Jury Review / Jury Committee 2012

Commentary on the Selection of the 28th Higashikawa Photography Awards

One year has passed since the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. Recovery is still a long way off for the people and places where the worst damage occurred, and the psychological damage will also take much time to heal. Those of us who were not seriously affected feel almost embarrassed at our inability to imagine the extent of the sadness and pain of the victims. This has been a year when people thought more seriously than ever before about their family and friends, their relationships with other people, and their native country of Japan. What do we want for the future of our society? What do we need to do? Everyone must resolve these questions for themselves as they move forward. If we shift our point of view a little, however, as we look at the world, we can find quite a bit of positive news. In particular, we can be grateful that the Higashikawa Photography Awards will be held again this year, almost as if nothing had happened.

 The judging of this year’s Higashikawa Photography Awards was quite exciting. A large number of photographers were nominated for awards, and many of them have been nominated year after year. The jury began by confirming the criteria for judging with all members present. Along with talent and ability, we were interested in relevance to the present, something connected with issues that concern us this year. Not all of the works have this quality. Only one of the five awards, the Hidano Kazuemon Award, was determined by a unanimous vote. For all the others, the vote was split, and extensive discussion was required to make a final decision. Even so, once the choices were made, it became clear that this year’s exhibition would feature a fantastic group of photographers and be extremely interesting.

 The Domestic Photographer Award went to Taiji Matsue. Matsue had already won the New Photographer Award in the Higashikawa Photography Awards of 1996 with photographs that directly reflected his background as a student of geography. His recent work, cell, is reminiscent of the film, Powers of Ten, by Charles and Ray Eames, which shows the differences in phenomena at different scales. He selects “people who happened to be photographed” from the billions of particles in the galaxy of images he has taken on large-format film. These images do not reflect the artist’s ego but are selected from the universe created by an optical system. The people who have become subjects are completely unaware of the camera, and the images seem to have been blown up from satellite photographs. In a recent solo exhibition, Matsue experimented further with digital moving images. The viewer watching these pictures on a high-resolution video monitor must pay close attention to notice any movement. They are moving images that appear to be still. His recognition this year was due to his unique approach, which might be described as a critical stance toward systems of photographic and moving images.

 Next is the New Photographer Award, always a highly contested prize. This year, as usual, there were many candidates for the award. After a lot of debate, the award was given to Rieko Shiga. Shiga received the Kimura Ihei Memorial Photography Award in 2008 and in 2009 established a residence in Natori, Miyagi prefecture, where she had lived while preparing for an exhibition. She became the official photographer of the Kitagama district of Natori, and she was there when the great earthquake struck Miyagi last year. Beginning in June of last year, she gave a series of ten lectures at Sendai Mediatheque as a prologue to an exhibition there, describing her encounters and conflicts with people in the local community in the process of making her work. Reading the record of these lectures, we get a good idea of Shiga’s total immersion in these events and how she continued working with tremendous resilience in spite of problems and misunderstandings. Even when she was working in the area hit by the earthquake, she maintained her unique style, providing her own vision of the conditions she found. Shiga is one of the most impressive photographers working today.

 The Special Photographer Award is given to a photographer working in Hokkaido. This year it was awarded to Makiko Ui, who has been taking documentary photographs of the Ainu people for many years. She has already won a number of prizes for her book, Ainu, Sometimes Japanese, a photo report on the Ainu living around the Tokyo area. Last year, she published Ainu: Portrait of the Wind, a book of photographs focusing on an Ainu woman living in Nibutani taken over the last twenty years. The Japanese people are a mixture of peoples who have moved here from many different regions, and it is now understood that we are not a homogenous race. The Ainu are the native people who once inhabited the region from northeastern Japan to Sakhalin. They appear in Japanese history under the name Ezo. Like the Kumaso in the south, they were given by this name by the Yamato court, and they have a long history of discrimination. Because these facts are seldom taught or discussed in official discourse today, this careful photo documentation of a minority in modern Japan is extremely valuable. These gentle photographs can make a significant contribution to the building of a new society.

