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The Trans-Asia Photography Review is pleased to publish summaries and reviews of symposia, conferences, panels and workshops on topics related to photography in Asia. In addition to the symposia summarized here, abstracts from previous symposia can be found in the Symposium Archive.

This issue features the following symposium:

TAP Symposium, October 14, 2011, Hampshire College

Additional symposia of note:

“Constituting the Feminine in Asian Photographies” (Annual AAS Conference, March 2012)

“Modern Media, Material Pasts: Photography and the Object of Culture in Early 20th Century China” (Annual AAS Conference, March 2012)

TAP Symposium, October 14, 2011, Hampshire College

The TAP Symposium was held on October 14, 2011 at Hampshire College. The symposium, organized by Sandra Matthews, marked the first full year of publishing the Trans Asia Photography Review, and celebrated the launch of a special issue of the journal, guest edited by Ayelet Zohar and entitled “The Elu[va]sive Portrait: In Pursuit of Portrait Photography in East Asia and Beyond”. Symposium speakers included several members of the Trans-Asia Photography Review Editorial Board, as well as individuals who had contributed to the TAP Review in other ways.

Ayelet Zohar

Camouflage, Photography and [In]visibility: Yamashiro Chikako’s Choros of the Melodies series (2010)

Yamashiro Chikako (b. 1977, Okinawa) is a young artist who created a unique installation project, combining still photography as well as video-art, titled Chorus of Melodies (2010) and recently presented at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography annual show. Yamashiro’s project evokes different layers of reading of the situations presented through her images, including social, gendered and political relations, as well as reading of her project in relation to fundamental visual questions relating to photography theory and the concept of camouflage. In the social, gendered and political context, Yamashiro’s work evokes the exclusion of women, especially older women, from social discourses and active engagement in Japanese society. The women in her work are abandoned, left unseen, dislocated into the jungle, distanced from their original families and dwellings; in a metaphoric way, Yamashiro sees these women as an emblem of the invisibility of Okinawa (as well as other peripheral locations) which are excluded from mainstream Japanese political and social discourses. The women (and men) presented in her video works call the viewer’s attention to the bitter memories of the Pacific War and the atrocities of the Battle of Okinawa, later confronted by the wish of Japanese government and authorities to erase and deny their responsibility for the horrific events.

To this I add my reading of the camouflaged, distorted images that make use of light and shade, foliage and traces of the human body, which create the photograph as a tableau of invisibility and deconstruction of the imaginary. An elaboration into the theory of camouflage in the animal kingdom and military practice is a means to understand Yamashiro’s project in a broader context of the visuality of absence, and open her images beyond the expected descriptive image in photography.

Ayelet Zohar is Lecturer in the History of Art and Asian Studies, University of Haifa

Hyewon Yi

Picturing “Picturing” — Reflexive Photography by Nobuyoshi Araki

This paper considers the image-making process of Nobuyoshi Araki (b. 1940), the Japanese photographer whose personal photography pioneered the genre in the early 1970s and influenced subsequent generations of photographers. Araki’s method of picturing himself “picturing,” or posing his subjects, exposes the latent voyeurism associated with observational or integrated participant observer photography while turning the innately voyeuristic nature of pornographic photography into a more confessional and performative genre. Araki admits to the use of a theatrical process in making the kind of picture in which his occasional presence within the camera’s frame constitutes a reflexive mediation. Araki’s picturing of picturing might be said to move the viewer to a heightened consciousness of his or her own relationship to the photographic image, thereby prompting a re-examination of the effects of realist conventions on the viewer.

Hyewon Yi is a PhD candidate in Art History at the City University of New York

Samuel Morse

Fifty Years of Shōwa : The Art of Kageyama Kōyō

Kageyama Kōyō is one of a large number of Japanese photographers whose careers began in the pre-war period and whose images are unfortunately essentially unknown in the west. Kageyama’s work spans the entire Shōwa era and is extremely varied. His early photographs captured the many facets of Tokyo as it rebuilt after the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. He then spent fifteen years working as a news photographer for the Asahi Newspapers. During this time he recorded modern urban life in Japan’s cities, documented the famines in northern Japan, and photographed many of the most significant political events of the era—the 2/26 Incident, the fall of Singapore, and the fire bombings of Tokyo. The last thirty years of his career he worked as a free-lance artist documenting the rapid and often perplexing transformations of post-war Japan. Throughout his career Kageyama described his work as “documentary photographs,” (hōdō shashin), but they were most often social commentary as well. In fact, all the photographs kept in the Kageyama archive are pasted on large sheets of gray paperboard and on most of them Kageyama wrote, sometimes at great length, his own observations about his subjects. These comments offer insights not only into the photographs themselves, but the events of the first fifty years of the Shōwa era that he witnessed.

Samuel Morse is Professor of Art History at Amherst College

Doreen Lee

Contemporary Trends in Popular Photography in Indonesia

My presentation explores the juncture between art and popular photography in Indonesia as a means of investigating new modes of identification and consumer desire by urban subjects. Indonesia is currently one of Asia’s largest growing art markets, well represented in the auction houses and gallery spaces at home and abroad. As Indonesia’s artists gain attention abroad with their self-referential, “post-modern” and hybrid aesthetics, the question of what constitutes “national characteristics” or markers of the local gain particular salience. Indonesia is also home to an active community of photo enthusiasts engaged in popular photography, often with artistic and journalistic aspirations. Yet photography is not considered a strong part of the Indonesian contemporary art world even as a new generation of photographers attempts to forge a path for avant garde photography in Indonesia. Why is photography simultaneously popular and unpopular in Indonesia? I argue that photography is the mode of representation that is most closely connected to vernacular, populist, and documentary traditions, therefore coded with social meanings that are often considered conventional or conformist when compared to the forays of contemporary art. Here I discuss the growing hold photography has over the public’s imagination, and how technology and social media have enabled popular photography to reflect the changing values of a globalizing Indonesia.

