the photographers’ gallery


Steve outside the Photographer's Gallery - by Fin Costello
Steve outside the Photographers’ Gallery – by Fin Costello

I have always thought that 1982 must have been a really strange year if you were one of the 4 remaining members of Japan: a whole year spent hinting to all and sundry that the band was no more, whilst knowing that there was a ‘world’ tour to perform during the closing months, so never really being able to shout the fact out loud. Stuck in a kind of weird hinterland, unable to move on due to contractual obligations and expectations, and yet chomping at the bit to get it over and done with and start the next phase of their Japan-less lives.

As evidenced in last week’s blog, 1982 kicked off with the ‘Art of Parties’ exhibition, staged across 3 Japanese cities and showcasing their collective talents, with a focus on Mick’s sculptures and Steve’s photography. With hindsight, this was a prophetic vision of Cassandra-like proportions……the 4 members all going off in their own directions, following their own creative paths and yet still being linked by the umbilical cord of their long-term friendship and musical partnerships. The year closed with the band performing their final ever show on 16th December in Nagoya and finally, they were free to go off and pursue whatever artistic endeavours they fancied. For Steve, this meant working alongside David on Brilliant Trees, touring with Ippu Do (with Rich) and further developing his interest in film and photography.

Steve has always insisted that photography was a hobby, not something he would ever consider doing as a career, as music would always take precedence; but 1983 saw him dabbling in reportage, filming some of his musician friends in Japan (the country) for an aborted documentary, as well as being given the chance to exhibit a small selection of his photographs at the prestigious Photographers’ Gallery in London.

'Expressions' poster
‘Expressions’ poster

The Photographers’ Gallery is a wonderful place – anyone with even a modicum of interest in the visual arts should pay it a visit, at least once.  It was opened in 1971 and was the first gallery in the world to be devoted solely to photography. It was originally located on Great Newport Street until 2012, when it moved into larger premises across the road (quite a big, busy road, admittedly…..being Oxford Street) to the current site on Ramillies Street. In the last 12 months I have seen an amazing exhibition on Chinese Photobooks, a display of early Russian photography and a heartbreaking installation featuring the startling portraits of LGBT people who have been brutalised, raped and, in some cases, murdered in post-apartheid South Africa (the latter being difficult to stomach but incredibly powerful and sadly necessary.) However, I digress…….back to the topic at hand.

The Chinese Photobook exhibition by Victoria Carter Clowes
The Chinese Photobook exhibition 
photo by Victoria Carter Clowes

Due to time and space constraints, Steve was only able to put together 12 images for his Expressions exhibition which was held in October 1983. As a fan of portraiture, rather than landscape photography, he themed it around a selection of images which featured strong facial expressions, including many of strangers he had photographed during his travels in Japan, Thailand and Korea. The only ‘known’ faces were of Ryuichi Sakamoto and series of shots of David Sylvian, his face looming out of a bank of TV monitors, taken during the Visions of China video shoot in 1981.

Images of Sylvian taken during the Visions of China video shoot
Images of Sylvian taken during the Visions of China video shoot

For a small-scale exhibition of just 12 images, publicity for the event was pretty fierce with most of the UK and Japanese music press featuring articles and interviews with Steve, and BBC2’s ‘youth arts’ programme ‘Riverside’ even dedicated a whole segment of a show to it, interviewing Steve on the night before the opening and featuring some tantalising snippets of footage from the aforementioned documentary he shot in Japan earlier in the year. (Steve has since admitted he still has some of this footage……wonder if it will ever see the light of day?)

When I first started this blog, at the back-end of last year, I asked people for their memories of the Expressions Exhibition. As a teenager, living in the wilds of North Lancashire, it didn’t occur to me that I could hop on a train and go to London for the day, just to see a photo exhibition; people like me just didn’t do such things! Fortunately, other people were far more worldly-wise than I, and Simon Witt made the journey from Nottingham purely to see Steve’s photos.

From my memory, I went along and the gallery was fairly deserted. The exhibition was in the foyer on the right hand wall only as you walked in the gallery, not at all spread out as I thought it might be.The staff also seemed quite disinterested but I was in awe of the whole thing as I had travelled down from Nottingham especially and I was only 17 or 18. I chose to buy the same photograph as shown on the poster, rather than opt for the Sylvian images, my brother opted for the lady sat down – I think because of the detail in the photograph. A deposit was left and the photographs picked up, with another trip back down to London at the end of the exhibition. I did get a signed letter from Steve. I never saw Steve on the day, it was all a fairly low key event for the gallery

Letter from Steve to Simon witt, who bought one of the prints from the Expressions exhibit
Letter from Steve to Simon Witt, who bought one of the prints from the Expressions exhibit

Jacki Cairns also went to the Photographers’ Gallery and was there on the day that Steve turned up and showed his face to his adoring public. (At the time, some of the more pompous (i.e. snotty) music & arts press made much of the fact that the gallery was awash with teenage girls, all hoping for a glimpse of one of the Japan-boys – but Steve was fairly resolute about it, stating that if it meant they were going into an art gallery then that was a good thing) She took some photos of the images on display, using an icon of early 80s photography, the hilarious ‘disc camera’ – a piece of kit which relied heavily on the old adage of ‘style over substance’…..however, at least she managed to get some shots for posterity.

