Intimacy and photography, how much life can interact with a photographer’s work (and vice versa) : Seiichi Furuya.Posted: August 31, 2013
I am part of many discussion groups in various social network and I am very surprised that Seiichi Furuya’s name or books rarely appear in the discussions.
Like his famous Japanese photographer colleagues, Araki or Moriyama, his photo work is mainly composed of books. It is hard to know exactly how many books Araki and Moriyama have published (probably between 300 and 400 each), but Furuya’s publications are not so compulsive. He did not even published one twentieth of that and this is what make his work precious in my eyes.
Well, let’s start from the beginning. Seiichi Furuya is a Japanese photographer born in 1950 in Izu. After graduating from Tokyo Polytechnic University, he left Japan and came to live in Graz – Austria in 1975. There he met Christine Gössler and they married in 1978. They had a son in 1981. Amongst others, he worked as an interpréter and was also involved in photographic projects like Camera Austria, and introduced in the early eighties Moriyama, Tomatsu or Araki in Europe. Well, so far, you can start to think what is the point in talking about such privacy details ? The answer is very simple : because this is going to become his lifelong masterwork !
From the early days, he took pictures of his daily life, places he visited, portraits of his wife and son, friends… But pretty soon, in 1983, Christine was diagnosed schizophrenic and spent more and more time in a psychiatric hospital in Graz, untill October 7th 1985, when she killed herself . It is well understandable how hard it has been to overcome for Seiichi. So, as he kept on photographing his daily life, he started to publish in 1989 a series of book which some are called « Mémoires» which the subject was his life with or without Christine and his son. These books are :
Mémoires 1978-1988 (Camera Austria, 1989)
Mémoires 1995 (Scalo Books, 1995)
Christine Furuya-Gössler, Mémoires 1978-1985 (Korinsha Press, 1997)
Portrait (Fotohof, 2000)
Last Trip to Venice (self-published, 2002)
Alive (Scalo, 2004)
Mémoires 1983 (Akaaka Art Publishing, Fotohof, 2006)
Seiichi Furuya : Aus den Fugen (Akaaka Art Publishing, 2007)
Mémoires 1984-1987 (Izu photo, Camera Austria, 2010)
Some books may be missing, this list is not exhaustive.
All those books have their own value, and maybe we should consider the entire production as a piece of work. Their common point is probably the melancholy which is present all along the different books, but you can also consider that their subject is love and how much you can share with the other and what memories are made of. Well… life in fact! I will talk about three of them which have their specificities which I like a lot.
The first one is, chronologically, « Last trip to Venice ». It is a self published book in a print run of 529 copies. The book is about a trip the did in Venice, in February 1985, between her release from the hospital and her suicide. When you know the story, it becomes a haunting book. Furuya shot three rolls of films and one was already used so he got superimposed photographs, like if he/they were already looking back in time. A stunning book showing the last time they spent together, and you cannot avoid, when reading the book, to perceive the death, standing at the end.
The second one is « Mémoires 1983 ». This book is the diary of the year 1983, when Christine entered the hospital. The book alternates photographs and texts. The texts are extracts of Christine’s diary and the relation with the photographs makes the strenght of the book, like when Seiichi took pictures of animals in a laboratory which evokes the alienation of Christine in the hospital. Or some other photographs when Christine is laying on the floor acting like a dead corpse ! You can see the prefiguration of the years to come in some phoptographs. Here again, the death is standing by their side.
The last one is « Mémoires 1984-1987 ». It has been recently published and the difference with the others is that it shows pictures chronologically before and after her suicide. As in the previous books, we feel the death coming, but we stay with the author, who keep on photographing, to discover how he could overcome his distress. This book is a compilation of all the other books (352 pages) and maybe, if you have to buy one, this is the one ! The book is beautifully printed with a convenient size of 20 x 25 cm which allows the reader to really appreciate the photos.
Approximately in the middle of the book, you discover, first, the last letter that Christine wrote to her doctor, in which she explains her will to start a new therapy and finally accepting her illness (this letter was never sent because of bank holidays, so it remains in Seiichi’s hands), and a few pages later, a contact sheet with a caption : Postdam, October 6, 1985-Falkenberger Chaussee 13/502, Berlin-Ost, October 7, 1985. This was the day when Christine threw herself from a window on the 9th floor. In the middle of the contact sheet, you discover a view from the window with the dead body of Christine laying on the ground. On the following pictures, you see a view from the ground with a cover on the corpse, and a policeman beside. This contact sheet returns us the question of the attitude of a photographer (in this case Seiichi Furuya) who decided in such circumstances to take a picture of the dead body of his wife. I have absolutely no explanations. Maybe it was just a matter of survival for him to hide and/or look for protection behind his camera ? Maybe he needed to record the awfulness of the moment ? This enlarged contact sheet is part of a series called « the journey » which comprises 6 enlarged contact sheets of photos shot during the year 1985.
