Exploring the powerful visual poetry of Japanese photographer Michiko Chiyoda

Michiko Chiyoda

It’s fair to say that Japanese artist Michiko Chiyoda is one of the more exciting photographers in the world right now. In little more than a decade, she has managed to earn features in multiple specialized magazines and her work has been showcased already in dozens of solo and group exhibitions in Tokyo.

Chiyoda’s work is characterized by gentle, introspective scenes that invite the audience to gaze at her visual compositions like one savours good poetry.

For these strikingly beautiful photographs full of silences and lingering thoughts, she has been the recipient of various accolades and distinctions, one of them being included in 2016 by Dodho Magazine in their list of 15 Talented Asian Photographers.

She’s most regarded for her black and white work but is currently delving into a colour series based on traditional Japanese calligraphy.

We had the pleasure to chat to Michiko about her art, the meaning of life and death, and her technical workflow.

Michiko Chiyoda

Can you tell us a bit about how your career as a photographer began? What drove you to take pictures in the first place? And are there any photographers in particular that have influenced your style?
“I majored in design at an arts university, where I also studied photography. After graduating, I went from working at an advertising agency to working in the public relations department of a photography-related manufacturer, where I started taking pictures. I started my very first solo exhibition as a photographer in 2002.

“I started because the thought of being able to get my hands on all the wonderful pictures in this line of work really fascinated me, and also because I wanted to create my own photography work.

“My latest solo exhibition took place in January 2019. In total, I have had 6 solo exhibitions since the beginning of my career. I also participate in annual group exhibitions.

“I have been influenced by Takuya Tsukahara, a teacher from my university, who I respect and have always been grateful for. As far as Japanese artists are concerned, I have been influenced by Shoji Ueda and Eiko Hosoe.

“My favorite non-Japanese artists are Josef Koudelka and Roger Ballen.”

Michiko Chiyoda

Can you tell us about the technical aspects of your workflow? How big of a role does digital post-processing play in your photos?
“Currently, I mainly use a full-sized digital single reflex camera. What’s so attractive about using a digital camera is the fact that you get to print your work on various sorts of paper.

“I like to print photos on washi – traditional Japanese
paper. At the moment, I am making great efforts to create stunning prints.

“Digital editing is an important process, and I do a lot of digital editing to adjust the images before they are printed.

“I take most of my pictures in natural light.”

Compared to still photography, are there any differences in your creative approach when working on video?
“I came up with the videos I have made so far as a way to gain a better understanding of still photography. In keeping with this habit, in the future, I would like to come up with independent work that is even better.”

Most of your work is black and white or features highly desaturated colors. What is the role of colour — or its absence — in your work?
“Basically, I like black and white photography. I like to take figurative objects, use them as symbols and turn their messages and emotions into visuals.

“I think it is much easier to do it this way since the information on the screen is as organized as possible. This is why most of my work is black and white.

“Also, when it comes to making past stories, events, and memories as the motif of my work, I find it appropriate to work with black and white or sepia.

“I do plan on making some work with colours in the future.”

Michiko Chiyoda

When you’re peeking through the viewfinder, what makes you press the shutter? What makes you feel that’s the moment you need to capture?
“Even when I have decided what sort of pictures I will take, I usually let my feelings run loose when I am actually capturing images. I don’t really think about whether I can turn the pictures taken into actual work; I just shoot what comes to me naturally.

“What I am trying to say is that when I press the shutter, I don’t just consciously take pictures based on a predetermined theme. My pictures are, from time to time, taken to capture those intangible things that you just can’t quite put into words or those things that you just can’t put your finger on.

“So, before I actually go out there and shoot, I do have expectations as to what sort of pictures I will be taking, but when I am actually there and come across scenes that affect me, I feel as if I can connect with the land on both a conscious and unconscious level, and this fills me with a strong sense of gratitude.”

Michiko Chiyoda

Death and the passage of time seem to be constants in your body of work. What drives you to explore these themes?
“All living things die at one point or another, and as such, death is a fate that no one can avoid. I call this fate – one where everything will be gone, including my very own life, where everything is so unfair, where we realize how limited and powerless we are – ‘Sadness’. Mujokan – roughly translated as ‘a sense of the vanity of life’ – is the term with which ancient Japanese people referred to all of these aspects of mortality. They learned to deal with Mujokan and to live with it with empathy and consciousness.

“One theme I have been working on is ‘the power with which those left behind empathize with sadness and understand Mujokan’.”

“I started producing full-scale work in 2000. This theme has always vaguely existed in my work, but I guess it wasn’t until the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, during which I lost my parents and friends I loved so much, that I became fully aware of this theme and started creating work based on it.

“In memory of those who lost their lives in the earthquake, and with strong empathy for others who have lost their loved ones, I made “OSHICHI” from 2014–2016, and “Starting a New Journey” from 2016 to 2018.”

How do you think technology will change the concept and very meaning of death in society?
“I have visited a long-term care hospital, and I will never forget what I saw there – beds lined up in rows, filled with elderly patients who couldn’t move by themselves, and a place devoid of all signs of life, with only the sound of life support machines beeping away for company.

