Author Archives: Alana Celii

Daido Moriyama And the Cultural Landscape of Post-War Japan

Youth culture, through revolt, unabashedly asks us to question and confront our historical and cultural traditions. In post-war Japan, the explosion of the taiyozoku or sun tribe—a term for the youth sub-culture that emerged in the 1950s—was seen by the older, conservative generations as crude and violent. Flooded with new imagery from the West, there was a break in the connection to the past and thus a rejection of traditional values. Affected by the nouvelle vague Western youth and media, the taiyozoku were pictured as promiscuous and nihilistic, throwing their cares to the wind.

Arriving in Tokyo in 1961, Daido Moriyama began photographing the seedy streets of Shinjuku, a ward ravaged during the war. Although the Shinjuku of today is best known as the economic and commercial center of Tokyo, it still retains a revolutionary spirit that started in its post-war bars and red-light district. Moriyama’s high-contrast, gritty depictions capture the energy native to the neighborhood, creating a visual history of Tokyo’s youth throughout one of its most combustible phases in history. It is this power that shapes Moriyama’s work, creating an unfolding visual testament to the cultural landscape of post-war Japan.

A new exhibition pays tribute to Moriyama’s four decade relationship with Shinjuku, which serves as a photographic act of memory and desire. In Fracture: Daido Moriyama, opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on April 7, these notions are explored through a selection of prints and books, as well as recent color work. Moriyama began his career in Tokyo assisting the photographer Eikoh Hosoe. Hosoe was a member of the influential artist collective VIVO, which served to capture the significant cultural and structural changes within Japanese society. In line with this method of working, Moriyama began to roam the streets of Shinjuku and, since the early 1960s, has been witness to the ever-changing and expanding post-WWII landscape—a fractured, strange world that oscillates between time and space, reality and fiction.

Fracture: Daido Moriyama is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from April 7 through July 31.

Hiding in the City with Liu Bolin

The relationship between the state and society in China has been ground for producing controversial works of art such as the iconic photograph of Tank Man — the lone civilian standing up to the People’s Liberation Army in Tiananmen Square — or Ai Weiwei’s Study in Perspective, both of which seek a spiritual redress in their defiance of authority. In this sociopolitical tradition stands the work of the Beijing-based artist Liu Bolin, who employs photography as a means to explore the Chinese national identity while silently protesting its government. His series Hiding in the City was born out of the governmental eviction and subsequent destruction of his Beijing studio in 2005. As a result, Liu began to use the city around him as a backdrop, painting himself to blend in with a landscape in constant flux. By literally blending into the city, Liu, who considers himself an outsider, creates a tension that challenges the viewer to question what is on and beneath the surface.

Liu’s Hiding in the City series, along with other work by the photographer, is currently on view at the Eli Klein Fine Art gallery in New York City. For Liu, the most important element of his images is the background. By using iconic cultural landmarks such as the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, or the remains of Suo Jia Village where his studio was housed, Liu seeks to direct awareness to the humanity caught between the relics of the imperial past and the sleek modern monoliths of the 21st century China. Each image requires meticulous planning and execution: as both artist and performer, Liu directs the photographer on how to compose each scene before entering the frame. Once situated, he puts on his Chinese military uniform, which he wears for all of his Invisible Man photographs and, with the help of an assistant and painter, is painted seamlessly into the scene. This process can sometimes take up to 10 hours with Liu having to stand perfectly still. Although the end result of Liu’s process is the photograph, the tension between his body and the landscape is itself a manifestation of China’s incredible social and physical change. Simultaneously a protester and a performance artist, Liu completely deconstructs himself by becoming invisible, becoming a symbol of the humanity hidden within the confines of a developing capital.

Liu Bolin is a Chinese artist whose work has been shown around the world. The exhibition Liu Bolin: Lost in Art will be on view at the Eli Klein Fine Art gallery in New York City through May 11.

‘On Hollywood’ and ‘She’: New Work by Lise Sarfati

Since 2003, Lise Sarfati has been traveling across the United States, particularly on the west coast, photographing adolescents and women against the vernacular of the American landscape. The exhibitions On Hollywood and She, opening Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at Rose Gallery in Los Angeles, juxtapose subjects against an allegorical landscape that shifts between the real and the fictional. On Hollywood focuses on Los Angeles, while She explores Oakland, but both touch on the notion of fluidity within feminine identity. “I wanted to represent a woman who is both vulnerable and strong, oscillating between promise and despair,” Sarfarti said of her inspirations. “I wanted to give these women a voice, or rather, an image.”

Created from 2009 to 2010, On Hollywood features young women against the backdrop of Hollywood—a fabled place that during its golden era represented the hopes and dreams of aspiring stars. The girls are often pictured in classic Hollywood spaces, dressed casually, but they appear as if caught in an off moment.  Sarfati is very precise about who she photographs. The girls juggle multiple jobs—most are dancers. “They are always in motion, and have a particularly difficult life where dependencies on men and drugs merge,” Sarfati says. “[They are] women at the mercy of a strange fate.”  The landscape of Hollywood is barren. The women appear lost, unaware of the viewer’s gaze and immersed in their own illusions of the Hollywood myth.

Sarfarti’s earlier series, She, created between 2005 and 2009, is an exploration of two sets of sisters: Christine and Gina, as well as Christine’s daughters, Sasha and Sloane. The series documents their relationships during a period of transition. At the time, Sasha and Sloane had moved from the conservatism of their grandparents’ home to an alternative lifestyle in their mother’s Oakland loft. In an period of re-invention and under the careful gaze of Sarfati’s lens, the girls try to find their identities—Sloane often changes her appearance and seems to enjoy being photographed whereas Sasha, when pictured, is pensive and almost melancholic. “The sisters are isolated, they are alone,” Sarfati says, “It’s the fusion of these four solitudes that creates the series and the story.”

The two older sisters, Christine and Gina, are also also searching. “The mother, Christine, as she appears in my photographs, is threatening, terrifying, but also mysterious and fascinating. She is no longer protective. She is strong. She is independent,” Sarfati says. The older pair of sisters change their hair styles and jobs. Christine is pictured gazing absently in a wedding dress—all four women are constantly in flux. “The women in She reflect one another until you can no longer tell them apart. The only gaze possible is the gaze of the images between themselves,” Sarfati said. “I don’t particularly like mises en scènes. I prefer the search for truth.”

Lise Sarfati is a French artist living and working in the United States. Her two new exhibitions On Hollywood and She open on Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at the Rose Gallery in Los Angeles.

Silhouettes in the News

Prior to the invention of photography in the mid-19th century, the silhouette was considered an effective and inexpensive way to record a person’s likeness or capture a scene. Although the practice can be traced back to the early 17th century, the term ‘silhouette’ derives from the harsh policies of the French finance minister Étienne de Silhouette.

The silhouette reduces an object to its most basic form. Its historical uses in art can be seen in the paper cuts of Hans Christian Andersen and the artwork of Kara Walker. In photographic terms, the silhouette is created in situations where the subject is backlit. It can be used to hide a person’s identity or play up their distinctive features, and its graphic form is often used artistically to photograph sport and dance. It heightens drama, adds atmosphere and makes a banal scene into a graphic wonder.

More than 200 years ago, the silhouette was the foremost way to document one’s appearance, but it’s still widely used in photographic frames today. From capturing the Costa Concordia to presidential primaries and pilgrims, LightBox looks at the use of silhouettes on the wires this month.