If you are looking for a cheap book as an introduction, your choice will go to « Mémoires 1995, published by Scalo which can be found for a couple of euros on internet.
All images copyright Seiichi Furuya and the publishers. Can be removed on request.
To introduce this post, let me be clear : the purpose is not to talk about the question of Google and the privacy. I am only interested by the use of Street View, and from my point of view, it has some interesting values. For instance, when I had to work for a week in Hammerfest – Norway as commissioned photographer, I entered the location in Google Maps and started a virtual visit of the place. I can have some first impressions that will start to make me think of the place and what I can do there. But, so far, it was only, for me, a tool before really visiting and working in the area.
Using Street View is a bit like living in front of a train station, you know that, pretty instantly, you can go all over the world. It is the most achieved form of teleportation as it was dreamt when we were kids, reading A.E. Van Vogt or Isaac Asimov books. If you find a place boring, you can leave and go instantly elsewhere, this is the waranty of a successful travel !
For the last couple of years, we have seen more and more photographers, or shall I say artists, using Google street view as a creative tool. They travel with their computer, seating in front of their screens and work as street photographers, catching the decisive moment praised by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
I have four examples in mind and, of course, the first one is the famous « A new American picture » by Doug Rickard, first printed as an ultra limited artist book, it became rapidly one of the most sought after book of 2010. It has now been reprinted as a trade edition by Aperture. What is interesting in this book is the reference to the history of American photography, from Walker Evans to Robert Frank or Stephen Shore. Doug Rickard tries to catch the moment, or, for better say, to select it, as the recording of the moment has already been done before. It is very convenient as the subject stay still while the photographer/catcher can adjust his framing to the exact composition he wants. This is one of the great quality of Doug Rickard’s work. More pictures here : http://www.dougrickard.com/photographs/a-new-american-picture/
Very close in its spirit is « No man’s land » by Mishka Henner (two volumes so far 2011 – 2012). It is an open edition printed by Blurb. The topic of those photographs is the prostitution in the outskirts of cities in southern Europe. On every pictures, we see women waiting for a potential client, and, as with Doug Rickard’s work, the hidden faces effect, due to Google restrictions is of a great interest considering a kind of social subject ! It reminds us popular newspapers when they add a black band on faces to avoid the recognition of people. Mishka’s site : http://www.mishkahenner.com/No-Man-s-Land
The third one is « The Nine Eyes of Google Street View » by Jon Rafman, published in 2011 by Jean Boîte Editions (same publisher as Kim Jong Il looking at things). He has been wandering in Google Street View land for a couple of years, looking for some poetic pictures of unprobable encounters. You can follow his collection of images on his tumblr : http://9-eyes.com/ and his book here : http://www.jean-boite.fr/box/the_nine_eyes_of_google_street_view
The fourth one is called « ASOUE » by Michael Wolf (for A Series Of Unfortunate Events). Here again, we find a selection of unprobable scenes from the Google world also with the use of enlargement which remind us to the pointillism period. Whatever funny are the situations, the photographs are really plastically beautiful with this dot effect. Michael Wolf site : http://photomichaelwolf.com/#asoue/1
Those four examples share one very strong idea which refers to the expression « it has been » as written by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida : reflexions on photography. In fact, « it has been » twice. First when « Google was there » (as you can find some graffitis on walls that attest that you’ve already been there) and a second time with the one, in front of his computer, selecting the « view ».
This can also be the weakness of those works. They are strongly connected to a conceptual idea which is about the recursive representation of our society working like a loop, and it sends us back to the main, everlasting question of the creativity. Who is the author ? Is it Google, or the one that comes after, making the choice and the editing. On this basis you can start to build new protocols and create new pieces of works ; we can imagine a blind man, using randomly the trackpad in Street View and selecting screens to be captured…
So here is another beautiful project that I really like a lot. I mean, with all due respect to those works above which I appreciate, this is a piece of work that fits perfectly to the Google Street View world and which is one of my favorite now. It takes the form of a blog called “Dreamlands virtual tour” and is managed by Olivier Hodasava. On Friday 14th May 2010, Olivier started to virtually travel with Street View and went first to Manchester. This was the beginning of a long story and his blog became a travelog of a world exploration, and not only a collection of « beautiful postcards ». By travelog, I mean it comes with many stories (you must read the one from Fargo to Winnipeg with Sheryl… well, you must read every posts, but I just forgot to tell you that, unfortunately, they are in French) and a great interaction with actuality and/or other people. For instance if you follow his blog, you can suggest him a move to a place you know while he is in the area at the moment. Just after the revelation of Cleveland sequestration, he moved himself, like a peeping Tom, to the house of horror ! This is the real quality of the work, because it uses Street View with its full potentiel of stimulation of the imaginary. We can recognize a place where we have already been and have had our own story there (I have been there before, I knew these people…), or even create our own new story with some crossover pictures. And, if Doug rickard was refering to American history of photography, you can find many references in Olivier Hodasava’s work especially, when he is in America, to Paris Texas or Alice in the Cities by Wim Wenders.The blog restitution is perfect for the virtual world, he drives us to a never ending (?) journey and, so far, he is in his 1111th day of travel. This becomes everybody’s dream: just traveling without settling anywhere and just looking for a new place every forthcoming day! I would love to do that in the real life!
