Where does photography currently stand?

The shift from an analog/optical landscape into the world of digital/data is not necessarily a tragic phenomenon. For example, there will always be those who dwell in the world of old photography in order to fulfill his or her sense of nostalgia. However, for those in the new generation of photography, there exist many who see this accident within the history of photography in a radical fashion.
The once mature photographic aesthetic, which grew in correspondence with the history of painting, has certainly been deconstructed. However, the digitization of photography has also rekindled the original potential of photography as a form of media art. The ripples of this atavism can reach the world of analog as well, encouraging people to revisit processes such as pinhole photography and the cyanotype.
The early days of photography’s transition into the digital era saw many primitive digitally composited photographs. There even was a formulaic pattern, equating any digitally composited photo as contemporary art during the art-bubble era of China, where documentary photography was historically the main- stream. And, it was not long ago when a slew of photographers, such as Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson produced many “photographs” in the likes of surrealist paintings. The question we must ask ourselves is: can we truly categorize these impetuous photos as photography? These digital composites were immediately appropriated by commercialism, quickly making large-scale, huge-budget photos that carefully used set pieces obsolete. These digitally perfected composites, which once lived solely in the realm of still photography, quickly became available for video as well. Before anyone could even debate the possibility of “composite photography’s place in art,” commercialism swiftly branded it as a consumable commodity. With this came disillusionment, since rarely did digital manipulation elevate the altered images into the realm of photography. Instead, these images were regarded simply as well made illustrations.

There seems to be a deep divide between young Japanese photographers of the 90s and the 2000s that went unnoticed at first, but has gradually deepened since. The 90s saw a so-called “new color photo revival” exemplified by Takashi Homma’s TOKYO SUBURBIA. The emphasis was put on the narrative of “photography as a way of life;” an approach made popular by Nobuyoshi Araki. For the digital-native generation of the 2000s, however, Takuma Nakahira and Daido Moriyama’s photos and ideas published in Provoke magazine in 1969 acted as the conceptual trigger. This digital generation applied the radical questioning of the medium proposed by Moriyama and Nakahira in the 60s to the transition between analog and digital. These young photographers sought to understand the origin of photography as a medium, and set off on a mission to expand the depth and domain of photography, instead of pursuing the unknown via digital composition. This, in essence, reset the rigidly held assumptions of the photographic medium.
Taisuke Koyama, a young photographer who visited the disaster-stricken Tohoku and photographed the rubble, says the following about his resulting piece, Elements:

“The concept behind my piece, Elements, a series I have been producing since 2012, is the indeterminacy of photography. The dimensions of the photographs, the number and the selection that composes the grid, the size of the exhibition, placement, exhibition format, the mood; every aspect of the series can be varied. The piece changes form depending on the exhibition, since everything is fluid. This was an exercise in taking the limits and variability of digital photography as a positive, and was also a discovery of the possibility of iteration. I put this into practice starting in 2009 with all of the variations of the series, Rainbow Variations.”
The digitization of photography has transcended the catastrophe that the medium faced and created new potential for materiality in photography. I must stress here that this is something entirely different from the attempt to get collage and graphics admitted into the realm of photography, like we saw with the revival of abstract photo that developed out of the photogram.
For example, as Kazuo Yoshida says, the codes that one can find in an image become further entangled as technology and culture advances. In this sense, Yoshida’s attitude is a fairly basic one: “If one sees the current state with the framework of the possibility/impossibility of recognizing concrete/abstract forms, you can say I am interested in untangling the loose strands of a complex knot, and tying that strand onto a different one.” However, seeing the current state of how things are, it seems far more difficult to properly interpret the context with such a safe framework.

Recently, Takashi Kawashima strengthened his critical attitude( strong “impulse towards photography”)with his piece, Unfinished Topography, Collection. Kawashima compressed data and made use of the digitally occurring images produced by 3D software. Kawashima describes his process as follows:

“The world provides us with unlimited possibilities of interpretation; however most visual experiences of the past are only shown through one perspective. Temporal and spatial relationships come into play here. 3D conversion (using parallax and 3D data) has the potential to visually materialize the world for us. Much like how an object found at a flea market can show you a new perspective on the world, a photograph is also an object (a world) that used reality as a sensor. Generating an image through 3D conversion allows us to discover new values and foresee what lies ahead, instead of looking at the past with tired eyes.”
Lastly, I would like to finish this piece by introducing Kenta Cobayashi, one of the youngest currently working in Tokyo. Until recently, he had been living in a shared apartment in Shibuya, in an environment where producing photography was commonplace. This provided him with a borderless space in which he and other people, photos and graphic design, and other goods fluidly crossed over. This is a digital-native generation that breathes digital manipulation of images like air. Data is usually thought of as insubstantial, Cobayashi says, but digital manipulation of images using software reveals the underlying rules and algorithms, which is, in essence, what photography is. He continues to say:

“Photography is interesting because the medium creates an illusion that the image is the photograph. But, in reality, photos are simply objects that have taken shape in some form. Therefore, the form of a photo can always be in flux. This is important to keep in mind. For me, photography is like a life form. All objects are always in constant flux, but the reason why life forms are always changing has a specific function: to reproduce and to survive. The way in which photos circulate, how they are scaled-down or magnified, how its data is overwritten as its reproduced...all of this seems very similar to how life reproduces itself. I suspect that some of the photos that I have created will continue to shift forms, outliving me for a while even after I die.“

Cobayashi considers digital photography an ever-evolving life form. For him, photos are neither a simulacra, nor a record of reality. A photo is an entity in itself̶something that has obtained hyper-materiality. Whether a photo lives inside of a monitor, or outputted as matter, as a t-shirt, décor, or object is only a small detail. WWI created dada, and shifted the gaze of the art world to see objects. Then, Hans Arp created a new form of life out of the ruins of war. I am curious to see what kind of creature or mutant Cobayashi or Kawashima will make. Tokyo photography will continue to advance in this way.

Shigeo Goto/ G/P Gallery

This text is the short version from “hyper-materiality on photo” published from art beat publishier. Please take a look this important book about japanese comtemporary photography.
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