detail that interested him in an image might only occupy a small part of the negative and thus required significant blowing-up and laborious manipulation during the developing process in order to obtain a legible copy. Koudelka’s images of theatrical performances were used for promotional purposes and often appeared on the front cover and in the pages of the magazine Divadlo (Theatre).

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE Josef Koudelka website

 

Josef Koudelka. 'An Hour of Love by Josef Topol, Divadlo za branou [Theater behind the Door], Prague' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
An Hour of Lov
e by Josef Topol, Divadlo za branou [Theater behind the Door], Prague
1968
© Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Theatre on the Balustrade, King Ubu (by playwright Alfred Jarry), Prague' 1964

 

Josef Koudelka
Theatre on the Balustrade, King Ubu (by playwright Alfred Jarry), Prague
1964
© Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Alfred Jarry's Uburoi, Divadlo na zábradlí, Prague' 1964

 

Josef Koudelka
Alfred Jarry’s Uburoi, Divadlo na zábradlí, Prague
1964
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Czechoslovakia' 1960

 

Josef Koudelka
Czechoslovakia
1960
Gelatin silver, early print
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Gypsies section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Gypsies

In 1961 Koudelka started to take photographs in villages and gypsy encampments. He initially continued with his habitual employment as an engineer but this photographic endeavour soon became a project that would define his artistic career and give rise to the series Gypsies. He returned again and again to around eighty different places in Slovakia and the Czech regions of Moravia and Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), principally between 1963 and 1970, taking thousands of photographs from which he selected various hundreds and finally a few dozen that he most preferred, entitling them with the name of the place where they were taken. The varied compositions – interiors, individual and group portraits, and landscapes – allow the subjects space to be themselves while maintaining a total unity through the photographer’s vision. These works also constitute views onto a world which seemed very exotic at that time, even for other Czechs and Slovaks, but which was nonetheless quite self-sufficient and as universally accessible as ancient myths.

The first exhibition of this series, held in the lobby of the Divadloza Branou (Theatre behind the Door) in Prague in March 1967, only included twenty-seven photographs. The twenty-two prints that have survived from that event are included in the present exhibition, mounted on their original panels and displayed as a group, as they were almost fifty years ago.

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Bohemia' 1966

 

Josef Koudelka
Bohemia
1966
Gelatin silver, print 1967
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Moravia (Strážnice)' 1966

 

Josef Koudelka
Moravia (Strážnice)
1966
Gelatin silver, print 1967
Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Slovakia' 1963

 

Josef Koudelka
Slovakia
1963
Gelatin silver, print 1967
The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of the artist
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Romania' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
Romania
1968
Gelatin silver, print 1980s
The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Robin and Sandy Stuart
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Slovakia' 1963

 

Josef Koudelka
Slovakia
1963
Gelatin silver, print 1967
The Art Institute of Chicago, Amanda TaubVeazie Endowment and Photography Gala Fund
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Invasion section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Invasion section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Invasion

In August 1968, shortly after returning to Czechoslovakia after a trip to Rumania where he had gone to photograph gypsy encampments, Koudelka woke up early one morning to discover that the Warsaw Pact forces led by the Soviet Union had invaded Prague. He immediately loaded his Exakta Varex camera with East German film and went out onto the street, tirelessly photograph the devastating occupation between 21 and 27 August. Koudelka climbed on tanks, encountered soldiers armed with machine guns (as did the demonstrators alongside him), and photographed the innumerable slogans and posters which appeared every day on the city’s walls and were then removed by the invading forces every evening. Koudelka penetrated into the heart of the resistance. A new era was dawning and his photographs became a powerful reminder of how that change first began.

His images became a document of the conflict and symbol of the spirit of the resistance movement. The rolls of film that he used to photograph the Prague struggle ended up in Western Europe illegally and the Koudelka images appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. Koudelka spent that winter editing his photographs, selecting just a handful from among thousands of images. Finally, the negatives were smuggled out to the United States and with the help of the Magnum Photos agency were distributed to magazines and newspapers around the world on the occasion of the first anniversary of the invasion in 1969. Prior to 1984, when they were publicly exhibited for the first time in London with Koudelka’s name attached to them, these images were published anonymously and only attributed to “P.P”, standing for “Prague Photographer”, in order to avoid possible reprisals against Koudelka and his family.

