For those of us who are unable to hot-foot it half-way across the globe, to catch Steve’s current exhibition in Kyoto, our lovely friend Keiko Kurata has very kindly offered to be our (quiet) eyes and ears.
Here is a short film she made of the installation, when she visited last weekend.
You wait 35 years for a SJ photo exhibition, only for 3 of them to turn up all at once 🙂
Steve last officially exhibited his photographic work at The Photographers’ Gallery, (just off Oxford Street, in London) in October 1983. Tomorrow (13th April) sees the opening of a small-scale installation at the ISETAN store (6F) in Kyoto Station. Mainly featuring prints from his 2015 book, “through a quiet window”, the exhibition runs for a month, ending on 13th May.
As the Kyoto installation ends, 2 further exhibitions are scheduled to take place, half-a-world away, in Nova Scotia and Ontario. The first takes place at Cape Breton University Art Gallery in Sydney, Nova Scotia (11th May – 6th July) and this will then move on to the Carnegie Gallery in August (final dates and time TBC)
Those of us not fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit any of these current installations (and I really am not at all bitter that I returned from a visit to Japan a mere 20 days ago. Oh no, not bitter at all. Really. Not. Bitter.) will just have to hope that other galleries and curators, slightly closer to home, will be encouraged to offer Steve the chance to extend his run of exhibitions.
Of course, failing that, there’s always the fact that we can actually buy copies of these gorgeous images, (as well as the “through a quiet window” book) direct from the man himself, and create our very own, small-scale exhibitions in our homes. That’s what I’ve done. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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)
When Japan finally ‘broke’ in the UK in 1981, and we were suddenly inundated with what felt like dozens of Hansa re-releases vying for attention with the new Tin Drum material, many people did not realise just how popular the band had already been for the previous 4 years in their namesake country. The slow ‘drip, drip, drip’ of the Japan effect in their homeland, where they had been fighting for years for recognition and critical acclaim, hid the fact that they were proper, full-on super-stars in their own right, over there. And so, at the end of their first major, sell-out UK tour (which has sadly gone down in history as the ‘shit tour’) in December 1981, various members of the band hot-footed it over to Tokyo where a major exhibition, based upon their collective artistic and musical skills, was about to open.
The PARCO exhibition, (un)imaginatively titled ‘The Art of Parties’, was an amazing thing – and something that us Little Britain-ers would have found incredible at the time. A whole display devoted to the music, sculpture and photography of the band members – and this at a time when many people back home weren’t fully aware of the band’s colourful history and were only just discovering that they had lived a whole different musical life, long before ‘Life in Tokyo’ finally got on the radio. The exhibition was held across 3 PARCO shopping centres; opening at the Shibuya site in Tokyo on 2nd January, before moving on to the Sopparo Parco in Hokkaido in February and closing at the Osaka Shinsaibashi Parco on 7th March, with each exhibition lasting around a week. At the time, the Parco centres were renowned as being the place for fashionable Japanese folk to buy their classy threads, so hosting a mobile exhibition by that most fashionable of bands, in such an environment, made perfect sense.
At the core of the exhibition was a collection of Mick’s sculptures and Steve’s photography, with Dave & Rich providing the ambient background music “designed to be used in various situations, where it can actually become the natural ambience of the room” Richard Barbieri
Steve submitted 5 of his photos for the exhibition but was surprised to discover that a whole raft of his shots of David Sylvian were also on display. These were images which he had previously submitted over the years to a number of Japanese music magazines for publication, but had no idea they were to be included.
The images which Steve had chosen to be on show, were a more representative mix, far less focused simply on the allure of Mr Sylvian, and included shots of Mick and Yuka. Some of these were later used to publicise the small exhibition Steve had the following year in London, at the Photographer’s Gallery (see next week’s post for more on this!) However, magazines and publicity at the time omitted to show any of these images, choosing instead to stick to the tried and tested formula of ‘picture of David Sylvian = added interest’ (see scans below for evidence)
The PARCO exhibition was publicised and reviewed in a range of Japanese music press and fanzines at the time. Keiko Kurata attended both the Tokyo and Osaka events and remembers that they were very popular with fans – Steve, Mick and Rich all attended the Tokyo exhibition on the afternoon of 8th January.