So for everybody who can read French, just stay by the road hitch-hiking, you may see Olivier coming soon, and for sure… Don’t miss him!
And by the way… for street photographers who want to stay in their sofa, there is a Russian version of Street View with the great advantage of not blurring the faces, but fully in Russian. It is called Yandex!
All images copyright Google, Christophe Le Toquin, Doug Rickard, Mishka Henner, Jon Rafman, Michael Wolf, Olivier Hodasawa, can be removed on request.
Sean Davey (born in 1979) is an Australian photographer based in Canberra. I have first heard of him on Jeffrey Ladd’s blog (http://5b4.blogspot.fr/2007/10/four-self-published-books.html) with an article about one of his first book : Pidgin (very limited edition of 50 self published). Pidgin was a kind of road movie in the middle of nowhere which main subject was drink and drive at night…
During two trips in America, in 2004 and 2005, Sean started to document what he called America at war. It was a couple of years after that the USA engaged themselves in a war against Iraq. Just after September 11, the main part of the population thought it was rightful, but pretty soon, the minds turned themselves, leaving place for fear. Fear of terrorism and fear for the men at war overseas, in the Iraqi desert. We don’t really see war images in Sean’s work, but the war is always underlying, with pictures of soldiers, a flag, a newspaper cover… What I like in this work is that there is no beginning and no end. It is just a slice of time, a sort of instantané made by a bunch of photographs. Even if the style is completely different, there is something like revisiting « The Americans » 50 years later (maybe this was not completely ignored by Sean).
The point that I find very interesting is the way Sean Davey made his work known over the world.
In 2011, Sean did a first editing of his work which was supposed to become a book. He started to work on a sequencing of his images and started to organize them in a book form. This original document was published as a pdf file on his internet site, with a link to dowload it. Assorted with a recommandation to print it by your own whatever technique you want to use. It was an italian A4 size with one picture per page, so you always have two photos facing each others. I did my own print of the cover and the back (including colophon) on an enhanced matte poster board by Epson (very thick) and the inner pages on laser copy paper. I used a spiral binding, very convenient to open and to look Inside. As requested, I sent some pictures of this home made book to Sean, who sent me back a number of print (I was number 3). I finally got an elegant personalised book, numbered and electronically signed.
Two years later, in 2013, Sean had kept on working on his project and redid sequencing to produce a new book which was offset printed in a limited edition of 150. This book is slightly smaller (15 x 23 cm) and vertical oriented. With this version the cover is different and you only have one picture every two pages (a photo on the right, a blank page on the left).
To compare the two editions, I would say that the first one was larger and, for that reason, more convenient to enjoy the photographs (particularly for the landscape oriented ones), and I like the idea of two images, facing each others in a book, which increases the sense of the two. On the opposite, the laser printing is hard for the shades and we loose a lot of details in the dark. The pictures in grey values are as good as the offset edition but it is definitively true that offset process is more faithful to the original prints. The difference in the sequencing is interesting too. I mean, no one is better than the other, it is just different. And I like the idea that it could be the same journey and the different sequencing is just the different choices you make when you arrive at a cross. You can turn left or right, and the events will appear in a different order, but finally, the journey and the story are the same, it is just organised differently in your memory.
And, by the way… the photograph which the book was named from, does not appear in any of the two editions. You’ll have to order the special edition with print and the image will magically appears as a beautiful argentic print on fiber paper in a plastic pouch.
In conclusion, we see more and more self published books in a very limited print run. With globalization, it is not bad, and we can, now, buy books from all over the world and be aware of every book published. I have to say that I have been seducted by this way of promoting a work, and even if this remains a single example, I really like my own DIY print, and it is the perfect companion book to the regular edition !
More info on Sean Davey : http://seandaveyphotographer.com/
And The Photography Room where you can buy Sean’s books : http://thephotographyroom.com.au/artists/sean-davey
All images copyright Sean Davey, can be removed on request.