Why Art Photography? (2018)

by Lucy Soutter (artist, critic and art historian)

On one level, Satoshi Fujiwara is a street photographer; he carries a camera with him in his day-to-day life and shoots people and events that catch his eye. His particular approach, however, makes these far from ordinary documents. Zooming in on details, Fujiwara abstracts his subject matter a good deal. In Code Unknown, extreme close-ups of faces on the Berlin subway become high definition studies of wrinkles and folds (Fig.) (2014-16). This imagery cannot be separated from the way it is displayed. Some of the close-cropped images are displayed as regular prints, characterised by their extreme detail. Fujiwara also digitally joins individual images into strips and prints them on rolls of vinyl that he then drapes, crumples or folds to suit their particular site. The resulting installations are sculptural, even architectural in the way that they claim a space. Like so many of the photographers in this book, Fujiwara’s work gains impact from the fact that it crosses boundaries of nations as well as genres. The artist describes being inspired by the unfamiliar, chaotic qualities of European visual culture in relation to the homogeneity of his native Japan. He has brought aspects of this fascination with the West back to Japan; the fleshy pink faces of Code Unknown were featured on t-shirts and bags for Issey Miyake’s 2015 Men’s collection. German audiences, too, are intrigued by the vision of themselves presented in Fujiwara’s work. Elements of Code Unknown were exhibited at the German Opera, Berlin in 2016, alongside a work with more explicit political bite, 38 Elements of a Chronology of Chance (2016). In this project the artist combines image fragments made in Southern Europe, North Africa and Germany to create an edgy, fictional montage with echoes of the refugee crisis. Among the folds of vinyl, viewers glimpse seemingly significant details: the spur of a mounted policeman, the logo on a pair of handcuffs, the wound on a man’s arm. In relation to this loaded subject matter, the crumpled vinyl on which it is printed evokes discarded newspaper. Through an accumulation of surface information, 38 Elements offers flickers of experiential insight that news photographs cannot provide.

- installation view of Code Unknown (2015)

- 38 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (2016)

- installation view of #R (2016)


#police #cover_up #demonstrations #brutality (2015-16)


Throughout history the state has made strategic use of visual images, as seen in some propaganda, and even today there is no denying the possibility that images and information are manipulated and restricted by the nation. Police cover-up operations are a form of this misinformation as showcased in 2013 in Greece where there were accusations of photos being manipulated in order to conceal police brutality. Recently there have been numerous occurrences, mainly reported from the United States, wherein due to excessive use of force by the police, citizens have been injured and even killed. Especially notable are the cases where events are bought to the public’s attention by civilians sharing media on social networking sites, which are in turn picked up and spread by mass media outlets. In the modern world where anyone can use their phone to easily record incidents and upload them to social networking sites, your everyman can also become a journalist. Focusing on the theme of “Image manipulation” I carried out the following experiment. Through role reversal, I took the perspective of the citizens, manipulating and changing images to misrepresent the power of the state. By taking photos of police from as close as possible and removing the environment from the background, I restricted the amount of visual information on the images and made each an icon of violence. Furthermore, by incorporating in the title hashtags (#) used in social media these days, I imposed limits on how the audience could interpret the photos; #police, #concealment, #demonstrations, #brutality. The use of said tags directs the viewer to imagine the photos as visual representations of “police using excessive force to defuse a protest” and the “misuse of state power”. However, all these photos were actually taken and compiled at different times and locals. In reality the subjects pictured here were either police posted to stand duty at a bicycle race, or riot police that had just quelled a small fight that broke out at a football match. As there were no demonstrations or protests on the day the photos were taken, there were also no actual clashes between the people and the authorities. Likewise, the many portraits in this series are also taken out of context, and have been digitally edited to look like the people are sporting heavy injuries, juxtaposing the scars and bruises that were removed in Greece. Having grown up in Japan, I feel that here in Germany there is a unique “sense of distance” between the police and the citizens. German police seem to be more intimidating, aggressive and unapproachable in comparison to their Japanese counterparts, even after taking into account cultural, traditional, physical, and temperamental differences. I want to expose this “sense of distance” between the people and the state. In a way this is a documentary using fake images. Given how digital editing technology allows for the possibility to obscure the truth, is there the potential to do the reverse and use fake images to tell hidden truths?

08, 2015, Satoshi Fujiwara

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Friday Reports (2015-16)

