Unresolved Parts in Photobook Layers

“Hundred Steps And Thousand Stories” at National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

poster for Kiyoshi Suzuki

Kiyoshi Suzuki "Hundred Steps and Thousand Stories"

at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
in the Chiyoda area
This event has ended - (2010-10-29 - 2010-12-19)

In Reviews by Erika Raberg 2010-11-21

The exhibition “Hundred Steps and Thousand Stories” at the National Museum of Modern Art presents work from Japanese photographer Kiyoshi Suzuki’s thirty-year career in a way that is as unconventional and Suzuki himself. A central element of Suzuki’s work is the medium called the photobook, which he constructed layer by layer and published himself. The structure of the show parallels this spirit in which Kiyoshi worked and presented; rather than focusing on isolated images, the show highlights the process itself. Published books, dummy books, collages, sketches, and hand drawn plans for future shows — each of these objects are granted equal weight when we view Suzuki’s work. In this way, we are invited to consider the sum of all of the unresolved parts, of what it means to engage with the world through photography.

Kiyoshi Suzuki, from the series 'S Street Shuffle' (1983)

The show presents the contents of all eight of Suzuki’s photobooks: “Soul and Soul” (1972), “The Light That Has Lighted The World” (1976), “Mind Games” (1982), “S Street Shuffle” (1988), “The Ship of Fools” (1991), “Southern Breeze” (1992), “Finish Dying” (1994), and “Durasia” (1998). Whether shooting mining towns, the circus, wanderers, foreign countries, or his parents, Suzuki’s images reflect his intimate dedication to addressing self-exploration, sense of place, and conflicting social landscapes. Lyrical and surprising, Suzuki’s work engages multiple voices from past and present. Within a single series of images, we experience the real and the imaginary, dreams and memory, and the space that emerges between them.

Kiyoshi Suzuki, Collage from the series 'Mind Games' (c.1982)A distinct characteristic of Suzuki’s work is the integration of elements besides his own photographs into his photobooks. In “Southern Breeze”, for example, Suzuki integrates Polaroid prints of old erotic photos and portraits found at various curiosity shops. Suzuki also places an excerpt from ‘Semmenki (washbowl)’, a poem by Kaneko Mitsuharu, at the beginning of the book. In the series “Finish Dying”, Suzuki engages old images with new images by incorporating photographs of his parents in their youth into current images. The English title is handwritten on the cover by influential American photographer Robert Frank, a longtime friend of Suzuki. Suzuki’s last photobook, “Durasia”, exemplifies this approach, the book itself being an attempt to see Asia through Duras’ literary world. In it, Suzuki compiles photos from his travels to various countries, a poem by Kuraishi Shino, reproductions of older photobook dummies, photographs of the exhibition venues, and even a lithograph portfolio.

Another interesting element present in Suzuki’s work is the tension between photographer and subject. New ideas about photography were developing in the Sixties among contemporary Japanese photographers, a movement that would come to be known as kompora. As described by curator Rei Masuda, a primary concern of the time was the notion that rather than pursuing the act of photography according to a preconceived principle or contention, the only way to realize a photographic expression was to investigate and develop a relationship between photographer and subject, one that was grounded in ordinariness of everyday life.

Kiyoshi Suzuki, from the series 'Durasia' (1997)This dynamic is particularly apparent in Suzuki’s first book, “Nagare No Uta” (Soul and Soul) which he began while still a student at the Tokyo College of Photography. In his debut series, titled “Tanko No Machi” (Coal Mining Towns), Suzuki returned to the Joban Mine near his own hometown and over the course of time began to integrate himself into the community. Suzuki gained special access as someone who had grown up in the area, creating images simply of daily life over an extended period of time. This way of shooting was complicated, however, when Suzuki learned of an explosion at the Utashinai Mine and immediately traveled to the site. New questions arose, then, questions of what the role of a photographer as documentarian might be in the face of a social justice issue, when shooting with an urgent message.

In viewing Suzuki’s work, we can appreciate the resonance of the un-manicured image and the compelling questions each image poses.

The National Museum of Modern Art’s “Hundred Steps and Thousand Stories” successfully pays tribute to the life and work of the late Kiyoshi Suzuki, a life that certainly appears to have been full of earnest curiosity, a unique way of engaging with the world, and, of course, an incredible photographic eye.

Erika Raberg

Erika Raberg. Though raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, otherwise known as “the birthplace of American liberty,” Erika has often found herself in many a non-East Coast locale due to an incessant desire to try new things and learn as many foreign languages as possible. After gaining a solid foundation in Indecisive Studies during her undergrad, Erika’s wanderlust landed her in Tokyo on a two-year fellowship through the Oberlin Shansi Foundation. Erika spends her days teaching university students, hauling around her delightfully archaic large format camera, and seeing as much art as the hours of the day will allow. » See other writings

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