An exhibition of Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama’s works was on trend, but missing a critical edge.
Singapore is having a moment with all things Japanese right now. In September, fashion giant Uniqlo opened a global flagship store in Orchard Road, forgetting its 24 other stores across this city. Homeware retailer MUJI is also expanding here, opening a flagship store next year to join its existing 10 outlets in Singapore. This year also saw the opening of two Japanese food markets, as if there was not already enough Japanese restaurants in this little red dot.
Amongst this Nippon tsunami is also the Southeast Asian debut exhibition for Daido Moriyama, Japan’s “father of street photography” as part of this year’s 5th Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF). Unlike the consumer-friendly minimalist and kawaii sheen the country has sold to Singapore, however, Daido Moriyama: Prints and Books from 1960s—1980s, confronts viewers with a dark, gritty and stark portrait of Japan.
Featuring virtual desktop windows, stickies, folder icons and even an open iCal calendar, the campaign collateral for this year’s Singapore International Photography Festival resembles a series of Mac screen shots. Well, that’s because they are.
In response to the biennial’s theme The Archive, Singapore-based design consultancy H55 created this visual identity to challenge the traditional image of archives as “dusty boxes of physical materials” and make a statement on photography and its digital nature today.
“Photographs are circulated more than ever online. You may not even have a gallery space or a museum showcase, you can just circulate them on Facebook and Instagram or email your work to somebody,” explains the studio’s creative director Hanson Ho. “A lot of photographs are actually stored in desktop folders, not so much on shelves.”
“We do not have to stand in the position of the one who knows,
but perhaps stand in the position of one who questions.”
— Robert Blake
In a time of information explosion, it seems the best answer to any question is really more questions. From the perspective of the one being asked, the concern is how does one dare to be definitive when there is so much information out there? More importantly, a question opens up possibilities by continuing the questioner’s quest to learn instead of ending it, and also opens up a dialogue between the two.
Such a stand can be extended to all works of expressions. After all, a question prods the minds of the audience to actively seek an answer instead of simply being a passive receiver. This engages the audience by giving them the space to create their own conclusions. It is this act of creation, of allowing the reader to decide, that makes a work gets “owned” and is more lasting because it creates a dialogue that could go anywhere. And it is also not forestalling the possibilities, the lack of definiteness in answers, that is the most exciting product of a great work.
This approach is grounded in one solution to the dilemma of representation today: that is how to embrace plurality. As Blake postulated, how does one look at history in less narrow terms so as to recognise the multitude of frames — colonialism, nationalism — that can and has been placed over it.
While the energy represented by such a vision is truly uplifting, one wonders how this could be abused as an excuse for vague works, the fear of engaging an issue head-on, or simply encourage an atmosphere of anything goes. That is the problem when one widens gates that were once narrow, you let in the good and also the bad.