 

Josef Koudelka. '(Czech citizen on sidewalk, wearing jacket with target)' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
(Czech citizen on sidewalk, wearing jacket with target)
1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. '(Czech citizen on tank)' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
(Czech citizen on tank)
1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of a private collector
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Hand and wristwatch' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
Hand and wristwatch
1968
Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968
Gelatin silver, print 1990
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'At the Czechoslovak Radio building, Vinohradská Avenue' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
At the Czechoslovak Radio building, Vinohradská Avenue
1968
Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. '(Two Czech citizens with flag)' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
(Two Czech citizens with flag)
1968
Invasion by Warsaw Pact troops. Near the Radio Headquarters. Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 1968
Gelatin silver print, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Exiles section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Exiles

In 1970 Koudelka left Czechoslovakia for Great Britain, where he lived until he moved to France in 1980, obtaining French citizenship in 1987. During his years of exile he worked tirelessly, travelling during the spring and summer in order to photograph traditional festivals and gypsy events in various countries in Western Europe, principally the UK, Ireland, Italy and Spain, then retiring to his darkroom in the winter. During this period of his life Koudelka made numerous friends on his travels and through his association with Magnum Photos. He remained totally independent, however, refusing to rent an apartment or accept commissions in order to retain control of his artistic output and to be in complete charge of his agenda. His enigmatic photographs of these years evoke his own feelings of isolation through images of animals running free, lone figures, abandoned objects and displaced gypsies, although his work presents these feelings of solitude and distance in very broad terms.

Josef Koudelka left Czechoslovakia in 1970 and petitioned to exile to the United Kingdom. While he was in exile, he continued to work throughout Europe on those routes marked by Gypsy religious festivals and folklore that are held annually. The alienation that he felt for not belonging to a nation is reflected in his Exiles work that shows symbols of isolation (lost animals, lonely figures, scattered objects and displaced Gypsies) which is the core of the Koudelka vital experience. Unclear nationality refers to the legal status that appears in the author’s travel documents each time he returned to the United Kingdom, his home base during the first decade of exile, since he did not have a Czechoslovakian passport and could not prove his birthplace.

The subjects in the series Exiles are not limited to a specific group or period, and while they are based on Koudelka’s own everyday experiences during his stateless period, they are more metaphysical than physical. Here autobiography and reportage maintain a relationship of productive tension.

 

Josef Koudelka. 'France' 1976

 

Josef Koudelka
Still Life (Newspaper), France
1976
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Parc de Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France' 1987

 

Josef Koudelka
Parc de Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France
1987
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Czechoslovakia' 1968

 

Josef Koudelka
Czechoslovakia
1968
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Ireland' 1972

 

Josef Koudelka
Ireland
1972
Gelatin silver, early print
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Installation view of the Panoramas section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Installation view of the Panoramas section of the exhibition 'Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality' at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

Installation view of the Panoramas section of the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Uncertain Nationality at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

 

 

Panoramas

Since 1986 Koudelka has been taking photographs with panoramic cameras. His first project, commissioned by the Mission Photographique Transmanche, depicted the landscape of northern France affected by the construction of the Channel Tunnel. Since then he has used the broad panoramic format to depict places that have been mined, swept away or marked by the scars of industrialisation, devastated by wars and altered by time. The artist’s most recent panoramic photographs show important remains of past civilisations discovered on archaeological sites in twenty countries, particularly those bordering the Mediterranean.

Since 1986, Koudelka was using a panoramic camera. He uses this expanded format to show territories devastated by conflicts or altered with the passage of time. These images are the core of his impressive foldout publications such as Black Triangle or Chaos that shows scenery on the edge of ruins.