For me, the really fascinating thing about the PARCO events was the promise of what could have been, had Japan not irrevocably split in 1982. Although those fans who attended the Visions of China (aka Shit Tour) during December 1981 had no real idea of the issues going on backstage, it soon started to become apparent that all was not well in the world of Karn and Sylvian. Tensions were brought to the fore, and interviews given where their personal problems were touched upon (or openly discussed in some cases) and the rumours of a possible split became more and more frequent. However, there was also the sense that this was a temporary situation, which would be overcome, and it was even put forward that ‘Japan’ would/could continue as an umbrella organisation for the creative output of all the members – be that music, sculpture, photography, art or writing. They had already combined their talents for the opening of Mick’s Penguin Cafe, with David & Richard providing music for the venture and Steve photographing the opening day, and Steve had contributed images and words for Mick’s sculpture brochure, when he exhibited at Hamilton’s the previous year. It seemed like a real possibility and I remember clinging to this idea, thinking it would be an amazing way for them all to continue working together…..but, sadly it wasn’t to be. So, for the majority of us, the PARCO ideal of creative egalitarianism was not to be experienced first hand, which is truly regrettable.
scans below from Music Life Special Issue:
With special thanks to Keiko Kurata for the photos of the Sylvian prints in situ at the Tokyo event, and for the Adonis fanzine scans.
For those of us old enough to have been Japan fans in the early 1980s, the arrival of Riverside, a music and arts programme aimed at a more discerning audience, was a god-send. Suddenly we had a music show that actually focussed on bands we wanted to hear and see. I remember being astounded at seeing The Cure perform Siamese Twins live, whilst members of the Royal Ballet flung themselves all over the stage – utterly beguiling! Sadly, Japan never appeared live on the show, but the individual members were often featured – in fact Mick appeared a number of times – and this interview with Steve was recorded the day before his Expressions Exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery opened.
The Expressions Exhibition featured 12 of Steve’s photographs and was heavily publicised in the music and arts press, both in the UK and Japan. Some 30 odd years later, Steve’s memory of which of his photos were on show is a little unclear but, fortunately for us, there are plenty of people who went to the exhibition and recorded these facts……(see ‘Exhibitions’ category for more photos and anecdotes)
This article from a Japanese magazine shows some of the pictures from the exhibition: in fact, these images were the ones used most frequently in the publicity at the time. Televisions and hotel rooms feature a lot in his photography at this time; a result of his peripatetic lifestyle, whilst touring for months with Japan and Ippu Do during 1982. The TVs are often placed in front of windows, and Steve was aiming to capture 2 views; the one on-screen and the one of the world outside.
Although this picture of a man in a rickshaw did not feature, it was used in the publicity for the exhibition and Steve explained it was also taken from a TV screen……
One review in the Made in USA fanzine listed the 12 titles and gave a brief description of each of the:
Faces of Riu – a shot of Ryuichi Sakamoto described as ” a blurred action shot”…..
Rie’s Song – see above
The Actor’s Audience – see above
View From The River – an old man, rather hilariously described as looking “evil, a bit like Davros”
Concerned with Etiquette – young girl from Bangkok with a “discerning look on her face”
Troubled Stone – eroded piece of stone with anthropomorphic qualities
Man From Bangkok – this image was used on the exhibition poster
Man From Pusan – see below
Journey By Instinct – old woman in a boat
The Floating Market – 2 children at the Bangkok floating market
There were also 2 prints of David Sylvian, taken from the Visions of China video shoot, his face looming out of a bank of television screens
Signed, limited edition prints of Steve’s photos are available to purchase via his imageshop here:
Simon Witts was lucky enough to attend the exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery:
“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, from memory”
Simon’s photographs now hang in his hallway. Each print cost £75.
Steve kindly sent me this picture of the 5 photos he had chosen to be in the Parco Exhibition in 1982. All the other photographs of his that featured (see Parco Exhibition – Tokyo (1) ) were not his choice – “they weren’t submitted by me, they were in fact images I’d provided over previous years to the likes of Rock Show etc. for publication. I had no idea they would be included. The only ones I submitted were the same as those exhibited at the Photographer’s Gallery in London – black and white prints (I think printed by Fin Costello … not too sure) and they were a selection of 5 images” (Nov 2014)
These photos were taken by Keiko Kurata, who attended the exhibition in Tokyo, where Steve’s photography was on show alongside some of Mick’s sculptures. Keiko does not recall the name of the prints and said that the exhibition was small. There was not a catalogue available but all the prints seem to be of David Sylvian!! In the last picture, Steve is signing one of the prints, which was on sale for 30,000 Y
Thanks to Keiko Kurato for providing the photos and the scans from the magazines
In October 1983, Steve held a small exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, featuring a dozen of his photographs. Titled “Expressions” the exhibition was widely advertised in the music and arts press and he was interviewed on Riverside, a BBC2 arts programme that frequently featured the ex-Japan members and their solo projects.
Previously, interviews and articles focusing on Steve’s photography had started appearing in some of the music press during the band’s hiatus in 1982.