European Eyes on Japan

John Davies, Marco Bohr, Cary Markerink, Mette Tronvoli
Contemporary Urban Centre
12th November 2008 – 9th January 2009

Reviewed by Anthony Swords

With its huge influence upon 20th century culture and economics, it is easy to forget that Japan was an unknown quantity to the rest of the world until the 1850s.

Even today Japan provides inspiration for many western artists and filmmakers due to its seemingly otherworldly cities teeming with people and neon lights. It is probably with such a stereotyped view in mind that the EU-Japan Festival began an exchange of artistic ideas between western photographers in Japanese locations.

Of the more interesting works on display in this exhibition are those by Marco Bohr and Cary Markerink. Bohr’s portraits situate his subjects within a typical Japanese location holding what looks like a picture of the setting. Not only does Bohr cleverly create a tension between what is the focus of the piece but in so doing asks the viewer to look closer at the setting and its details rather than take it for granted as western eyes might want to.

Similarly Cary Markerink’s work places black and white close-ups of various faces next to brightly coloured streets and cityscapes. The not so subtle effect forces the link between the people and their habitat. The portraits have a slightly voyeuristic feel to them but, like a Lev Kuleshov experiment, placed next to each other directly influence our reading of a location we might otherwise take for granted.

There are few outstanding pieces in this collection but anyone who enjoys Japanese culture should find the exhibit a rewarding experience. From Mette Tronvoli’s women collecting seaweed along the coast to John Davies’ clash of the spiritual Mt Fuji with the industrial landscape that surrounds it, these pictures belong to a wider design that will hopefully create a fresh perspective of Japan and its people.

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