‘What do these nothings mean?’

A harsher, more stark black and white contrast than for many of my photos; for this image I treated the photogram like a monoprint. If the photographic surface has developer on it before exposure to light, the developer shows up as a white area. So for this photo I scattered developer on pieces of the black plastic which protects the paper in its box. Then I pressed the photographic paper onto the plastic/developer before exposing it. The more precise white lines come from the edges of the plastic.

I was drawn to this image after reading Leo Rubinfien’s article in The New York Review of Books about Japanese photographers of the 60s and 70s. I knew of Daido Moriyama (I saw his exhibition at Tate Modern) – there’s also Kikuji Kawada, Shomei Tomatsu and Masahisa Fukase. Rubinfien describes ‘their grainy black and searing white, their howling angles’ and their ‘modest books of minuscule production runs, which few but their admirers knew how to get’ ( now worth huge sums).

It was a post-war, post- atomic bombings generation, ‘anxious and angry’. In Tomatsu’s 1969 book ‘Oh! Shinjuku’ – ‘Two of the best-loved pictures… came from that year’s violent antiwar protests, which blocked the Yamanote railway and throttled Tokyo, but that book presented less of the news than of Shinjuku’s smoggy, fragrant, and exhilarating air. In one of its spreads, a burst of light on muddy asphalt abuts a jumble of walls and fences, rain pounding a limousine, and a spatter of paint with a hank of rope. ‘What do these nothings mean?’ a doctrinaire editor could have asked. Eventually, Tomatsu called photography haiku’

I want to see that book. I will find out more.

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