Tucked away on a quiet residential street in the cultural district of Antwerp (Zuid) is Ibasho Gallery, an exhibition space devoted to contemporary Japanese photography with an impressive collection of collectible prints and photobooks. Conceived in the spring of 2015 by a couple, Annmarie Zethof and Martijn van Pieterson, this small gallery combines original architectural features with clean lines of the white washed walls and a homely feel, allowing for the displays to be appreciated in a casual atmosphere. It truly epitomizes the ‘ibasho’, which in Japanese means ‘a place where one can feel at home’. Both devoted to sharing their enthusiasm for Japanese photography, Annmarie and Martijn decided to swap corporate jobs and set up a space that quickly became one of the hubs of the Belgian photographic scene. Their zeal becomes infectious as they talk about striving to promote both recognised and new artists, whose images prove that there is a strong need for a dialogue about the new voices of the photographic Japan.
The show Female Force from Japan proves nothing less than that. The selection of the artists and the variety of themes and techniques it exhibits is truly thought provoking. Moving beyond the topographies of particular gender, time and genre, the photographers seem to rather embrace the potential of the medium through experiments with textures, framing and realities. There is confidence and excitement in these attempts that share a certain penchant for the surreal, the ambiguous and transgressive. Miki Nitadori for instance utilises her dual-nationality and multidisciplinary approach to consider (and to surpass) social, national and medium related limitations of the photographic practice. Focused on her unresolved identity is also Tokyo Rumando, who projects dreams and desires onto images of her posing as death, temptress and a young girl – images that engage with the viewer through their voyeuristic intensity. In this, erotically charged series titled ‘Orphee’ Tokyo Rumando becomes artist of many selves, crossing the boundaries of time and sexuality.
The otherworldly and subjective also prevail in the oeuvre of Kumi Oguro, dominated by the images of women’s faces obscured by serpents of hair. Dressed in chemises, they recollect somnambulists awoken in the middle of the dream while continuing to engage with the uncanny interiors they inhabit. Other artists’ photographs occupy more spiritual realm, like in the blurry photos of Miho Kajioka influenced by the aftermath of the 3/11 tsunami. The sheer power and unpredictability of the catastrophe made her look at the worldly things ‘just as they are’ and portray them with wonderful simplicity. Mayumi Suzuki’s pictures revolve around documenting the post-tsunami landscape covered in photographs and objects; reminiscence of communities, families and personal stories, like her own embodied in objects found among the post tsunami rubble, such as a camera belonging to her father, who perished in the waves. White washed and fading, the images and memories disappear as life moves on.
Concurrently, Akiko Takizawa is fascinated by the dichotomies between the modern fast paced Japan and its unshaken devotion to the world of the supernatural. She photographs people travelling to or inhabiting near-solitary mountainous lands that, according to ancient beliefs allow for connecting with lost relatives and friends; lands where time stops in a perfect equilibrium between life and death. Yukari Chikura’s and Mika Horie’s works are similarly preoccupied by mysterious landscapes and their transcendental appearance, yet incorporating different techniques. While Horie makes her own Japanese paper, which texture is of a sculptural quality, Chikura takes eerie photographs of hauntingly beautiful skies and snowy landscapes populated by hints of her deceased father.
Meanwhile, Yoko Ikeda, Hiromi Kakimoto and Reiko Imoto focus on the small epiphanies of their surroundings: pale pink balloons invading a kitchen, light pattern formed on a concrete wall and a woman’s shoe anonymously playing peek-a-boo with the viewer. Whereas Ikeda and Kakimoto’s pictures are light and almost transparent, Imoto’s images are more saturated, exposing the textures, angles and dramatic structures of the urban realm. Accident, chance and seizing the ongoing moment are also the key components of Mikiko Hara’s works, where the lives of random passer-by’s (mostly women), are captured without using a viewfinder and resulting in the portrait of the frenetic, fragmented world of the everyday. Shot from unusual angles and obstructed by unexpected objects, the figures are depicted when lost in thoughts and living their ordinary lives. Lives that are more evocative and multi-dimensional than we could ever imagine.