… There are no resources left but pure observation.
This is from Beyond Japan: A Photo Theatre by Mark Holborn (1991):
… Klein had overturned photography, particularly the objective disciplines of Cartier-Bresson, which were dominant in Europe. He incorporated distortion, blur, wide-angle views and grain into his vocabulary and created a new dynamic. It was a great moment in the history of the medium, as rough and roaring as the first howling sounds of an amplified guitar. The book had a kinetic form in correspondence to the dynamic of the city. It was nearer to the spirit of music or the abstraction of painting than to photography.
[line break added] The pace was like that of film, creating a cumulative layering of imagery. Purity, reduction, and the art of simplification expressed in the metaphysics of American photography from Stieglitz to Weston had been displaced by a collage effect, by density and bold graphic strokes like those of a painter. Klein had photographed a world in flux; he had found the language of chaos. For astute Japanese, he offered a strategy with which they could encounter the layers of their own chaos.
… When he [Klein] arrived there [in Tokyo in the early ’60s], all he saw were photographs that looked like his own. Such was the strength of his influence that Klein, ‘the Barbarian,’ crossed from West to East, to find the distorted mirror image of his own work. Indeed, when the Japanese printers worked on [Klein’s book] Tokyo, they missed the mid-tone greys that Klein was exploring, and they printed the work in stark black and white contrast, in imitation of his earlier work. At all levels Klein’s language was both absorbed and imitated.
While the circle of culture recycled Klein, the world he entered was as unfamiliar as another planet, where he had no scores to settle and where he knew nothing of the language or social gestures. Besides the inherent qualities of a hieroglyphic sign language and the density of the Japanese city, the street offered Klein a purely detached graphic experience. Every action was ritualized. Whether he was in the gym, at the Kabuki theatre, on a street in the Ginza, or at a sports stadium, he was observing the flow of ceremony. The city itself became theatre.
[ … ]
… Naitoh was digging like an archaeologist beneath the layers of the city to find the ghosts of Edo, the remnants of the foundations of the city. In the introduction to Tokyo (1985), Naitoh pointed out that four centuries ago, the site of Tokyo was a wilderness that grew into Edo, the largest city in the world, in the space of a single century.
[line break added] The city foundations were connected to traditions of magic with the founding of the Imperial Palace as the central axis, from which the city radiated out according to geomantic tradition. In his search for archaic evidence he found a cast of demonic characters, witches and guardians of this other world.
… Like Naitoh, Hijikata often referred to darkness as a source of the imagination. Naitoh now talks of a loss of darkness and his work has been published with an emphatically dark aesthetic. The luminous, electric city is a challenge to his archaic shadow land. More than fifty years ago Junichiro Tanizaki had defined darkness as residual in the Japanese imagination in his essay In Praise of Shadows.
[line break added] Naitoh finds a true Japan in the contradictory roles of yamabushi in the mountains of the far north and as an inhabitant of the sprawling megalopolis of the future. In Tokyo he stalks the darkest alleys where the shadow world is preserved and which the blazing lights can never reach.
[ … ]
… Sometimes, after weeks of no contact with the outside, I have walked to the densest intersection of the city and felt invisible. A huge crowd, whose language I do not speak, whose body gestures I do not fully understand, walks past me, envelops me, and shows no sign of recognition. That point is the axis, the center of the map.
[line break added] Theories of Japan are displaced by the sheer momentum of experience. The borrowed imagery of film and photographs is discarded as if I had actually entered a film and was participating on the screen I was witnessing. There are no resources left but pure observation. The city, with all its raging signals displayed around me, is an abstract wall. I engage with the inhabitants as through a filter; they hardly see me.
My most recent previous post from Holborn’s book is here.