In 2007 Koudelka was invited along with eleven other photographers to take part in a project to explore the complex situation in Israel and Palestine. Despite his initial doubts, he accepted on the condition that he should be allowed to work as he wished and that he could focus on the wall in the West Bank and the area surrounding it on both sides. Having “grown up in Czechoslovakia, behind a wall”, Koudelka immediately pinpointed this barrier, with its physical, environmental and metaphorical connotations, as the subject that most interested him. This extensive system of concrete walls and barbed-wire fences allowed him to take full advantage of the broad panoramic format that he had been using since the 1980s, while the subject also gave him the opportunity to focus on the region’s landscape.

More recently, Josef Koudelka used this format to document the border of the West Bank and the territories that surround it such as the Negev desert or the Golan Heights. This work, Wall, urges the spectator to see the desolation of vast scenery dominated by walls, barbed-wire fences, access roads and borders. In the exhibition, there is a selection of copies from this work together with the book published in 2014. The panoramics are impressive objects that are between 1.2 and 1.8 m long. In these panoramics we perceive a scenery created by the man that tells his story, as well as the transformations that he has suffered due to human pillage, meaning: through his photographs we see man as creator and destroyer of the world.

Between 1991 and 2015, Josef Koudelka visited twenty countries bordering the Mediterranean, stopping at over two hundred Greek and Roman archaeological sites to create his series Archaeology. This was an unprecedented exploration which has not yet been completed – Koudelka keeps visiting archaeological sites in Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and other Mediterranean countries – searching not for the documents of the sites, but for the most perfect images of their existence.

 

Josef Koudelka. 'France (Nord Pas-de-Calais)' From the series 'Chaos', 1989

 

Josef Koudelka
France (Nord Pas-de-Calais)
From the series Chaos, 1989
Inkjet, print 2013
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Lebanon (Beirut)' From the series 'Chaos', 1991

 

Josef Koudelka
Lebanon (Beirut)
From the series Chaos, 1991
Gelatin silver, print 1999
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Jordan (Amman)' from the series 'Archaeology', 2012

 

Josef Koudelka
Jordan (Amman)
from the series Archaeology, 2012
Inkjet print, 2013
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

Josef Koudelka. 'Israel-Palestine (Al 'Eizariya [Bethany])' From the series 'Wall', 2010

 

Josef Koudelka
Israel-Palestine (Al ‘Eizariya [Bethany])
From the series Wall, 2010
Inkjet, print 2014
© Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

 

 

Fundación MAPFRE – Instituto de Cultura
Paseo de Recoletos, 23
28004 Madrid, Spain
T: +34 915 81 61 00

Opening hours:
Sunday 11.00 am – 7.00 pm
Monday 2.00 – 8.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Saturday 10.00 am – 8.00 pm

Fundación MAPFRE website

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29
Jun
11

Exhibition: ‘Eikoh Hosoe – Theatre of Memory’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 12th May – 7th August 2011

 

Many thankx to Susanne Briggs for her help and for AGNSW for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Eikoh Hosoe. 'Kazuo Ohno' 1980

 

Eikoh Hosoe (Japanese, b. 1933)
Kazuo Ohno
1980
© Eikoh Hosoe/Courtesy Studio Equis
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“The camera is generally assumed to be unable to depict that which is not visible to the eye. And yet the photographer who wields it well can depict what lies unseen in his memory.”

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Eikoh Hosoe

 

 

This exhibition brings together four seminal series by Eikoh Hosoe, a leading figure in modern Japanese photography. Taken over five decades, The butterfly dream 1960-2005, Kamaitachi 1965-68 and Ukiyo-e projections 2002-03 are driven by Hosoe’s longstanding fascination for the revolutionary dance movement butoh and for its charismatic founders, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Together these series epitomise his unique style, which combines photography with elements of theatre, dance, film and traditional Japanese art, and uses mythology, metaphor and symbolism. Using the latest digital technology, Hosoe prints his photographs on washi paper, mounting them in the traditional Japanese manner as scrolls and folding screens, thereby suggesting a new way of ‘reading’ his series as a continuous narrative. Hosoe’s interest in examining the beauty and strength of the human body is best seen in his acclaimed series of extremely abstract nudes, Embrace 1969-70. The models are butoh dancers associated with Hijikata.

