The art of photography

by Jeff Hammond and Jeff Michael Hammond

Special To The Japan Times

This weekend sees the fourth installment of “Tokyo Photo” — Japan’s first international photography fair, and now the biggest event of its kind in Asia. Since its inception in 2009, the fair has cast its net wide, and this year has more than 35 agencies and galleries taking part. Over half of them are from Tokyo, and they are joined by those from Shanghai, Berlin and Amsterdam, as well as some from New York, Los Angeles, London and elsewhere. With names such as Anders Peterson, Mika Ninagawa and Naoya Hatakeyama involved, the fair will have more than 1,000 photos on display, ranging from documentary and fashion to art photography.

With such scope, one might imagine that maintaining a focus and creating a coherent show would be a challenge, but as Louise Neri, director of the international Gagosian Gallery told The Japan Times, “One of the most distinctive characteristics of contemporary photography is its fluidity, which is paradigmatic of the times we live in. An image can start out in one context and migrate to others. Or one context can influence the reception of the same image in another.”

llustrating this point is the featured work of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, represented by Gagosian Gallery, which is just as relevant on the walls of a leading New York art gallery as it was on the cover of Vogue or The Face. Amid the ongoing brouhaha over the digital manipulation of images, from issues of truth to the portrayal of unnaturally thin women in fashion photography, van Lamsweerde and Matadin use similar techniques to different effect. They graft men’s features onto the female form or otherwise de-naturalize and hybridize the image, commenting on both our sexual identities and the representation of our bodies in the media. Tokyo Photo reminds us, though, that this kind of boundary-breaking, and surreal imagery has its roots stretching far back. The striking commercial images from the 1970s and ’80s by Guy Bourdin, which utilize narrative, enigma and intriguing juxtapositions, have long been accepted as fine art, as much as fashion photography, and they owe much to Bourdin’s mentor and teacher in Paris, the surrealist Man Ray, who himself had made the journey from fine art into fashion photography as early as the 1920s.

Neri sees the rise of digital technology today less as a threat to professional photography than as a positive development allowing more people to get involved.

“This has greatly aided general awareness and visual literacy, particularly with regard to the photographic image,” she said. “Consequently, this means that professional photographers are freer than ever before to experiment.”

See for yourself at Tokyo Photo if you agree with Neri’s observation that, as a result, professional photography has become “increasingly conceptual, nuanced, complex and subtle”.

“Tokyo Photo 2012″ at Tokyo Midtown Hall runs from Sep 28-Oct 1; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. ¥1,500. www.tokyophoto.org.