L'Officiel Art

Made In Japan: Ten Photographers To Watch

From Monika Mogi to Kenta Cobayashi, these bright young talents prove their country's rich history of innovative photography to be as vibrant as ever.
Reading time 7 minutes
Photo by Fumi Nagasaka

Japan is a hotbed of creativity, as anyone who follows Paris Fashion Week, enjoys art history, or is a film junkie knows well. From Hokusai's The Great Wave to Rei Kawakubo's avant-garde creations and everything in between, the country's artistic talents have an established record of innovation and display why Tokyo has become such a popular cultural center in many respects. Photography is no different, as the country has a rich and forward-thinking history with this field, and the brightest young talents continue to impress with work that mediates between beauty, commentary, and abstract narrative. L’Officiel USA invited Dashwood Books’ manager, Miwa Susuda, to curate a portfolio of ten Japanese photographers to watch, each with practices that reflect Japan’s ongoing reputation as a center of innovation in photography.

Lieko Shiga

For her most recent body of work, “Human Spring,” Shiga continues her exploration of the aftereffects of the deadly 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. As with her earlier series, “Rasen Kaigan,” (2012), Shiga once again explores Miyagi prefecture, a region devastated by the effects of the disaster. Known for her images that evince a mystical sensibility—with an emphasis on exposure, color manipulation, cross-processing, and the introduction of light-based effect—Shiga’s current series picks up where she left off, charting how communities have adapted to, but still live with, the events that occurred on that fateful day.

FROM THE SERIES “HUMAN SPRING,” 2018–19

Naohiro Utagawa

The photography of Utagawa is, in many instances, an extension of the artist’s interest in sculpture and mixed-media installations, while also investigating the nature of duration and temporality. In his 2013 series “DAILY,” Utagawa photographed his father every day for a year, then drew or painted on each resulting printed image. Meanwhile, his 2016 series “YARD” presents a series of images that depict the artist’s various assemblages, often made from found materials, evoking a lineage that includes the likes of Kurt Schwitters and Isa Genzken.

FROM THE SERIES “YARD,” 2016

Momo Okabe

Okabe has made a name for herself with a body of work that straddles the worlds of fine art and fashion, having shot editorial stories for the likes of Garage and Libertin Dune. Her 2014 monograph, Dildo, was an explosion of sexually infused, colorfully hypnotic images, a Japanese take on Larry Clark’s Tulsa that depicts the lives of two of Okabe’s friends and lovers, known simply as Kaori and Yoko. Dildo announced Okabe as a bold new voice in Japanese photography, and since then, she has gone on to create works that push at and question notions of sexuality, a topic that remains very much taboo in Japan.

FROM THE SERIES “DILDO,” 2014

Eriko Masaoka

Quotidian, for Masaoka, is ample ground for experiencing the sublime. Following her graduation from art school in 2005, the artist took to motorcycling across Japan and exploring the country’s many remote villages and communities. Masaoka’s eye for the candid, often incongruous realities that arise from daily life results in images that are seemingly spontaneous manifestations of subtle celebration. A butcher’s block with a severed head. A young woman walking in the snow, white flakes suspended mid-fall. The image of an eye on the TV. Each of Masaoka’s images delight the viewer by evincing an uncanny world seemingly right in front of us.

FROM THE SERIES “IN THE FLAP OF A BIRD’S WING, WATER DRIES UP,” 2016

Yoshiyuki Okuyama

Tokyo-born Okuyama exemplifies a new generation of Japanese photographers, and his presence is duly noted by his large following on Instagram. With several publications already to his name, including his 2019 monograph Los Angeles / San Francisco, Okuyama has been compared to the likes of Ryan McGinley and Stephen Shore. To be sure, his images depicting youthful adolescence in scenes typical of teenage life, combined with vividly colored snaps of everyday moments, call to mind the high-profile comparisons.

FROM THE SERIES “A LIGHT UN LIGHT,” 2018

Monika Mogi

With a career that has already included shooting campaigns for American Apparel and rocker Kim Gordon’s line of clothing, several exhibitions of her work, the publication of numerous zines, and profiles in the likes of Frieze magazine, Mogi has gained international recognition for her vivid, highly stylized photographs depicting Japanese youth culture. Switching back and forth between fashion editorials for the likes of Vogue Japan and her fine art career, the self-taught photographer has rapidly become one of the most high-profile and sought-after young creatives in Japan.

Daisuke Yokota

Yokota's work resists easy definition. The photographer’s first publication, a 2012 zine entitled Back Yard, comprised images that the photographer repeatedly printed and re-photographed, sometimes repeating this process ten times. The resulting images are noted for their bleached aesthetic and visible grain. The materiality of photographic reproduction is, for sure, apparent in Yokota’s practice. And like in the works of Walead Beshty or Wolfgang Tillmans, it would seem that the opportunity to allow chance interruptions to occur in the process of creating a photographic print is, for Yokota, key to subverting its mechanical function.

UNTITLED, 2016

Kenta Cobayashi

The Tokyo-based Cobayashi is known for works that utilize a variety of digital effects and computer software to distort and abstract his photographs. Beginning with an image—which may feature a landscape or portrait—Cobayashi “tags” his photographs, a process in which he alters the image in order to foreground what he views as the “hand” of the artist. Cobayashi cites everything from Buddhism to ’90s computer games as his artistic inspirations, finding in both elements of repetition, dissolution, and heightened notions of perception—all of which inform his approach to questioning and reconfiguring the image-making process in the age of digital media.

 

ORANGE BLINDED #SMUDGE, 2016

FROM THE SERIES “TEENAGE RIOT,” 2018

Fumi Nagasaka

Based in New York but born in Nagoya, Nagasaka’s images reflect the photographer’s dual fascination with both American and Japanese youth culture. Her most recent publication, Teenage Riot, published in 2018, follows a group of four young women from Canada, Japan, and the US, depicting her subjects in highly stylized, yet seemingly candid images. With her photographs appearing Stateside in publications like Dazed and T Magazine—not to mention shooting the Louis Vuitton pre-Fall 2020 look book—Nagasaka’s profile is decidedly on the rise.

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