“For them – those who couldn’t do anything but lie there in their beds – the most advanced medical devices that continue to improve every day, thanks to scientific advancement, have been keeping them alive. We have been trying so hard to shun death, and this is one of the results we are getting.

“In the future, with the development of technology, not only will we be able to extend our lives, but it might also be possible for us to manage and choose our own way to die as part of our freedom to live in a way of our own choosing.

“Going from our current society, where we live until we die, to one in which we can all choose to die – with such a shift, even death shall become efficient, and death itself and the deceased shall gradually disappear from society.

“I feel a sense of resentment due to the fact that the deceased have been treated and managed as mere numbers, and that the world is on its way toward becoming one in which the deceased will no longer be thought of nor mourned.”

Michiko Chiyoda

Michiko Chiyoda

In your view, what makes a ‘good’ photo?
“I respect the ideas of Eugene Smith as follows: I consider photos with such power to be ‘good’ photos. ‘A photo is a small voice, at best, but sometimes – just sometimes – one photograph or a group of them can lure our senses into awareness. Much depends upon the viewer; in some, photographs can summon enough emotion to be a catalyst to thought’ – W. Eugene Smith, quoted from Magnum Photo.

Michiko Chiyoda

7 Reasons You Need ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate (Sponsored)

In the early 1990s, digital photography was just beginning to make waves, and few companies had caught onto the massive sea change on the horizon. In those years, digital cameras were available mostly to professionals, commanding high prices ranging from $1000 to $30,000. Many established brands continued to focus their energies on film.

Even back then, however, a man by the name of Doug Vandekerkhove knew something major was about to happen. In 1993, he founded ACD Systems International Inc., an independent image editing company for the digital generation. The next year, the first version of ACDSee gave users the ability to view and manage their digital files in a way that was previously inconceivable.

A Portrait of Power and Resistance Among One of Africa’s Last Hunter-Gatherer Populations

Living in Kenya’s Mau and Mont Elgon Forests are the Ogiek — one of East Africa’s last hunter-gatherer populations. The name “Ogiek” means “caretaker of all plants and wild animals,” in acknowledgement of their way of life: hunting wild animals, collecting fruit, and practicing beekeeping in the trees for centuries.

Their ancestral homeland, the Mau Forest Complex, home to 30,000 Ogiek, is the main water catchment area for numerous rivers that drain into five major lakes including Lake Victoria, the third largest fresh water lake in the world. In recent decades, human encroachment for agriculture, tea plantations, charcoal, logging, illegal and poorly planned resettling of other tribes have devastated the forest complex, making the area vulnerable to soil erosion and flooding.

In 2017, after eight years, the African Court of Human and People’s Rights’ decision recognized that the Kenyan government had violated the Ogiek’s right to their ancestral land, and demanded that the community was appropriately compensated — but the government has done little to pay reparations for their violations.

In December 2018, Slovak/Hungarian photographer Diana Takacsova was introduced to the Ogiek, through Minority Rights Group International, an NGO that worked closely on the court case. Here Takacsova shares The Ogiek, a story of identity, culture, resistance, natural resources as a political struggle and an interconnected ecosystem that influences the life of millions.

Cody Bratt captures the beautiful self-destructive nature of love in his book Love We Leave Behind

Cody Bratt

Cody Bratt is a San Francisco-born photographer with an almost uncanny ability to capture the glamour of pain. He’s one of those artists, like Rimbaud. Bukowski, or Lana del Rey, that somehow, some way, are able to portray decadence and loss in an irresistibly alluring and cinematic way.

Bratt has exhibited his work internationally at the Berlin Art Week, Brighton Photo Fringe festival and the Colorado Photographic Arts Center among others.

Love We Leave Behind is Cody’s first monograph, a series that serves as an “emotional documentary” that revisits the memories of a fervent, formative relationship from the past.

The series is captured like a road movie, portraying the ups and lows of that kind of love that is so passionate and self-destructing it’s almost impossible to quit. The work is meant to be taken as a recollection of unreliable memories, a portrait of those moments of broken promises and intimate secrets that only walls keep.

The series was a finalist in the 2016 Duke University CDS/Honickman First Book Prize and was included in Photolucida’s 2018 Critical Mass Top 50.

Mimi Plumb captures a world on the brink of destruction

Mimi Plumb

Mimi Plumb

Mimi Plumb

“There was a real sense of no future… I wanted to do work that addressed this sense of despair that I felt,” wrote American photographer Mimi Plumb on her new book, Landfall – published by TBW Books. As a collection of photographs taken during the early 1980s, the series offers a jarring yet illuminating insight into an American dystopia and the anxieties of a world on the brink of devastation.

Celebrating the Beauty and Brilliance of Gender Beyond the Binary

Kay, ex Green Beret, 1983.

Carrie being made up for a drag ball in Harlem, 1984. .

Harlem Drag Ball, 1984.