Doreen Lee is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Northeastern University

David Odo

Early Japanese Colonial Photography of the Ogasawara Islands

This paper discusses the earliest set of photographs of the Ogasawara Islands, which was produced in 1875–76, the first time the Japanese government employed photography as part of a colonial expedition. The Islands, which are located about 650 miles south of Tokyo, were originally settled by a cosmopolitan group of people who departed Honolulu in 1830 with the goal of creating a whaling station in the Islands to supply the booming north pacific whale trade. The photographs, which pictured landscapes, non-Japanese settlers, and Japanese colonial officials and sailors, were discussed as cultural and bureaucratic constructions that were integral to this specific colonial project but also implicated in larger ideas of the modern Japanese state.

David Odo is Bradley Assistant Curator of Academic Affairs, Yale University Art Gallery

Young Min Moon

The Specters of Militarized Modernity: Photography in South Korea

This paper introduces the South Korean photography of physical and psychological, or visible and not so visible traces of militarized modernity in South Korea, largely determined by the geopolitical condition of the Cold War that still grips the peninsula. The specters of militarized modernity manifest in terms of the architectural remnants, the virtual yet real bombing test sites, the hierarchies among the victims of war and the politics of burials, the gendered mobilization and the body politics in the construction of a nation-state and its citizenship. The images, as a whole, comprise the concrete evidence of the compromised state of South Korea’s state sovereignty through the entanglement of the so-called national security of the two governments of South Korea and the U.S.

Young Min Moon is Associate Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts

Stephanie Tung

Disturbing the Peace: Ai Weiwei and the Documentary Mode

An outspoken critic of the Chinese government, the artist Ai Weiwei has long used photography and film to present a very personal view of the world. In this paper, I connect two bodies of work: a set of photographs from Ai Weiwei’s decade living in New York in the 80’s and the film Lao Ma Ti Hua, 2009 (English title: Disturbing the Peace). Both works engage in a documentary mode that offers a unique, unsanctioned representation of reality which, in the Chinese context, subverts the political monopoly on surveillance.

Stephanie Tung is a PhD candidate in Art History at Princeton University

Ajay Sinha

“Reflections on Dayanita Singh’s ‘House of Love’”

My paper puzzles over Dayanita Singh’s photographs from her book, House of Love, which I saw as an exhibition in the summer of 2011 at the Peabody Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Having no decipherable theme or style, the small selection from over 150 black and white and color photographs, displayed in standardized square frames, seemed like entries in a diary or scrapbook.  My presentation considers these photographs as diary notes, that is, in whose serial form the world is objectified and miniaturized as nuggets of thought.  A preoccupation with things displayed like souvenirs on a shelf, and people appearing as if (and sometimes literally) in a diorama, leads ultimately to a proposition that Singh’s photographs are not to be seen as a record or reflection of the outside world, but rather as miniature worlds taking concrete, luminous shape in the belly of the camera itself, the real “House of Love.”

Ajay Sinha is Professor of Art History at Mt. Holyoke College

Raymond Lum

“Come Up and See Me Sometime: Why Photographs Should be Institutionalized”

“Come Up and See Me Sometime: Why Photographs Should be Institutionalized” visually illustrated how Asia photographs that are accessible in institutions rather than in private collections can be used to both verify and counter versions (and the descriptions of them) that are published in books. One example shown was Hedda Morrison’s ca. 1940 photograph of a Beijing city gate, reprinted in China in an authorized edition of her book A Photographer in Old Peking. Access to the original photo in the Harvard-Yenching Library revealed that the China publisher had removed a large portrait of Chiang Kai-shek that appears in the original photo. Other examples revealed misattributions, manipulations, and poor reproductions, issues that can be resolved by access to original images.

Raymond Lum is Librarian for Western Languages and Curator of Historical Photographs at the Harvard-Yenching Library

Ellen Takata

Lives and Deaths of a Colonial Vietnamese Hero-Villain: Ba Biểu in the Postcards of Pierre Dieulefils and Related Texts, ca. 1909–2007

Ba Biểu (d. 1909), a follower of the Vietnamese anti-colonial figure Hoàng Hoa Thám (d. 1913), has a significant presence in French colonial postcards presumed to represent campaigns against his leader, through photographic images credited to military telegraph officer Captain Péri by their publisher, Pierre Dieulefils (1862–1937), a retired soldier and one of the most prolific photographers and postcard producers in French Indochina. Seen in conjunction with writings by French officers Alfred-Léon Bouchet and Paul Chack (1876–1945), these postcard images reflect a colonial trend of aestheticizing enemies in order to disempower them. At the same time, this very aesthetic remains quietly advantageous for later Vietnamese texts that reclaim a hero from filial and sacrificial aspects of the previously recorded “facts.” Whether Ba Biểu inspired the verbal and visual treatments that he received under colonialism or was invented by them is difficult to know.

Ellen Takata is Research Associate for Asian Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

John Stomberg

Liu Zheng’s “The Chinese”

The Chinese photographer Liu Zheng worked on his epic project The Chinese from approximately 1994–2002. During this time he traveled extensively to areas of China he felt were being left behind by his country’s booming economy. His self-stated goal was to share his responses to what he found through photographs that eschewed many of the ethical principles that guide photojournalists. Instead, he created personal, poetic images that track closely to many of the major American and European documentary projects in which he found inspiration. In 2004 he published 120 images in book form, drawing the project to a close. In my paper, I introduced his photographs and discussed the book in the context of other photographic publications such as Robert Frank’s The Americans and You Have Seen Their Faces by Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White—books that also met with strong support and criticism.

John Stomberg is Director of the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum