I am new to photography. I have “been a photographer” for a little more than two years, and was press-ganged into this medium via a work project (“who is going to take all the photos for this fundraiser?” I asked). I used a colleague’s DSLR that spring (2014) and bought a camera later that summer. The only formal education I have in still photography came when I was 9, making a pinhole camera out of an oatmeal box, and doing some rayograph experiments in a darkroom (props to my elementary school). I have almost no background in the history or aesthetics of photography and am still delighting in being a beginner, aided by the wonderful advances we have made in commercial camera technology, and the affordability of really incredible vintage lenses on the 2nd hand market.

There have been a few historical photographers who I’ve gotten a good vibe with, Ernst Haas, Saul Leiter…and recalling Walker Evans from a course in Documentary Film & Literature back in college. Exploring further I discovered the Provoke photographers out of Japan in 60s and 70s and found what I would consider a strong aesthetic approach, the kind of stylized expression informed by the physical realities of the medium and production tools, that I wasn’t seeing a lot of. Takuma Nakahira’s For a Language to Come is a beautiful expression of this movement in its first moments, and there are many photographers from that group/era who have had successful & well documented careers, and once you recognize the parameters of the aesthetic, the influence of Provoke is still quite visible today. I was, and am, not interested in copping that style, but it was good to see something whose aesthetic identity is in broad strokes identifiable, especially when my phone brings me it’s own photographic aesthetic movements whenever I open an app.

Last summer Aperture published a particularly lovely issue titled Tokyo which focused on historical and contemporary photography from Japan. Work by Takuma Nakahira was covered, as well as a range of really exciting work from contemporary photographers. I highly recommend this issue, it’s lovely and quite diverse. The cover features dark, bracing, impressionistic image by Takashi Homma, and the issue highlights his current practice with a small group of great reproductions.

Homma captures these hazy, deamlike images by constructing large camera obscura out of available rooms throughout Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles (as I can identify from the book), covering all windows except for a single hole. This is my understanding from the blurb at Mack Books and the writeup in Aperture.

Takashi Homma uses fragments collected in camera obscura constructed in metropolitan areas of Japan and the US to build a city image by image. Homma does not seek to index any particular city but to render a shadow world, a city’s unconscious caught in a dark chamber, suspended in the camera’s box. The camera obscura offers a repetition, like the reflection shimmering in Narcissus’s pool. The narcissistic city is a city transfixed upon its own image – a mirror city, laced with repetition (modular) and reflections (glass). A city looking at its reflection, a city caught in a dark chamber, a city observing its camera obscura inversion – flickering inside the camera’s box.

My opinion is that these images are great, they are impressionistic yet concrete, evoking much of my memories, dreams and hallucinations as someone who grew up in a large city (Chicago), and lives in a larger one (NYC, which Homma captures brilliantly in water towers, a series of the Chrysler building’s spire, and views of lower Manhattan). Much of the work is collaged together, creating dissonance, and the publication features a number of three or four panel gatefold reproductions. You may guess I think it’s lovely.

While I provided a brief description of Homma’s process, I really don’t know how it works, much less what it looks like. What it does do, at least in my understanding, is echo some central ideas from the realms of music that I pass through, namely location recording, presence of site or ambient noise, and the use of place in performance, recording and process. To say nothing of repetition and collage. I haven’t quite sorted out the parallels between the practice of field recording and photography, they don’t line up so neatly, but in this new work from Takashi Homma combines a lot of these ideas (as I interpret them) and issues them in bracing and impressionistic compositions. This vivid, physical sense of experimentation and play with process, materials and composition is something I simply hadn’t seen executed in such a pleasing and inspiring fashion in the photographic work I have encountered in this still early adventure.

Mack Books UK:
http://mackbooks.co.uk/books/1113-The-Narcissistic-City.html

Aperture also has a very nice collection of Takashi Homma’s earlier work focusing on Tokyo, in a volume appropriately titled Tokyo:
http://aperture.org/shop/takashi-homma-tokyo-book

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