On November 13th 2015, I was in Paris attending exhibitions and other photography related events. Having spent the evening dining at a restaurant with a few colleagues, it was only when I returned to my hotel that I noticed the unusually large amount of e-mails from family and friends in Japan and Berlin (where I am based). People I had long lost contact with that knew I was in Paris, thanks to social networking, sent me messages asking about my safety. That was when I first became aware of the incident; the multiple, simultaneous terrorist attacks in Paris. Realizing that people so far away were better informed than I, despite me being in the general area, I began to gather information on what was happening in my vicinity using the internet and the TV in my hotel lobby. Headlining the news everywhere, people all over the world were being fed a steady stream of sensational images and video. Through the constant updates of the number of casualties, information on the suspects, and visuals of the attacks, I learned that one of the shootings had happened only a few train stops from the hotel I was in, and another near a restaurant that I had eaten at a few days prior. The following day, I went to the sites of the shootings to see if I could somehow bridge the gap between the sensations I had felt through the images I had seen through media and the feelings I would feel by being there. It was around 9 pm, 24 hours since the initial reports. However, despite being physically present at the location I was tormented by this gap I could not fill, no matter how “fresh” the bullet holes and the broken glass looked, nor the volume of flowers and candles that had been placed at the site. The only way I was able to extract and “feeling” was through the torrent of information that floods our Facebook timelines, like the one of a man who happened to be standing nearby tapping away at his smartphone. The bullet holes that I was seeing before my very eyes simply existed without inciting any sort of reaction or emotion from me. We are aware that scenes portrayed in the media are nothing more than images taken from a single perspective, yet are we not able to free ourselves from the pictures that are broadcasted to us? Through this “media brain” that I had come to inherit, the only thing I was sure of at that time, was the fact that the place was swarming with reporters covering the story. The reports at the site were for the most part shot with a single camera. The crime scene in the background, illuminated by a single spotlight, the reporters read off a prepared script turning the scene into a stage wherein the actors have to perform perfectly to the gaze of only a single camera lens, unconcerned with the other view points out there. Instead of taking photos of the sort that would end up on the news, I thought to shine a light on the process that occurs behind the scenes, the unreported part of journalism, and using the reflection from the light to expose the media dominated society that we live in; a “reportage of the reportage” if you will. Instead of taking photos of the sort that would end up on the news, I thought to shine a light on the process that occurs behind the scenes, the unreported part of journalism, and using the reflection from the light to expose the media dominated society that we live in; a “reportage of the reportage” if you will. Acclaimed photographer Gary Winogrand, who coincidentally passed away the same year I was born, 1984, would take photos of people and reporters that would attend public events from a somewhat withdrawn point. By collecting these images into the series Public Relations, he documented the relationship between the media and the people as well as the social situation at that time. I sought to show just how much the relationship between the ones that spread information and the recipients of said information has evolved and grown since then. By using the subject and the light that is reflected from the background I looked to extract and highlight the three colours in my photos as a reference to the social media movement that followed, where the world used the tricolor to unite and show support to the victims of the attack; a reflection of today’s complex relationship between the people and the media. A few days later, at the studio in Berlin, checking the details of my pictures, I noticed something; a lot of the equipment being used by the reporters, such as cameras or lenses had been made in Japan. Intruding into their documentation, whilst being shouted at by cameramen for getting in the way of the shot, I took pictures using my camera from Japan. The details of the images I took, e.g. warning labels and the logos of Japanese camera makers in old Japanese typeface, that were attached to a foreign source, spoke to me more than my “experiences”. On the way back from the studio, walls lit up blue from police cars streaking through Berlin, and the red from brake lights bled onto the asphalt as if to remind me, sitting at the window of a late night bus, of the images of the attacks.

12, 2015, Satoshi Fujiwara

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Code Unknown (2014-15)

The right of likeness is something that has long troubled everyone with a camera. And today with the rise of social network systems, we have become even more acutely aware of photographs and those who appear in them when they are posted on digital media. In the highly esteemed director Michael Haneke’s 2000 film Code Unknown, there is a scene in which the protagonist’s lover, a photographer, secretly snaps pictures of passengers sitting across from him on the train. I used the same approach to shoot people in Berlin trains. Needless to say, in contemporary society it is not acceptable to rashly and publicly display pictures of people’s faces that were taken without their permission. Thus, I shot and edited these pictures in a way that makes it impossible to identify the individual people who served as my “models.” To avoid impinging on the right of likeness, I used shadows that were created by direct sunlight pouring in through the window, various compositional approaches, and digital processing. When we look at another person, either directly or through another medium, we interpret a wide range of information based on outward appearance (face, physique, clothes and accessories, and movements) – in other words, various codes. By regulating and altering these codes in various ways, I set out to obscure the individuality and specificity of the subjects in the pictures / images in this series. In facial close-ups, I used framing and trimming to make it difficult to identify the individual by eliminating elements such as clothing and personal effects. On the other hand, in photographs which focus on clothing and personal effects, I brought the subject’s individual qualities into sharp relief. In photographs which contain both the person’s face and their body, I modified the code in the pixel-based images by digitally processing parts of them. With further technological developments in digital photography, it will probably be even more difficult to make legal judgments in cases involving the right of likeness. The visual structure of the human eye and the light-based, information-processing structure of the camera lens are fundamentally different. When a portrait is taken with a camera, which provides much higher definition than the human eye, you might not even realize that the person in the picture is you. And when a portion of the data that makes up an image is digitally processed, we might not be able to say that it depicts a given person anymore. I took these pictures over a period of several months while riding various subway lines in Berlin from morning to night. The city is home to people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. On the train, the air is not only filled with German, English, and other European languages, but also many languages from the Middle East and Asia. To someone like me, who was born and raised in a racially homogenous country like Japan, it seems as if these codes, unleashed from every direction and unmixed, form a diffuse reflection.

10, 2014, Satoshi Fujiwara

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