… these pictures impress us not as a comment on experience, or as a reconstruction of it into something more stable and lasting, but as an apparent surrogate for experience itself, put down with a surely intentional lack of reflection.
… It has been said (repeatedly) that photography is a universal language. In fact, however, photography is merely a universal technique. To speak of it as a language is to ignore the fact that its meanings (unlike those of Greek, or algebra, for example) cannot be translated with any acceptable degree of precision into other languages. It is surely clear also that only in its most pedestrian and utilitarian functions does photography approach universality of meaning.
Most of the meanings of any picture reside in its relationship to countless other and earlier pictures — to tradition. In the case of photography, this tradition is so short, complex, and chaotic, containing so many rapid changes and apparent contradictions, that even the best of photographers — who are generally more alert than anyone else to the content of this tradition — comprehend it only intuitively and fitfully. As practiced by its most talented and original workers, photography is not the lingua franca of our age, but perhaps the most underground of all the arts.
… Both in form and subject matter, “serious” prewar Japanese photography (meaning that work done with aesthetic intention) imitated the aspect of the traditional pictorial arts. Subject matter was typically pastoral, lyric, thoroughly familiar, and philosophically acceptable. Visually the pictures were constructed of neat and simple graphic patterns, favoring a strong planarity and a submerging of specific detail.
[line break added] Even contemporary subjects were seen from a safe psychological distance, which bathed them in a mist of contemplative noninvolvement. Ironically, these photographs were probably imitations of the work of Western photo pictorialists, who had themselves learned most of what they knew from a third-hand Japonisme. After the war the inadequacy of this tradition would have been evident to any serious photographer.
… The quality most central to recent Japanese photography is its concern for the description of immediate experience: most of these pictures impress us not as a comment on experience, or as a reconstruction of it into something more stable and lasting, but as an apparent surrogate for experience itself, put down with a surely intentional lack of reflection.
[line break added] In the visual arts, it would be difficult to name an artist who more closely approaches the ideals of automatic writing than Daido Moriyama, and even the highly systematized and conceptualized work of Ken Ohara seems designed to exclude, rather than reinforce, conscious critical or aesthetic interpretation.
spread from Ken Ohara‘s One, 1970
… One can assume that photographers of other countries will appropriate — and domesticate for their own uses — that which is of greatest value to them. And one can hope that Japanese photographers will continue to explore the exhilarating possibility that — in the arts at least — there is after all more than one world.