A photo of the photos.....by Jacki Cairns
A photo of the photos…..by Jacki Cairns
Steve at The Photographers' Gallery. Photo by Jacki Cairns
Steve at The Photographers’ Gallery. Photo by Jacki Cairns

Of the 12 images Steve chose to exhibit, all but one of them focused upon the features of the intended subject; whether it was the face of a young child on a Bangkok street or an actress on a TV screen. The one image which differed was called ‘troubled stone’ and was of an anthropomorphic rock, which appeared to mirror the torso and arms of a man. This one image has been ‘troubling’ me for some months, as I have been unable to track it down…..as all the photos on display were available to buy at the time as a limited edition print, I assume that someone, somewhere has a copy of it? You can just make it out, in Jacki’s photo above, but I would love to see it in all of its glory. Ah well……

So, it is now 32 years since Steve last exhibited his photographs. There was a small scale show in Italy in 2012, which he contributed some of his prints to, as part of a memorial event for Mick Karn, but other than that, nothing. The advent of tumblr and other forms of social media, where images can be shared across the globe immediately, has resulted in a renewed interest in Steve’s beautiful images, so here’s hoping that more and more people will have access to the rich archive of photographs currently stored in the Batt-cave……..(pun courtesy of Mr Jansen)

Rie's Song
Rie’s Song – featured in the Expressions exhibition

A selection of limited edition prints are available from Steve here: http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/

Steve uploads photos & answers questions on his sleepyard tumblr here: http://sleepyard.tumblr.com/

Information about the Photographers’ Gallery can be found here: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/

All photos by Steve Jansen unless otherwise stated.

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14 thoughts on “the photographers’ gallery

  1. Oh gosh, they could have given him a bit more space than that! All cramped together… now it’s… dunno… you can take in all 12 photos in almost a single glance… you’re not really prompted into concentrating on each individual picture … it doesn’t make you want to linger… if that makes sense… he deserved better than that. Maybe they should make up for it by offering him a new exhibition. A proper one 🙂

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    1. At the time, he was pretty happy with the space allocated as he didn’t have time to put together a bigger exhibition…..but yeah, when you see how tiny the space was, it does seem a tad on the ‘compact’ side…..

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  2. Now I am an artist it’s quite ironic that the first time I ever sat foot in the Photographers Gallery was to see Steve’s work. We spent 2 days there. Paul Weller randomly walked in on the first day. Finally, by the time Steve did arrive I had made a load of new friends and really enjoyed the social aspect of meeting other Japan fans….not much has changed there then. I can’t believe how rubbish those disc cameras were looking back….years later when I was putting on my degree show in Fine Art Photography … I specialised in turning technically ‘bad’ photographs into conceptually good ones….I had no idea in 1983 I was onto something… Thanks for all your blogs Victoria, really enjoying them.

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  3. I know what you mean about missing out due to youthful naïvety regarding travel. I missed out on an ICEHOUSE show in London because I failed to think of how to get there and was unaware of the trusty Earls Court backpackers scene which would have done for a night. Getting back to Steve, while I was aware of Japan and in the UK in October ’83 I didn’t get round to buying Tin Drum and hence many other releases until the latter eighties. Doh!

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    1. Hindsight is a marvellous thing, isn’t it? Strangely enough, 8 months later I did get the train down to London to see DS’s ‘Perspective’s’ Exhibition…….but will always regret not making it to the Photographers’ Gallery to see ‘Expressions’

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  4. That last one looks beautiful. I would love to see a better quality reproduction of the image. It looks like it was taken in my favourite hotel room in Japan. It staggers me that SJ got so many stunning photographs out of one room.

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    1. They aren’t all the same room but I believe that most of the shots were taken in hotels outside of Tokyo and they all tended to be very similar….I think the 2 you really like are of the same room, but the others were taken in a range of different hotels.

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  5. I remember back in the early 80’s being so upset that I wasn’t at least 5 years older so I could jump on a train to London (even tho I live in Kent) or that I still lived in London (I was born in Lambeth) and so could go to everything or be in the heart of it and be able to see everything and go to concerts. I would have also been able to afford to buy 1 of the prints then also. At 12-13 years old I had a paper round and so could only afford to buy the singles and albums and of course the music magazines Lol. If only I had still lived in London and was still in the Whitbreads pub my mum and dad used to run you never know the boys might have come into the pub for a few drinks and might even have played there? Imagine how great that would have been *starts daydreaming about what could have been* Lol x

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