April 24: How can the effects of sweeping change be represented in the small photographic frame?
Fotogalerie Wien, Währinger Strasse 59/WUK, 1090 Wien, Austria opens a group exhibition Raumkonzepte (Spatial Concepts) tonight at 7pm, continuing until 27th May. Also on this date in 1940 Issei Suda was born in Tokyo, the spaces of which he photographed from an unusual perspective.
Fotogalerie Wien’s show includes documentary videographer Alfredo Barsuglia (Austria), performance artist Melanie Ender (Austria), installation artist Jonas Feferle (Austria), multimedia artist Markus Guschelbauer (Austria), video artist David Muth (Austria), another video artist Swen Erik Scheuerling (Denmark), and documentary photographer Mihai Şovǎialǎ (Romania) who is of interest here when compared to Issei Suda.
In his photo series, Production Areas, Mihai Şovăială (*1993, Brașov) represents a changed economy in Romania since the end of the Communist era through depictions of the spaces left by factories and industrial plants demolished when industries moved on to countries with cheaper labour and automation.
Romania had been a major exporter to Russia and the economy flourished as a result. The production centers generated the development of cities around them, with entire neighborhoods dedicated to workers that were recruited from the older urban sites. The large numbers of people attracted from surrounding centres meant that they, in turn, atrophied.
In the post-communist era a vacuum was formed by these now empty sites which became an opportunity for the new owners to sell out to speculators and developers encouraged by the new economic politics.
For now however, these empty spaces remain, voids amongst the large residential communities that once formed around them. Şovăială adopts a consistent strategy of finding a high vantage point from which to encompass the site using a wide angle lens to enhance the resulting perspective and to push the surrounding buildings to the margin. The square format that he employs intensifies the centralised composition, his focus on the emptiness of these places stripped bare.
Within several it is possible to trace the roads and pathways and decipher the shape of buildings that are now mere ghosts, distinguishable only from their sunken basements or planes of concrete slab. Their rawness and neglect, that wilderness is reclaiming, stands in contrast to the surrounding grid of high-rise structures and smooth tarmac, the orderly movement of traffic and the cultivated gardens.
Today these sites, once thronging, thriving factories, have been temporarily forgotten, fenced off from view. Mihai Şovǎialǎ’s vantage points on these empty spaces enable the viewer to question why functioning infrastructure has been condemned to become a wasteland. He thus renders visible fundamental changes politics and economy that have transformed Romania.
Issei Suda also represents urban spaces in a state of flux and transformation. His book Human Memory, was created during the 1980s during a time of migration of enormous numbers of Japanese from their traditional village and towns to cities, especially Tokyo which burgeoned to a population of over 30 million in this period; since then, the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, which is spread over 3 prefectures has a population that is estimated to be over 36 million as at 2016. Thus the greater Tokyo area is home to 25% of Japan’s population, and it’s the most populous metropolitan area in the world.
Despite this, in Issei Suda’s street photos in Human Memory, people are seen in isolation, detached somehow, a little like the actors of Nô theatre.
Indeed, his history is with Japanese theatre; in 1967 after graduating from the Tokyo College of Photography in 1962, Suda began work as the stage and publicity photographer for Tenjo Sajiki, a theatrical troupe directed by poet-playwright Terayama Shuji. The troupe sought to express the mysterious side of everyday life.
Issei Suda was not part of the famous Provoke Group but was sympathetic to the Kompora movement, also formed in the late 60s which was quite the opposite of Provoke. Kompora derives from English words “contemporary” and “photography” of the title of the exhibition Contemporary Photography: Towards a Social Landscape (1966) at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Provoke photographers set out to smash rules of composition with radical defocus, grain, and tilted, seemingly random framing.
Kompora photographers embraced order and the fine print and shared with Provoke only a desire to distinguish themselves from press photography. As a result there is a cool objectivity and an absence of fiery emotion in Suda’s imagery, though he is not uninvolved; he applies a sense of precision in concentrating on common, everyday images and events to discover things that are extraordinary and mysterious.
His earlier series called Fûshi kaden, which he published in 1978 discourses on tradition and modernity, for which Suda recorded traditional festivals – called matsuri – in rural areas, not for nostalgia, but in a search for a quality of Japanese traditional culture in which the people, often young girls in costume, were the unconscious actors in a play of his own devising.
Having worked as a freelance photographer from 1971 Suda taught for many years at the Osaka University of Arts. He was recognised in the USA with inclusion in an exhibition Japan: A Self-portrait at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York in 1978. Since then he has had over 75 solo exhibitions, mainly in Japan, and his work is featured in numerous major museum collections around the world, but like many Japanese photographers it was his photobook publications that counted for recognition in his home country, especially monographs Fushi Kaden (1978), My Tokyo 100 (1979), Human Memory (1996) and Minyou Sanga (2007).