Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Interview: Fumimasa Hosokawa by Kristian Häggblom and Danielle Smelter

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I am a 56-year-old man living in Tokyo, Japan. I make a living through commercial photography and teaching photography at college and university levels. I also sell my books.

From the late 80's to early 90's I lived in Athens, Ohio, in the mid-west of the U.S. to study photography. Horizons that were rarely seen in Japan during that period: dead deer or skunks on the side of highways and yellow ribbons on entrances to houses are the scenes that come to mind thinking about that time.

People there were mostly nice, but at first surprised me by frequently asking: “What do you want?" I had never thought to ask such a question. This may be surprising, but in the Japanese language a subject is frequently omitted in conversation and there is no need to specify "I" to get something you require.

In everyday life, I had no problem with replying to the question "What do you want?" However, showing my work to someone and being asked, "What do you want?" was a bit uncomfortable. I did not want anything from a photograph. For me, it was a complicated blend of causes and effects that existed outside of our perception and logic. 

So, sometimes we had arguments about intentions when photographing and logically explaining a photograph. Eventually, I discovered that we apply different interpretations of "I", and others thought all the world could be explained by logic, which I always try to throw away. 

I only recently discovered your project and 2002 publication Anonymous Scapes: Hello, The Twentieth Century. Can you please tell us about this project?

Public announcement texts are produced by local authorities, by unnamed authors and posted in official journal publications and in public by the government each weekday to search for the identities of unidentified deceased people - often those who have committed suicide, died of sickness, were abandoned for some reason, or just found on the streets, in forests or on shores. These include the occasional bones of those buried hundreds of years ago.

At the time the project began, I was taking snapshots of the Ueno area in Tokyo when I found an aforementioned notice on the Taito Ward Office bulletin board. I noted that there was a description of the place in the text. This was the initial and direct motivation for this work. I use the notices not only for shooting specific landscapes, but also juxtaposing facsimiles of these public notices on the facing pages within the photobook. Both can be said to be scenery, only the distance/proximity/relationship to the subject is different.

The work could be described as a search for expression without or beyond ego.  Others say this is an alternative history by unsung and unknown people: portraits of people without their faces or figures.

If you define literature as a depiction of human beings profoundly and specifically with words, then those texts are short novels or poems. There are lots of waka and haiku poems written by unknown people hundreds of years ago in Japanese culture, and with that in mind, the photographs I make could be the cover image for 100 novels.

Some say there are similarities between the work and Noh, a form of Japanese classical theatrical dance and drama developed in the 14th century. In some Noh plays, ghosts come back to the real world, telling their stories of the past before returning to where they belong. 

Of course, some say this is a pile of boring landscapes that you never see on Instagram accompanied by unreadable texts.  

The law, which serves as the legal basis for these announcements, was enacted in 1899. At the time I was making these images it was around the beginning of the 21st century. So, while I was encapsulating the work of the 20th century via the notices within this project, I was also thinking about how it might be possible to insert the state of our 21st century selves into the work.

In this compilation, the public notices span 100 years of the 20th century

What was the most disturbing story that you discovered?

They are all interesting and no exact one stands out to me. In some ways the images express a calm and interminable everydayness.

On a personal note, my uncle-in-law was found dead, alone in an apartment, in Tokyo in the 1970's. I recently noticed that I had suppressed memories regarding him in my unconscious. Somehow that experience relates to this work.

Interestingly, there are also some videos that I think you made at locations where you made photographs. Tell us about these please.

I was experimenting with the possibility of including ‘time’ in the project. I'm thinking of deleting them.

You are about to publish the third edition. Why now, and are there any changes or updates to the project and book?

Twenty years have passed since the beginning of the 21st century. In deciding to make the new book, I recognized that the era has silently changed in Japan. The present atmosphere is similar to when the 21st century began. The last book spanned 100 years. This time it is 120 years, including the elapsed time. The binding and design are the same and the book functions like a paperback novel. It's like a brown tanned book sold for 50 yen at used bookstores in Japan – straightforward and like the notices themselves.

What photographers and more broadly (cinema, literature, art, etc.) influences you?

I am interested in some photographs taken in the 19th century. And especially a photographic collection titled "Yokohama and Tokyo in Meiji [1868-1912]” which is a collection from the remaining glass plates published by Yoichi Yokota.

Are you working on any other projects?

I’m currently attempting to put together a collection of pure snapshots. I photograph things around myself with no commitment to a specific subject. I define ‘pure snapshots’ as just taking pictures with no words and no comprehensions. I hope I am able to publish a book about those snapshots in the future.

I always ask photographers what is a good soundtrack for this work? What do you recommend listening to when viewing the work? 

If by soundtrack you mean music, I never thought about it. If you dare, John Cage's "4:33". Or the most popular trendy and shallow music. That's all.

Book available from Heisei Photo Press:

Fumimasa Hosokawa is a photographer and educator based in Tokyo, Japan. He studied photography in America and the third iteration of his book Anonymous Scapes: Hello, The Twentieth Century was recently published by Heisei Photo Press in Japan.