Seeing the Other
The European View on Japan in Contemporary Artistic Documentary Photography
Due to economic boom and globalization Europe has become increasingly interested in the examination of Japan. Obstructive for this discussion is the basic supposition of a characteristic otherness that manifests itself in the astonishing economic development of the past 150 years as seen from a European perspective. A lasting appreciation of Japanese culture could not develop out of this premise: mostly, the mystery Japan lingers on. This insight forms the starting point for my analysis of a Japan related issue. Particularly the visual representations of Japan display the country as oscillating between tradition and modernity, as shaped by a cultural fissure between a lively tradition and a dominant industrial culture.
Almost at the same time as the invention of photography, Japan was opened to the West. Thus notably the photographic view upon Japan is interesting. Photography became a witness of the transition from the feudal to a modern industrial society. While the development of the European image of Japan has been widely explored within literature, research on visual – especially photographic – representations and how they form our image of Japan is still missing. Moreover, most of today’s photographic production seems to be tied up to the exoticizing tradition of 19th century European photography in Japan and to display a stereotyped view. The image of Japan conceived by some contemporary artists working in the tradition of documentary photography since Walker Evans, however, greatly differs from the mainstream productions.
It is the goal of my research to find out about the premises of visual representation of foreign cultures within a globalized world and to critically challenge eurocentric viewpoints. In doing so, I am focusing on contemporary artistic documentary photography. The potential of this kind of documentary photography is researched with the example Japan, including questions of otherness and stereotyping.
The study is based on the three monographic positions of Paul Graham (GB *1956), Elisabeth Neudörfl (D *1968) and Heiner Schilling (D *1969). The perspectives of their works are discussed on the previously compiled theoretical findings on issues like otherness, the development of the European image of Japan and documentary photography. They are then contextualized in a tradition of photographic production. As photographic representations lasting-ly coin our everyday life and form a central element in our perception of the world, the leading questions are of great relevance: What is the significance of categories of other and self in a world that is increasingly globalized and sufficiently picturally represented? What are the options to photographically approach the other and how does this become manifest in artistic documentary photography? How do the analyzed images of Japan differ from the mainstream ideas and stereotypes about Japan? And what can photography contribute to the understanding of foreign cultures?
Grants and Awards (selection) 2003 Fulbright-grant for a Visual Culture Tertiary, Amherst College, USA
2005/2006 Grant for graduate students of the State Academy of Visual Arts Stuttgart
04-06/2006 Postgraduate Grant Student at the German Institute for Japanese Studies.