Gallery Past Rays, Yokohama, 2009 Private collection, Tokyo
About this print:
This photograph was taken in Yokosuka, a small port to the south of Tokyo, where the photographer Ishiuchi Miyako grew up during the 1950s on the site of a large American naval base. During these years of military occupation Yokosuka was infiltrated by American culture, and in turn the visual landscape reflects the struggle between local and foreign, past and present and the uncertainty of Japan’s future identity.
Here, we see a close up of the back of an American (possibly a service-man?) wearing a denim jacket embroidered with a skull and crossbones and the words ‘USS Rathburne’ and ‘You’ll Never Go Again!!’ as he is about to cross the road. The ambiguity of the scene is highlighted in Ishiuchi’s choice of angles and cropping. It is known that she photographed from a moving car at times, often taking pictures whilst her subjects were not looking. In Yokosuka Story Ishiuchi often exposed the photographic paper for long periods of time, sometimes up to thirty minutes, turning skies that would usually appear white into a dark and grainy grey. This long exposure time can also be seen as related to her desire to transfer onto each image the entire memory of the experience of shooting the picture.
This print is from the series Yokosuka Story, which was first exhibited in 1977 and which was to be the first of a trilogy of photographic series that each explore different aspects of the town's public and private spaces, united by the artist's distinctive photographic approach. It is thought that this is the first print that Ishiuchi made from the negative - there are other examples in the J Paul Getty Museum and the Yokohama Museum of Art. This print is in perfect condition and so it is a rare example of an excellent vintage print from one of Ishiuchi's most significant early series.
Ishiuchi Miyako (b. 1947) began her photographic career shooting familiar streets and buildings in her hometown, Yokosuka, which had been transformed during the post-war period into one of the largest American naval bases in the Pacific. For over ten years, Ishiuchi documented this alien presence, capturing traces of the Occupation that lingered decades after the war had ended, and charging her work with a subjectivity which blended personal and political awareness.
Ishiuchi was immersed as a student in the radical political climate of Tokyo at the end of the 1960s. Contemporary identity politics and debates surrounding self-expression encouraged Ishiuchi to reflect upon her fraught relationship with Yokosuka, and in 1976 she returned to the town she has characterized as a place of fear, grief, resentment, and disorientation. Although Ishiuchi is only physically represented in these early series once, as a shadow, she has commented that these photo books, concerned with Yokosuka and its history, are “totally personal […] My very own skin, born in the darkroom.”
For Ishiuchi, the physical process of creating prints, which she taught herself by experimenting in a dark room she set up at home, is of critical significance. Her coarse-grained, monochrome style from this period has been compared to the are-bure-boke ('rough, blurred, out of focus') style popularised by Daidō Moriyama. This distinctive aesthetic was praised by her mentor Tōmatsu Shōmei, and has been celebrated in numerous exhibitions in her home country, and internationally, at institutions including Tate Modern, ICP and MoMA.
More recently, Ishiuchi’s work has continued to record material traces of the passage of time, turning her lens away from locations towards the bodies and personal belongings of people. Her series Mother’s (2002), in which she documented her mother’s possessions as a means of coming to terms with her death, was selected to represent Japan at the 2005 Venice Biennale. This led the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to invite her to capture everyday objects which had belonged to victims of the atomic bomb. The Museo Frida Kahlo commissioned Ishiuchi to photograph Kahlo’s possessions, held in the museum archive (Frida, 2013). Ishiuchi has been the subject of solo retrospectives at the Getty and the Yokohama Museum of Art. Her accolades include the Kimura Ihei Memorial Photographic Award, the 50th Mainichi Art Award, and the Hasselblad Award.
Ishiuchi, Yokosuka Story, Tokyo: Shashin Tsūshinsha, 1979 Ishiuchi, Mother's 2000-2005: Traces of the Future Tokyo: The Japan Foundation, 2005, p. 75 Ishiuchi, Sweet Home Yokosuka 1976-1980, New York: PPP Editions, 2010, n.p. Ishiuchi Miyako: Hasselblad Award 2014, Berlin: Kehrer, 2014, p. 12 Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows, Los Angeles: Getty, 2015, pl. 12, p. 44 Ishiuchi Miyako: Grain & Image, Yokohama: Yokohama Museum of Art, 2017, pp. 228-229