Are, Bure, Boke: Ishiuchi Miyako's Visceral Photography

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Are, Bure, Boke: Ishiuchi Miyako's Visceral Photography
Ishiuchi Miyako, 'CLUB&COURTS, #18', 1988-1990
Are, Bure, Boke: Ishiuchi Miyako's Visceral Photography

Ishiuchi Miyako was born on 27 March 1947 in Kirya-City, Nitta District, but grew up in Yokosuka, Kanagawa. She left home as soon as possible to go to university to study design. However, she soon failed her first year coursework and transferred to the textiles department. Notably, much of her photography centres on themes of clothing and texture. Involved in the student protests of 1968, in 1970 Ishiuchi formed a women’s liberation group with fellow students. She left university in her final year, just before she was due to graduate.

Ishiuchi’s work often addresses ideas of age and the manifestation of time on the body. One photograph led her to photograph the hands and feet of women born in the year of her birth whilst in another, entitled Mother’s, where she documented the scars of her mother’s body. Although driven by her own personal history, Ishiuchi’s work speaks of the far-reaching effects of the war on Japanese society. In her series Hiroshima she photographed the clothing and objects left behind in the wake of the atomic bomb. As Amanda Maddox has said, Ishiuchi’s ‘identity is defined by war and steeped in myth’. Continuing with the themes of time, clothing and the body, Ishiuchi undertook a series in 2013 entitled Frida in which she photographed the clothes and personal effects of the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.

Having considered giving up photography several times in her earlier career, Ishiuchi Miyako has gone on to become one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary Japanese photographers.

During the 1950s, Ishiuchi's home town of Yokosuka became the homeport of the United States Seventh Fleet, serving as a vital naval based during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The US servicemen stationed in Yokosuka were notorious for heavy drinking and prostitution and the male- dominated town profoundly affected Ishiuchi’s early work.

In 1975 Ishiuchi received a gift of some photographic equipment that had belonged to her boyfriend’s aunt. She set up a darkroom in her parents’ home and began a project to photograph the streets of her hometown that had exerted such a powerful influence on her as a child. Her study of Yokosuka would result in her trilogy of projects: Yokosuka Story, Apartment and Endless Night. The projects challenge the idea of the ‘new Japan’, thought of as the post-war era of peace and prosperity. Her work was featured in a group exhibition of ten women photographs Hyakkaryōran (‘Riot of Flowers’) in 1976 and she went on to win the Kimura Ihei Memorial Photography Award for the series Apartment the same year.

At this time the style of photography known as are, bure, boke (‘rough, blurred, out-of-focus’), as practiced by Daido Moriyama and other photographers associated with the avant-garde magazine, Provoke, was popular in Japan. Using the heavy grain produced by overdeveloping underexposed negatives, practitioners of the style sought gritty realism in order to show things ‘the way they are’. Deeply influenced by are, bure, boke, Ishiuchi’s early work revels in the fact that the photograph is made up of grains. However, unlike her contemporaries, Ishiuchi’s love of the photograph’s grain relates to its similarity to the grain of textiles. Her practice embraces the visceral quality of the chemical transformations intrinsic to the creation of photographs.

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