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  • Arai Takashi and Nagashima Yurie through the Historical Frame of “Japanese Photography”
  • Nakamura Fumiko (bio) and Kevin Niehaus (bio)
    Translated by Mai Hayano (bio)

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Arai Takashi, A Maquette for a Multiple Monument for the Wristwatch Dug Up from Ueno-machi, Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, 2014.

© Arai Takashi. Courtesy of the artist.

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Many artists working with photography today have begun to deviate from the two-dimensional traditional format of the medium and are extending their artistic range to include installation art, video, and performances. It has therefore become extremely difficult to identify the techniques and forms of expression that the term “photography” indicates. In light of these global trends, this essay examines Arai Takashi (b. 1978) and Nagashima Yurie (b. 1973), two renowned Japanese artists of the 2010s, by considering their work against the backdrop of the genealogy of Japanese photography. At present, both artists have broken with utilizing the traditional two-dimensional surface and instead are creating works that encompass a broad range of expression, including video, writings, and installation art. Tying their work to the history of Japanese photography therefore includes the risk of producing a critique that runs counter to their current interdisciplinary activities. Yet, the themes in their work, including the transformation of private life into art, as well as the representation of nuclear issues in a country with a history of being attacked by the atomic bomb, are nevertheless characteristic of the field of Japanese photography as a whole. Arai and Nagashima engage these characteristics endemic to the field and have proceeded to develop them from within the more focused discourse of contemporary art. It is for this reason that I resituate the pair within the history of Japanese photography, analyzing their art from the standpoint of their relationship to the genealogy of Japanese photographic expression.

Specifically, I examine their individual works to trace both the history underpinning their production and how critics evaluate their work. Moreover, this essay attempts to illuminate the issues articulated by the field of Japanese photography and explore how these same issues are taken up by contemporary artists. By reexamining Arai’s and Nagashima’s work from within the limited scope of the history of Japanese photography, I will attempt to shed light on traits in their art that have been overlooked, with the hope that these individual elements can, in turn, be positioned vis-à-vis more universal issues. [End Page 205]

On EXPOSED in a Hundred Suns

Arai is widely known for his use of the classic technique of the daguerreotype. The daguerreotype is a unique artistic medium; equipped with a specific materiality, the image created can neither be duplicated nor reproduced as a paper print. The daguerreotype is specular, reflecting ambient light to draw the viewer deeper into the work. And, despite its incredibly high resolution, depending on the lighting and viewing angle the image can nevertheless give the impression of vanishing and reappearing. The daguerreotype is therefore characterized by both the intricate detail of the image and its larger instability.

Arai first became interested in the issue of nuclear weapons in 2010 while researching art movements from the 1950s. He came across the history of the Lucky Dragon Incident (in which the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5 was contaminated by radiation near the Bikini Atoll after the United States conducted a nuclear weapons test) and the movements to ban atomic and hydrogen bombs. After experiencing the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, he created two series of photographs: Here and There Tomorrow’s Islands (2011-), photographed in Fukushima and Tokyo, and EXPOSED in a Hundred Suns (2012-), in which he photographed objects related to nuclear weapons. This essay focuses on EXPOSED in a Hundred Suns, not only because the concepts of the photographic subject and the work of art here intersect with the technique of the daguerreotype in a unique manner, but also because the series engages the representation of nuclear weapons, which is consistently problematized across the history of Japanese photography.

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Arai Takashi, May 13...