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Friday, August 2, 2013

Inose Kou: "Visions of Japan" (1998)

Photographs by Inose Kou (b. 1960, Saitama Prefecture) possess an eeriness that is deeply unsettling. Interestingly enough, when looking at the forty black-and-white images entailed in the 1998 publication entitled Visions of Japan. Inose Kou [1] it becomes evident that a profound presentiment of death, illness and evil manifests itself not only in the images of dissecting rooms or dead tree stumps, but overshadows even those captured moments that would normally be regarded as images of joy and vitality. Thus, the portrait of a newborn girl still attached to her mother by the umbilical cord, a flower in full bloom or small waves washed up calmly on a shore gain an unexpected uncanniness that is not easily apprehensible.
Inose Kou: Visions of Japan (1998).

However, simply referring to these images as modern examples or memento mori or "shock photos" would be a premature proposal and undermine the work's distinctive qualities. After all, let us consider e.g. Roland Barthes (1915-1980), who in the mid-1950s criticized that a selection of supposedly shocking journalistic photographs on display at the Musée d'Orsay failed to leave a lasting impression on him because he perceived them to be too constructed and deliberate in trying to impose a certain idea on the public. On the contrary, in Inose Kou's photography it is precisely the overall uncertainty of meaning, despite the frequently stage-like character of his work, that ensures not only a long-lasting interest but arguably also an emotional and physical affect on the viewer. 

Inose Kou: Visions of Japan (1998).

Regarding this, Ito Toshiharu wrote in his preface for this book that Inose's photography expresses the kind of fear children feel when confronted with something they have not yet encountered. Since memories of this kind are difficult to be described accurately with words, access to the photographer's oeuvre is most likely to be found on an unconscious level. This assertion could be reinforced by the fact that Inose seemingly tries to refrain from a predictable visual vocabulary. Consequently, he does not disclose every detail about the circumstances in which his photos were taken or on how they should be perceived or read. In doing so, he distances his style from that which Barthes condemned as "the international language of horror" and instead offers his audience a chance to freely investigate his images in relation to their very own personal inner feelings. 

Inose Kou: Visions of Japan (1998).

Inose's unique visual style stems from a very sophisticated technique of dodging and burning that enables him to create high-contrast prints in which he highlights certain compositional key elements comparable to spotlights on a theatre stage. In a few photographs this process is done so drastically that the accentuated subject matter starts to glow and in one case even seems to dissolve into an immaterial state. The result might be best described as a kind of ghost image; a notion that very well suits Inose's apparent subject of interest - the transition of everything from life to death and vice versa. 

Inose Kou: Visions of Japan (1998).

After graduating from the Osaka University of Arts in 1983, Inose started working on his first series of photographs entitled Dogura Magura. The series' title refers to a novel of the same name by the horror author Yumeno Kyūsaku (1889-1936). The book's story, in short, revolves around a first person narrator who allegedly murdered his mother and wife. Suffering from amnesia after waking up in a mental hospital, he is unable to proof his innocence but seeks help from the medical staff to regain his memory. The series, which is also part of the volume presented here, was first featured as a three-part magazine serial in Photo Japon from April to October 1986 and republished several times until 1989 in a couple of other magazines. In 1993, Inose was awarded the New Photographer Prize at the Ninth Higashikawa International Photography Festival and was featured in Japan's seminal photography magazine Déjà Vu for two consecutive issues that same year. Until 1996 a number of solo-exhibitions were held in Tokyo, Higashikawa, Montreal and Essex and the photographer furthermore participated in several group exhibitions in Japan and Austria. Unfortunately, since the publication of Visions of Japan in 1998 there seems to be no significant artistic output by Inose that can be registered outside of Japan.


[1] The book was part of an ongoing series realized by Korinsha Press under direction of Ito Toshiharu and edited by Motoo Hisako. Among others Visions of Japan also featured the work of Toshio Shibata (1998), Tōmatsu Shōmei (1998) and Moriyama Daidō (1999).