Juxtaposition

Was there a specific catalyst that led you to start making photographs?

In terms of art, I first became interested in looking at paintings, primarily masterpieces of modern art by well-known painters. In fact, I saw hardly any photography. Later, I used to visit the galleries at Sagacho [the Sagacho Shokuryou Building housed several galleries, including Tomio Koyama Gallery, until it was demolished in 2002] to look at contemporary art. Seeing different forms of artistic expression made me want to make something of my own. I happened to choose the medium of photography.
I started making photographs after buying a digital single-lens reflex camera. Until that time, I had hardly taken any pictures. Because I always had this preconceived notion that you needed special technical skills to take photographs, I found the simplicity of digital cameras -- press the shutter and you get a picture -- very attractive. Through daily repetition of the process of picking up the camera, shooting, looking, and thinking, I became interested in expressing myself via photography and making photographic works.

What was the sequence of events that led you to buy the digital camera?

As a magazine editor, I thought it would good if I had some practical knowledge about photography. I found film cameras a bit daunting, and digital cameras were getting better and better, so after the prices gradually came down I took the big step.
And when I started shooting, the results were better than I expected. Of course, beginners are prone to delusions and misunderstandings, but I really felt that I was making good pictures. The experimentation with the single-lens reflex didnft necessarily make me want to become an artist, but it certainly got me interested and encouraged me to explore the medium. I have an addictive personality, so naturally I started to get involved.
Then I discovered the work of artist Osamu Kanemura. I bought his photo books, read what he wrote about photography, and eventually decided to participate in his workshop. Everyone would bring in their photographs to be critiqued. By the time I started attending the workshop, I had already begun taking night photographs.

Juxtaposition-02, 2008Juxtaposition-04, 2008Juxtaposition-10, 2008

L to RF@"Juxtaposition-02", 2008A"Juxtaposition-04", 2008 "AJuxtaposition-0710", 2008
pigment print mounted on plexiglass / 48.0 x 72.0 cm@© Nobuhiro Fukui

Is there a reason behind your decision to make night scenes the main motif in your photographs?

Ifve always loved walking. Getting off the train at stations that I donft know and wandering around unfamiliar neighborhoods is one of my secret pleasures. When I was a student, instead of taking the train, I often used to straggle home on foot from school or my part-time job. I also sometimes commuted to school by bicycle. I was walking around the city at night even before I started taking photographs. Because I had this habit in the first place, once I began carrying a camera around during the day, it was only natural to do it at night also.
Another impetus was the shift -- just before I started Kanemurafs workshop -- from cropping things down to a single object towards capturing a wider, more scenic space. I didnft feel any strong incentive to go out and shoot after dark; rather, the desire to capture night scenes grew out of my need to reevaluate and reshoot the photos I had already made. Thus, in the process of allowing the photos to guide me, I arrived at my present style.

How do you choose the places you shoot and how exactly do you go about taking the pictures?

Usually, I shoot between midnight and three a.m. I try to choose cloudy nights. This is because the cloud cover acts like a reflector board and brightens up the night. The best nights are dull skies just before a rainstorm and clear windless skies.
I get around by bicycle. I donft do any roke-han [glocation huntingh]. I shoot the places I go to or come across on any given night. I want to maintain the air of the snapshot. Itfs something that would be difficult to pull off with a big four-by-five camera. I think subtle differences in shooting techniques are important because they considerably influence how the photograph will look. My criteria for choosing a place: it canft be backlit; it has to have a certain brightness from collected light; and it canft have too many distracting symbols, like street signs or billboards. I photograph places where the light is hitting me at my tripod from the side, or coming from behind me, not towards me. I also donft adjust my tripod height to suit my subject.

Juxtaposition-09, 2008Juxtaposition-10, 2008Juxtaposition-12, 2008

L to RF@"Juxtaposition-09", 2008A"Juxtaposition-10", 2008 "AJuxtaposition-12", 2008
pigment print mounted on plexiglass / 48.0 x 72.0 cm@© Nobuhiro Fukui

Do you now have a pragmatic feel for spotting and photographing places with the right light?

My approach to actual picture-taking may be pragmatic, but my approach to place isnft. I always wonder why a certain place looks the way it does. Or what makes me shoot it in such a way. First, most Japanese cities, especially Tokyo, are incredibly full of lights. At same time, however, there are many things, places, and spaces that you fail to see because itfs too bright. You try to look at something and get a face full of light. Itfs an ironic situation. In these contemporary cities that are on the go 24 hours a day, you have lots of people active at night, so you have all these lights. But because the lights blind you to many things, they actually engender a darkness, a darkness that is increasing. When we look at my photographic record of the situation, itfs clear wefve been overlooking things. Some people donft even realize my pictures were taken after dark, yet others say they show the truth of the city at night. Many of the latter are people out at night walking, or jogging, etc. As an experiment, the next time youfre out at night, try shading your eyes from the light with your hand, like you would from the sun, and see what you see. If you can let your eyes adapt to the dark, Ifm sure youfll see the city in a different way.

What exposure times do you use?

Well, it varies, but usually around a minute to a minute and a half. Since digital cameras have a better effective sensitivity than film cameras, you can use shorter exposure times. With digital, you donft have the problem of the film moving or sagging during the exposure. Also, you can shoot without worrying about color seepage or reciprocity failure [a phenomenon in long exposures whereby film sensitivity decreases and color balance shifts].
For night photography, digital cameras have more advantages than film cameras. You can also look at your picture right after youfve shot it. One problem, however, is that later you can wind up spending too much time evaluating each of the digital pictures youfve taken. At any rate, Ifm want to thoroughly explore the possibilities of my equipment. This interest has led me to develop specific techniques and modes of expression.

installation view at Tomio Koyama Gallery, 2008

installation view at TKG Contemporary ; Tomio Koyama Gallery, 2008

The title of the exhibition is Juxtaposition. How did you decide on the order of photographs for display? Did you wait to choose the order until after you had finished making the photographs?

Actually, I decide the order and composition of my exhibitions once I start installing them. In the same way I avoid location hunting, I try not to shoot with specific goals in mind, otherwise you tend to wind up with a predetermined harmony.
With this exhibition, I think there is both congruity and contrast in the display. I tried to install it so viewers could take in neighboring photographs in pairs or trios, or compare separate images. If I had framed and displayed photos all with the same sense of distance and light, I would merely have created what anyone might think of as gart works.h With Juxtaposition, however, I deliberately installed images depicting a variety of distances.
In photography, we have the gtypology method,h pioneered by the Bechers, a married artist couple in Germany. Nowadays, however, I think their technique has been reduced to a mere style that is uncritically copied over and over. The typology method was originally a means to compare and contrast similar objects by placing them in relation to one another. Afforded a closer look at the objects, we were able to better consider their shapes and significance.
By copying the typological style, but evincing no trace of the ideas behind the method, works become exercises in object-collection for its own sake. Instead of concentrating on each object depicted, the viewer just checks to make sure if the collection is complete. The work is less a group of common objects than a group of common nouns. Youfre stuck with a collection of things with the same name. The images are incapable of swaying us to consider their form or meaning. In the end, the viewer fails to see things and spaces. The intent of the art is perverted. A method that purports to help us see, but actually blinds us to things, has no meaning.
Ifd like people to better see both the things they overlook and the things they may see but canft clearly recall. In order to make my subjects more visible and to better encourage viewers to consider their structure and meaning, Ifve used approaches that diverge from the typological: in Multiplies, the images are staggered vertically; in Juxtaposition, theyfre right next to each other.

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