HONG KONG - The etymology of shashin, Japanese for “photograph,” is comprised of two ideograms: shin meaning “truth,” and sha meaning “to reflect or reproduce.” While the idea that photography engages with truth or reality is entrenched in any understanding of the art form, few other languages express the concept etymologically as clearly and explicitly. Furthermore, Japanese photography’s interaction with truth goes beyond merely depicting it: adopting an increasingly skeptical approach to truth, artists today seek to question reality instead of merely portraying it.

Such efforts result in a dynamic interrogation of the quotidian and the everyday, which is manifested in unique, diverse yet always distinctively Japanese ways. Having evolved independently from the trajectory of Western photographic history, shashin is a vibrant visual language informed by a myriad of influences ranging from contemporary hyper-consumerism to Japanese philosophy and the country’s historical traditions in graphic art and design. Inherent in photography is a spotlight on the ordinary and the commonplace; shashin takes this further by not only celebrating but also actively nurturing its quiet dignity, sensual intimacy and hypnotic temporality.


S|2 Hong Kong’s upcoming selling exhibition SHASHIN! Japanese Photography Then/Now features eight rising-star contemporary artists alongside five post-war greats. With strong and unique works, the young photographers not only hold their ground beside the likes of Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikoh Hosoe and Daido Moriyama, but also accentuate the versatility of Japanese photography’s engagement with the everyday. For example, Rinko Kawauchi (b. 1972), already hugely successful in the West, creates captivating works that portray her favorite subjects, “things that live for a short time.” A master of texture, light and poetic composition, Kawauchi injects a transcendent charm into the banal with her minimalist yet breathtakingly exquisite works, deftly drawing out the sublime from the commonplace.

Also featured in SHASHIN! is award-winning photographer/filmmaker Mika Ninagawa (b. 1972), daughter of the renowned theatre director Yukio Ninagawa and actress Hiroko Ninagawa. Making a name for herself in the mid-1990s, the talented photographer is known for her intensely vibrant photographs of goldfish, flowers and landscapes. Exuberant and ethereal at the same time, the dream-like quality of her works is a result of Gokusaishiki (“vivid color”) and skilled manipulation of depth of field. In her latest Noir series exhibited at SHASHIN!, Ninagawa expands her color field to include “brilliantly coloured darkness;” in the photographer’s own words, “within black brims color; within color hides black.”

Last but not least, Yoshinori Mizutani (b. 1987), the youngest of the thirteen artists featured in SHASHIN!, shot to fame with his acclaimed Tokyo Parrots series which captured the bizarre, surreal spectacle of lime-green tropical parakeets in Tokyo. In a new series entitled Colors, Mizutani transforms everyday objects by breathing life into the mysterious, at times uncanny relationships between surfaces, colors and textures. The images are understated yet lively, ambivalent yet brimming with vitality. He said in an interview: “Sometimes photography without context is enough. Sometimes the lack of context gives depth to the picture, a resonance, giv[ing] us space to examine the banality of the subject and the beauty inherent in it.”

Yoshinori Mizutani, Colors 044, 2013.
Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled,, From the series of Illuminance, 2011.
Mika Ninagawa, noir,/i>, C print mounted on Plexiglas, 2010.