 Then we have the Hidano Kazuemon Award. This year quite a few photographers who have already passed away were nominated for this prize, and this issue came in for considerable discussion. The award is given for distinguished long-term achievement, spotlighting photographers connected to a particular region, so it is not necessarily limited to living photographers. We agreed, however, that it would be best to give it to a living photographer if possible, and Yoshikazu Minami was chosen by a unanimous decision of all the judges. Minami is from Chichibu. Although he received professional training in photography in Tokyo, he continued to live in his hometown and painstakingly recorded the customs of this mountainous area during the period of rapid economic growth. His work reveals the many changes that have taken place there over the last 50 years. His photographs are exquisitely crafted and stylish, and he has won many awards. The image of the worn and weathered Hand of a Twenty-year-old Girl in the photobook, Chichibu; 30 Years, silently expresses the harsh conditions of life in a mountain village in 1963. This “girl” is now 71 years old, but the photographs do not age. Minami’s photographs have an expressive power that lets them speak to us as if they had been taken only yesterday.

 Finally, there is the Overseas Photographer Award, for which we considered photographers from Turkey this year. Based on the extensive research of one of the judges, Michiko Kasahara, we narrowed down the field of candidates and, after further discussion, chose Arif Aşçi, a photographer rooted in Istanbul. Istanbul is located on the Bosporus strait, a pivotal point between East and West. Situated at the boundary between Europe and Asia, it has a 2000-year history as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Osman Turkish Empire. A quiet but dynamic city, it has been buffeted by events in the history of both Christianity and Islam. Arif Aşçi’s panoramic photographs skillfully capture light and darkness, as if in reference to the turbulent history of the city. His photographs usually contain something, such as a cat or a seagull, that suggests the passage of time, but the handling of light and shade in the overall landscape gives it a timeless, lyrical quality that captivates the viewer. Aşçi’s black and white pictures produce a maximum effect as photographs with minimal means. This basic photographic strength, exerted with only a small amount of visual information, was a decisive factor in making up the minds of the judges.

Tokihiro Sato
member of the Higashikawa Photography Awards Jury

The 28th Higashikawa Award Winners

Overseas Photographer Award
Arif Aşçi
Domestic Photographer Award
Taiji Matsue
New Photographer Award
Lieko Shiga
Special Photographer Award
Makiko Ui
Hidano Kazuemon Award
Yoshikazu Minami

The Jury Committee of the 28th Higashikawa Awards

  • Katsumi ASABA <Art Designer>
  • Keiichiro HIRANO <Novelist>
  • Michiko KASAHARA <Photo Critic>
  • Yuri MITSUDA <Art Critic>
  • Aki KUSUMOTO <Critic, Curator>
  • Kazuyoshi NOMACHI <Photographer>
  • Tokihiro SATO <Photographer>
  • Hiroshi YAMAZAKI <Photographer>

Juries of the Past

  • Yoshio Watanabe, Photograper, 1st-10th
  • Kazuko Koike, Creative Director, 1st-10th
  • Koen Shigemori, Photo Critic, 1st-8th
  • Keisuke Nagatomo, Art Director, 1st-10th
  • Masao Yamaguchi, Anthropologist, 1st-10th
  • Shoji Ueda, Photographer, 2nd-11th
  • Ikko Narahara, Photographer, 4th-13rd
  • Kikuji Kawada, Photographer, 12nd-17th
  • Shigeichi Nagano, Phogotrapher, 11th-22nd
  • Kohei Sugiura, Graphic Designer, 11th-23ed
  • Tetsuya Chikushi, Journalist, 11th-23rd
  • Osamu Hiraki, Photo Critic, 9th-23rd
  • Koko Yamagishi, Photo Curator, 9th-24th
  • Aomi Okabe, Art Critic, 17th-26th
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