Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien nav lang search
Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

The Image of Women in Japanese Society at the End of the Twentieth CenturyA photographic portrait of Japanese women

17. Mai 2000

Katrin Paul (Photographer), Tama Art University

quote;Images of Women in Japanese Society at the End of the Twentieth Centuryquote;
A photographic portrait of Japanese women in three parts: Presentation of the books quote;skindeep,quote; quote;Playing Summerquote; and 「米なれど ちょっと紅さし 朝鏡」(kome naredo chotto benisashi asakagami)

I always pursue a variety of issues within one body of work. One is the encounter with the formal characteristics of photographic imagery, specifically the mechanisms of representation in the photographic medium. For example, while attempting to identify modes of perception in quote;real life,quote; I seek to transpose the same mechanisms onto the processes of perception in photographic representation and, by exaggeration, try to provoke a reaction from the viewer. The formal solution of the portfolio so supports, or distinctly contrasts, its content. In this way, my work always deals with phenomena and structures in society.

What can a photographic portrait accomplish? Can it show more than an image of a specific, photographed person? Is it capable of revealing commonalties among human beings? An universal image of a human being? Or is a photographic image always limited to that, which lies on the surface of the print? To what extent can a photograph make a statement about a person, a social situation, or human beings in general, without the addition of an explanatory statement? Questions regarding the circumstances and society of the portrayed person may be possible to answer up to a certain point, but as for questions concerning the human being behind it–can this be shown by ways of photographic imagery alone?

These are the main points that I raise within my portfolio quote;Images of Women in Japanese Society at the End of the Twentieth Century.quote; At first, my goal was to produce a comprehensive body of work on women in Japanese society. I was not searching for an ethnological typology, but for images that held a universal validity in time and space. However, I soon had to realize that Japanese society is defined in terms of groups, and that these groups rarely overlap with each other. Upon realizing this, I decided against a comprehensive treatment, and instead will now show three different groups of women in separate works.

One part of the work deals with the public’s perception of the female image as represented in mass media and as defined by conventional concepts of beauty, as well as the role/s of women in the family unit, and the modification of this role from one generation to the next. Another part shows portraits of quote;realquote; women, made in connection with talks about the women’s lives, goals and hopes, in as much a common language as possible. These portraits, created in a quiet and intimate way, are to emphasize, or contrast, the portraits photographed from quote;publicquote; representations of women. In doing so, I am attempting to reach below the surface of the image as well as beyond any personal appearances in order to elucidate the meaning of quote;female identity.quote;

In each part of the work, I seek to reflect on the social classification of Japanese women by developing different methods for using photography as a medium. Each part of the work will be presented in the form of a book, with each book adhering to the same basic structure, whereas the photographs themselves constitute a different visual language and vantage point for each respective group of women:

skindeep The book skindeep focuses on the representation of Japanese women in advertising, print media and manga. I have quote;quotedquote; these representations by photographing them from advertisements or as they appear in public locations. I then combined these images with my photographs of quote;realquote; women and places. One important result of this juxtaposition is the apparent parallel to western stereotypes of Japanese women either as sex symbol or as a symbol of Japanese tradition.

Playing Summer In the book Playing Summer I show a group of girls celebrating their youth, and the last summer of the century: Tanned, long-legged, blonde, blue-eyed Japanese girls stumbbling in pairs or groups through Shibuya. Preferred colors: pink, baby-blue and silver. Called: GAN-GURO.

With straight photographic portraits, I want to express my astonishment about these girls, and translate my reaction into a visual language by using the quote;double takequote; as a strong formal element. The pairs of photographs generated in this manner are shown on opposite/facing pages, which in turn constitutes the leading formal element of the book.

「米なれど ちょっと紅さし 朝鏡」(kome naredo chotto benisashi asakagami) The latest work is a book about women aged over 70 years. I wanted to show the extreme other side of quote;Playing Summerquote; by concentrating on a generation which grew up in a different appreciation of womanhood, where women would subordinate themselves to the family and suppress their own urges. The book consists of two parts: Portraits of women photographed in their personal surroundings, thereby creating a quiet and intimate atmosphere. The second part are portraits photographed in the streets of Sugamo (obaachan no Harajuku).

The composition of the book shows 4 portraits on each double page, in the middle of them is a half page that can also be turned, so different arrangements of the portraits on one page are possible. This creates a film-like impression and brings movement into the still.