For over fifty years, internationally acclaimed Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe has been producing cutting edge works demonstrating a unique mastery of the photographic medium. Early on in his career he abandoned the documentary style prevalent in the post-war years and produced photographs that breathed a sense of experimentation and freedom into photography. By calling on mythology, metaphor and symbolism he created images that broke the bounds of traditional photography. Hosoe developed a unique style situated at the crossroads of several different art forms, combining photography with elements of theatre, dance, film and traditional Japanese art.

From the early days of his career Hosoe’s destiny became linked to butoh, the revolutionary performance movement formed in post-war Japan. His close relationship to Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, the two pivotal figures of butoh dance, forms the basis for his seminal series such as Kamaitachi, Embrace, The butterfly dream and Ukiyo-e projections, included in this exhibition.

This exhibition also highlights Hosoe’s extraordinary creativity and mastery of photographic printing techniques. Having experimented with both film-based and digital techniques to develop new methods of photographic expression, in recent years, he has started to use digital printing technologies on Japanese handmade paper (washi) and mounts his works in the form of traditional Japanese scrolls and screens. These ‘photo-scrolls’ provide a fascinating new reading of Hosoe’s work and underline his commitment to push the boundaries of photographic expression.

Hosoe gained recognition in the late 1950s when he began to develop his close-ups of the human body. Embrace, a series of black-and-white, abstract nude photographs, encapsulates Hosoe’s strive for originality in this photographic genre.

Through the novelist, Yukio Mishima, Hosoe was to meet Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the founders of Butoh dance. After seeing Hijikata’s performance, adapted from the novel Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours) by Mishima in a small Tokyo theatre, Hosoe was inspired and began photographing the Butoh dancer, a collaboration which continued for many years and culminated in the series Kamaitachi (1965-1968). This series, shot on various locations in the rural Tohoku region, integrated elements of dance, theatre and documentary into a cinematic work that aimed to recreate and dramatise Hosoe’s childhood memories.

Hosoe’s association with Butoh also led him to photograph the renowned Butoh performer, Kazuo Ohno. Released in 2006 in celebration of Ohno’s 100th birthday, the series The butterfly dream is a poignant visual documentary of Ohno’s artistic development over 46 years. While they retain the drama intrinsic to Butoh, Hosoe’s photographs of Ohno focus in on details of Ohno’s body, the curve of a wrist or a facial expression caught between agony and ecstasy.

Hosoe’s latest colour work, Ukiyo-e Projections, revisits his early work by linking it into ukiyo-e and Butoh dance. This series was born when he found out that the experimental Asbestos Dance Studio, founded by Hijikata and his wife, was to close in 2003 after forty years of activity. Upon hearing about the closure, Hosoe felt the need to pay a photographic tribute “to express gratitude for all that it had produced.” Ukiyo-e Projections was completed on stage at the Studio during a series of sessions in 2002 and 2003. For this series Hosoe created what he calls a “photographic theatre,” projecting a mixture of his own photographs with ukiyo-e prints on to the white-painted bodies of young Butoh dancers. The series explores many of the themes that recur in his work: sexuality, the human form and movement.

Eikoh Hosoe: Theatre of Memory highlights Hosoe’s mastery of photography through his four seminal series, Embrace, Kamaitachi, The Butterfly Dream and Ukiyo-e Projections, showing Hosoe’s sensibility for theatre, performance and the human body. It further demonstrates his creativity and mastery of photographic printing techniques. Throughout his career Hosoe, a master printer, has experimented with both film-based and digital techniques to develop new methods of photographic expression. In recent years, he has combined new printing technologies with Japanese washi paper to present his work on traditionally made silk screens and scrolls.

