‘Noguchi Rika: The light reaching the future’

by C.B. Liddell

Izu Photo Museum
Closes March 4

One of the main reasons painting moved away from the representational and figurative in the 20th century was because of the invention of photography, the previous century. But now photography, too, seems to be moving away from the position it usurped, as some photographers try to use the medium in a much more subjective and tangential way.

One of these is Rika Noguchi, a Berlin-based Japanese artist who enigmatically seeks to photograph “matters that can only be seen by her.”

Through an intimate retrospective of her work, the Izu Photo Museum in Shizuoka Prefecture allows us to explore Noguchi’s quietly evocative photography. She uses effects such as blurring, asymmetry, ambiguous close-ups, decontextualization, and long-distance shots in which figures are reduced to ciphers — and the results are often poetic.

Ostensibly much of it looks dull and pointless until you understand that she is attempting to capture moments, moods, and sensations in her own mind, rather than photograph scenes using a conventional aesthetic sense — though, occasionally, as with “A prime #17” (1997), she manages to succeed in doing both.

The title of this series of photographs, which show aspects of an ascent of Mount Fuji, is taken from “prime numbers” because such numbers are indivisible. For Noguchi, this is significant because it implies the images cannot be reduced, categorized, or explained in other terms. They are what they are, slivers of her own experience; things that are seen and normally forgotten but which her shutter and lens have stubbornly preserved.

Is she just being overly precious, or is her work a rebellion against the incessant flow of time that obliterates all that it can’t reduce to simplistic patterns or readily repeated icons?

The Izu Photo Museum is part of the Clematis no Oka facility, a 25-min bus ride (free shuttle-us service available) from Mishima Station, JR Tokaido Line; admission ¥800; open 10 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., closed Wed. For more information, visit www.izuphoto-museum.jp.