The many expressions of identity that exist on the gender spectrum is a subject of tremendous depth and breadth, though it has largely existed underground in realms secreted away from the masses. It has given birth to a culture so innovative and rich that, 50 years after Stonewall, the underground has emerged and center itself with impeccable aplomb.

Over the past half-century, artists like Mariette Pathy Allen have been deep in the trenches, using their work to fight for dignity, respect, and rights — taking on the tyranny of ignorance, bigotry, and oppression.

In celebration, The Museum of Sex presents Mariette Pathy Allen: Rites of Passage, 1978–2006, a stunning survey of the artist’s archive that includes photographs, interview transcripts, personal correspondence, and materials from her career working with trans, genderfluid, and intersex communities over the past four decades.

The fantastical world of Luigi Ghirri

Luigi Ghirri

Luigi Ghirri

The art of order is imperative to the human condition. We appreciate the beauty and simplicity of everyday life: rows of trees and pots placed in unison; pastel-hued doors and shutters built in perfect form; white walls, white gates and white fences guarding our homes and the contents within.

Harlem Through the Eyes of James Van Der Zee

James Van Der Zee, Eve’s Daughter, c.1920
Gelatin silver print; printed c.1920, 6 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches

James Van Der Zee, Marcus Garvey with George O. Marke
and Prince Kojo Tovalou-Houénou, 1924
Gelatin silver print; printed c.1924, 5 x 7 inches

Picture it: Harlem, 1918. James Van Der Zee, 32, opens Guarantee Photo Studio on 135 Street just as the Harlem Renaissance was coming into bloom during the first wave of the Great Migration.

As northern Manhattan became the Mecca for Black America, Van Der Zee was there to record it all inside his studio and on the streets. James Van Der Zee: Studio, recently on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery, is a portal into the past, into a time when Black society thrived and set the pace for music, art, poetry, literature, dance — well, you name it.

Van Der Zee was no exception. He set himself apart by using painted backdrops and luxurious props in the studio to create elaborate tableaux for his subjects, and bathed them in sumptuous lighting to evoke a painterly touch, imbuing each photograph with the hand of the artist.

Call for Submissions: The Print Swap Exhibition at Foley Gallery, NYC

We’re thrilled to announce the Print Swap summer exhibition will open at the esteemed FOLEY Gallery in New York City’s Lower East Side in July! Launched in 2016, The Print Swap is a global project connecting photographers far and wide. Here’s how it works: all photographers are welcome to submit photos via Instagram by tagging #theprintswap. Our team of curators selects the best images to be part of the swap, and every participating photographer gives a print and receives one too. During our fixed judging periods, Print Swap photographers are also considered for our offline exhibitions. Submissions are open for the NYC show now through June 20th.

The renowned gallerist Michael Foley will curate the show, and the final exhibition will include twenty-five and thirty photographs from The Print Swap. Foley has been a leading figure in the fine art photography world for thirty years, serving at some of New York and San Francisco’s most prominent galleries for fourteen years before opening the FOLEY Gallery in 2004 with a focus on photography. As the “United Nations of the art world,” the FOLEY gallery now represents groundbreaking artists working across media and continents–photography, collage, drawing, cut paper, sculpture and more. Throughout his career, Foley has kept a keen eye on rising and emerging talents, fostering new generations of artists as an educator at School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography and as the co-founder of The Exhibition Lab, a study space for fine art photographers.

As a reminder, we invite all photographers to submit to The Print Swap by tagging #theprintswap on Instagram, but you can also email your submissions to [email protected] It’s free to submit, and selected photographers pay just $40 per image to participate. This covers printing and shipping in full. We’re also pleased to announce that going forward, photographers will be able to choose their prints. While it’s been exciting and fun mailing out your prints randomly over the last few years, we’ve decided to change things up and have you choose the photo you’d like to receive! To learn more, please visit our website, and follow along at @theprintswap for updates!

A Timeless Portrait of the Many-Splendored Faces of New York

Man with the Black Hat, 2016
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
59 x 59 inches (150 x 150 cm)

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut Harlem Twins, 2018
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
31.5 x 31.5 inches (80 x 80 cm)

French photographer Etienne Rougery-Herbaut marks his U.S. debut with Cornerstone, a selection of photographs made on the streets of New York that present a timeless portrait of the people who embody the spirit and soul of the city.

As the country’s most epic point of immigration with no less than the Statue of Liberty to welcome new arrivals to these shores, New York has long been the point of entry for people from all around the globe. As ethnic enclaves generations deep have nestled throughout the five boroughs for centuries, a new scourge presents itself in the form of gentrification.

The systemic whitewashing of New York has had a devastating effect but as Rougery-Herbaut’s portraits attest, they preserve perhaps simply because they are New York. In Cornerstone, the inaugural exhibition at Brannan Mason Gallery in Los Angeles, Rougery-Herbaut paid tribute to the people who represent the heart and soul of the city, despite all efforts to eradicate their presence.

Here, Rougery-Herbaut shares his journey with us.

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