Introduction: Writing Photo Histories
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First the news! I am delighted to notify you that after this spring, the Trans Asia Photography Review will be moving to Toronto. There it will be ably guided by a new editorial team consisting of three extraordinary scholars: Deepali Dewan, Yi Gu, and Thy Phu. All three have already been actively involved with the journal as authors and editors. Their collective expertise and ideas will bring the TAP Review into an exciting new phase. Stay tuned!
Now, welcome to the Fall 2019 issue! The mission of the Trans Asia Photography Review is to publish writing about the many histories of photography in Asia — to encourage deeper exploration of what is already in view and investigation of what is hidden. But how should this rich array of practices and influences, coming up to the present moment, be represented? How should facts, theories, and interpretations of photography in Asia be written?
This issue of the TAP Review — Writing Photo Histories — offers diverse models of research and writing. Photography is examined as a means of poetic expression, as an activist tool, and as a form of record-making, both personal and instructional. These “categories” often overlap.
Che Liang’s write-up of the Shanghai Amateur Photographic Society details fundamental facts (who, what, when, where) about an active early photographic organization run by foreigners in China that has not, until now, been studied. His fact-finding approach offers a basis for future research and study.
In his essay on photomechanical reproduction of works of art in Chinese periodicals, Yanfei Zhu takes a very long view, first going back to the twelfth century and placing photography in the longstanding Chinese practice of reproducing artworks. Zhu presents photography as a technological tool functioning, in this case, in the service of ideas about “national essence,” and mediating between Chinese traditions and Western modernisms.
Mallika Leuzinger also looks at modernity but, interestingly, in the context of family-centered photographs made in Cochin, India. Gender is a significant factor in her study, as the photographer in question, Haleema Hashim, was a Muslim woman working at a time (primarily from the 1940s into the 1960s) when her identity invited both limitations and opportunities. Leuzinger is contributing to an exciting and growing body of work on family photography.
In Jane Simon’s discussion of the work of the contemporary Japanese photographer Mikiko Hara, gender is a subtle factor among others. Simon concentrates specifically on two photobooks, exploring Hara’s paradoxically intimate engagement with urban spaces. Simon’s in-depth focus on the working methods of an individual artist enables her to both engage and transcend Hara’s specific life context.
On the other hand, Sebastian Galbo’s review of the Japanese artist Takashi Homma’s photobook entitled Trails deftly places Homma’s project in relation to Japanese calligraphy, ancient and contemporary history, and mythology. Homma’s photographs of the bloody trails left in snow by wounded deer are interspersed with photographs of his paintings, each of the two media combining physicality and abstraction in different ways.
Amandine Davre deals with the physical properties of the photographic image in an even more direct way, discussing the work of three contemporary Japanese photographers — Masamichi Kagaya, Shimpei Takeda, and Yoi Kawakubo — who responded to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima by making images using radioactivity itself as the “light” source. These disturbingly poetic images offer visual evidence and a pathway for thinking about the continuing effects of national trauma.
Karin H. Zackari also deals with long-term national trauma in her discussion of Luke Duggleby’s photographic series For Those Who Died Trying, which memorializes the Thai activists who have been and continue to be “disappeared” by the Thai government. Zackari is interested in methods of documentation that go beyond simply representing violence and can open up a fuller discourse and the possibility of action.
Kaeun Park’s substantial overview of “Everyday Life Photography” in postwar Korea engages deeply with political history, parsing the ideological roots of the photographic movements that arose in the complex period of Korea’s emergence from war and colonialism. She connects this work with international movements, and finds social critique within photographs that some have considered to “simply” represent “everyday life.”
Alessandra Amin reviews the catalogue for Our Land, curated by Anthony Hamboussi. The exhibition deals with land, power, and politics in the Middle East/West Asia; its participating photographers are each personally connected in some way to the Arab diaspora. Amin unpacks the meanings of individual images and thoughtfully discusses the exhibition’s implicit premise of “insider” vs. “outsider” perspectives.
This issue’s diverse explorations of the visual, material, technological, social, psychological, and political aspects of photography in Korea, Thailand, China, India, Japan, and the Arab diaspora remind us that it is vital to approach photographic histories in a pluralistic way. How should photo histories be written? In all these ways and more! Carefully researched and well thought-through narratives inform one another; the writings here draw on work from the past and lay the groundwork for future thinking.
This spring will mark the completion of the first decade of the TAP Review. The spring 2020 issue will look back over the past ten years and ahead to future challenges and possibilities.
In the meantime, please browse, read, and look at the photos in the current issue, tell your friends and colleagues about what you see, and visit us on Facebook.
With best wishes,
Sandra Matthews, Editor