This is the first solo exhibition of Hosoe’s works in Australia. Hosoe, 77, is currently completing a new series of works on the sculpture of Auguste Rodin. The exhibition Eikoh Hosoe – Theatre of memory is realised in collaboration with Studio Equis, France.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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Eikoh Hosoe. 'Kazuo Ohno' 1994 from the series 'The butterfly dream' 1960-2005

 

Eikoh Hosoe (Japanese, b. 1933)
Kazuo Ohno
1994
from the series The butterfly dream 1960-2005
© Eikoh Hosoe/Courtesy Studio Equis

 

Eikoh Hosoe. 'Kazuo Ohno' 1996

 

Eikoh Hosoe (Japanese, b. 1933)
Kazuo Ohno
1996
© Eikoh Hosoe/Courtesy Studio Equis

 

 

The Butterfly Dream

The butterfly dream – a collection of photographs taken over a period of 46 years – represents Hosoe’s homage to the charismatic butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno. It was published as a book, which was released on 27 October 2006 in celebration of Ohno’s 100th birthday.

Originally an instructor in physical education and performer of modern dance, Ohno befriended Tatsumi Hijikata in the 1950s and became a pivotal fi gure in the development of the butoh performance movement. Ohno’s poetic dance style stems from his belief in the transcendental nature of human experience, that the human body has a memory of sensations and knows no limits of self-expression.

Following closely his friend’s extremely long and successful career – Ohno continued to perform late into his 90s – Hosoe has captured some of the most poignant and magical moments in the history of butoh. In honour of Ohno’s long-held conviction in the importance of achieving freedom of body and mind, Hosoe named his photographic exploration of Ohno’s unique art after the famous Daoist allegory in which the philosopher Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, but once awake, wondered if he was a man dreaming to be a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming to be Zhuangzi.

 

Kamaitachi

Eikoh Hosoe’s long association with the revolutionary performance movement butoh came about through his encounter in 1959 with one of its founders, Tatsumi Hijikata. Hosoe collaborated with Hijikata on several series including Kamaitachi, which is acknowledged as the finest illustration of Hosoe’s hybrid photographic style, combining performance and documentary with a dramatic, virile aesthetic that embodies the founding principles of Hijikata’s ankoku butoh or ‘dance of darkness’.

The dramatic and intense energy that Hijikata generated with his dance not only captured Hosoe’s imagination but also opened up new ways for the young photographer to approach themes such as sexuality, gender and the human body.

Driven by the desire to re-enact his childhood memories when he was evacuated from Tokyo during World War Two, Hosoe had Hijikata perform kamaitachi, the legendary weasel-like demon that haunted the rice paddies in the extremely sparse, rural landscape of the Tohoku region from where they both came. Fusing reality (Hijikata interacting with the landscape and village people) and performance, Hosoe’s ‘subjective documentary’ series opened new ground in Japanese post-war photography.

 

Eikoh Hosoe. 'Kamaitachi #8' 1965

 

Eikoh Hosoe (Japanese, b. 1933)
Kamaitachi #8
1965
Gelatin silver print
© Eikoh Hosoe/Courtesy Studio Equis

 

 

Kamaitachi: Toward a Vacuum’s Nest

Shuzo Takiguchi

“When we are photographed, our bodies and souls become the victims of sacrifice in a ritual that strips our shadows away. The Eskimo, believed that their spirits resided in their shadows and that shamans had the power to steal them. Sir James George Frazer’s Golden Bough is not the only work to recount the dazzling drama of fate, or of life and death, that unfolds between man and his shadow.

Like life, death comes and goes – perhaps for a short time, perhaps longer. Narcissus’s story will continue to dominate our lives in ways that will become increasingly complicated over time; however, the camera (or, according to villagers in Sikkim, “the evil eye in a box”) seems to have reduced us, in one fell swoop, to the physics of light and shade. The objective lens seems opened to all of Nature, where all roads lead. The fact is, however, that it turns upside down once in the darkness and then is transformed into Nature.

To what extent were Katsu Kaishu,1 Baudelaire, and other luminaries of the early modern era who posed before the camera – tenuously sustained by their recognition of Nature amid a strange confusion of affectation and narcissism – aware of the evil lurking in the lens? Whatever the case, we will eventually see that, like the naked eye, the lens exists always “in its savage state.”2 We are seldom aware of the bizarre fact (or perhaps we just accept it as a self-evident truth) that both the thieves of shadows (photographers) and the thieves’ victims (subjects) are human beings.

I find it almost impossible to believe that the camera could truly capture, for example, the desire of a bird in flight at a certain moment or at any moment. All too often, the photographer unknowingly loses sight of reality, and the reality runs or rolls away, just outside the frame. Or, surprisingly, reality may be there in a corner of the image, invisible and therefore completely unnoticed. And so here I am reminded of Man Ray’s trenchant modern maxim: “Photography is not art.”

Before we even look at the Kamaitachi images, I want to stress the importance of distinguishing them from the generic concept referred to as staged photography. They are strictly, categorically, different from posed photographs of modern narcissists. If Hosoe had not met Tatsumi Hijikata, the phenomenal butoh master, he could not have created this extraordinary series. Hijikata is a man who – metaphorically speaking – can transmogrify in an instant into a phantasmagorical bird. This is not even theatrical photography, but rather a rare instance in which the camera obscura becomes a theater. And it is the paradoxical existence of the camera – which can photograph a vast void when we mean to capture a concrete object – that proves to be a stroke of luck for Hijikata, the master of movement.

Like the lens, Hijikata is a unique dancer, always aware that the “eye exists in its savage state.” 3 His “dance experience” is never a matter of leaping across a stage, pretending to be a swan: if a bird is what he has in mind, Hijikata becomes a raven. The raven plunges to the ground far below the stage. Then it runs, if it wants to run, or flies, if it wants to fly. For Hijikata, hasn’t the paradoxical vacuum dwelling in the camera become a divine machine at a certain moment? Then, voluntarily or involuntarily, we may reach the lights of purgatory, for which we have yearned, beyond the millennia of human history.

At the very least, I see here an inevitable force striving to preserve the relationship between photographer and subject. In all likelihood, no other work approaches the original meaning of the term “happening” (however simplified it may be in this case) as closely as this one. Tatsumi Hijikata uses his dance artistry to abruptly penetrate the center of the vacuum between time and space, and he descends to the ground closest to the place where we were born.

He has arrived at the vacuum’s nest, the home of kamaitachi, the “sickle-weasel.”

Today it would seem that the kamaitachi belong to legend and mythology. What are kamaitachi? Memories from my childhood flood back to me: my father was a country doctor, and several times I saw farmers, claiming to have been bitten by a kamaitachi, carried to the threshold of our house. Those were frightening moments, smelling of blood, like the first bolt of lightning streaking across a dark sky. I heard the farmers say they were attacked out of the blue, under a rice-drying rack or an ancient persimmon tree. But no one bore a grudge against that invisible weasel. In fact, a family of actual weasels made their home in the loft of the thatched shed behind our house. Every once in a while, I would see them dart across a field, always taking the shortest path and then disappearing. They lived among people but avoided them. The rumour was that the disreputable little creatures were so wary and agile that they never took the same path twice. I wonder whatever happened to them. One book defines kamaitachi as a laceration from the localized vacuum created by a dust devil. No one really knows the truth. The days of kamaitachi are long gone.

Was kamaitachi a spirit of the soil, a phantom that appeared only to farmers? If so, that invisible flying blade must have been incredibly sharp to leap through the sky and pierce flesh.

It is hard to say whether Tatsumi Hijikata is a spirit of the soil or the air; however, even before we can contemplate the question, he approaches the ground almost vertically and rushes like a gale into a farming village. This village is in a rice-growing district, where Japan’s most inconsistent and absurd social reality anomalously persists. Hijikata appears suddenly, like a hawk diving to the ground – or a kidnapper from heaven.

The god of the rice fields smiles on this scene. A faint trace of that smile is on the kagura theatrical dance mask, but it isn’t the embarrassed smile replayed endlessly on television. It is a smile that could exist among demons, a smile that was present even on a footpath between barren rice fields during a terrible famine, a startling but comical smile from the realm of the unconscious.

At a precise moment, our dancer and photographer approach a timeworn village – their footsteps only faintly audible – and they capture a brief moment in the empty village, where zinnias and other flowers bloom, coated with white soil dust. The entire village, mesmerized like a haunted house, enthrals them.

Is he a hawk that has just landed – or a leaping weasel? It is foolish to ask. It is our dancer who would be wounded. The villagers gaze at him innocently, as though he reminds them of a long-forgotten priest. They smile, without knowing why, at the arrival of the oblivious fool. Their smiles become the same smile of the footpath between rice fields. It is a smile that borders on terror.

A girl smiles like a shrine maiden whom the gods have endowed with evil and innocence in perfect balance. Were the girls born fairies? Sooner or later they will experience the orgasm of life and death. Then they will depart. Will they return to the earth or to the sky? No one knows which path they will take.

In any case, two contradictory, endless journeys await them.

Hairy vacuum! Bloody vacuum! Biting vacuum! You must continue to exist on this earth!

The desire for the heavens will inexorably lead to a desire for the bowels of the earth. Then the excrescence will head for the huge void, and vice versa. The cosmic metamorphosis that this phenomenon seeks will occur, extremely and tangibly. The vacuum theater, too, is part of the evolution.

To arrive at the source of the phantom of ecstasy, we must dig deeper and deeper, day by day.

And the witness is an instantaneous flash.”

by Shuzo Takiguchi
Translated by Connie Prener

 

  1. Officer credited with the modernisation of Japan’s navy (1823-1899)
  2. Allusion to Andre Breton’s Le Surréalisme et la peinture
  3. Ibid.,

 

Eikoh Hosoe. 'Embrace #52' 1970

 

Eikoh Hosoe (Japanese, b. 1933)
Embrace #52
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Eikoh Hosoe/Courtesy Studio Equis

 

 

Embrace

First published as a book in 1971, Embrace represents a return to the study of the human body that Hosoe undertook in earlier series such as Man and woman (1959) or Ordeal by roses (1963). In this new body of work, however, he abandoned the strong contrast and dramatic, baroque visual aesthetic in favour of the purity of the human form. Showing abstract fragments of male and female nudes in intimate placement, the series is not merely about eroticism or the dialogue of rivalry between the opposite sexes but is also a celebration of the pure beauty of the human body.

By depersonalising the bodies of his models, Hosoe attempted to reach a universal expression of corporeality. The extreme abstraction of these images focuses the attention on the flesh, which, according to Hosoe’s belief, is the essence of human beings.

The author Yukio Mishima comments on this series: ‘The viscosity which is associated with sex – those earthly odours and temperatures of soft and indeterminately formed internal organs – has been painstakingly removed from these photographs. To me this is a series filled with a hard, athletic beauty. First and foremost, it is about form.’

 

Ukiyo-e Projections

When Hosoe heard the news that the Asbestos Dance Studio, founded by Tatsumi Hijikata and his wife Akiko Motofuji, was to close in April 2003 after 40 years of activity, he felt the need to pay tribute to the achievements of this experimental studio. With the help of Hijikata’s widow, he organised a series of performances in 2002 and 2003, in which the dancers were asked to coordinate their movements in accordance with images from his own work, as well as from 19th-century Japanese paintings and woodblock prints projected on their naked, white-painted bodies.

The result of this ‘photographic theatre’ was stunning: a mysterious four-dimensional space transcending ordinary space and time was created as the two-dimensional images were projected on the three-dimensional bodies. The idea to use shunga – the erotic woodblock prints by noted ukiyo-e artists such as Utamaro, Hokusai and others – stemmed from Hosoe’s conviction that Hijikata’s archaic, ecstatic dance style had its roots in this particular art genre of the Edo period (1603-1868).

Exploring many of the themes that recur in Hosoe’s work – sexuality, the human form, movement and the passage of time – this series epitomises his unique approach in synthesising photography with various forms of visual and performance arts.

 

Eikoh Hosoe. 'Ukiyo-e Projections #2-36' 2003

 

Eikoh Hosoe (Japanese, b. 1933)
Ukiyo-e Projections #2-36
2003
© Eikoh Hosoe/Courtesy Studio Equis

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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