PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Japan Coast


Book Review Japan Coast By Silva Bingaz Reviewed by George Slade I looked at Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency again recently. Her work, and the 1986 book published by Aperture, have entered the vocabulary of photography in many, many ways. Anyone photographing bohemian, counter-cultural lives in which one is simultaneously an observer and a participant owes Goldin a nod for opening the door to such practice as valid.

Japan CoastBy Silva Bingaz
Andre Frere Editions, 2014.
 
Japan Coast
Reviewed by George Slade

Japan Coast
Photographs by Silva Bingaz
Andre Frere Editions, 2014. 96 pp., colour and black-and-white illustrations, 8¾x11¾x½".


I looked at Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency again recently. Her work, and the 1986 book published by Aperture, have entered the vocabulary of photography in many, many ways. Anyone photographing bohemian, counter-cultural lives in which one is simultaneously an observer and a participant owes Goldin a nod for opening the door to such practice as valid. Goldin is not the first to have done this; we might reference Ed van der Elsken, Roy deCarava, Christer Stromholm, and others in the previous generation. But Goldin is the standard bearer for the late baby boomers in this confessional, self-reflective genre. Her work has since been highly influential and often imitated, with varying degrees of success.

Perhaps what makes Goldin a watershed visual artist is fortunate timing. Just as “real lives” started becoming public entertainment, artists and their demimonde became celebrities, and sexuality of all brands came increasingly out of dark corners, her images established the lingua franca of first-person-plural self-portraiture. And in the last decade, high-tech tools have made everyone a digital diarist. As I read Silva Bingaz’s book I found myself often expressing gratitude to Goldin. I don’t mean this in a deprecatory way — everyone’s communal identity differs in substance, thus in the content of the images one creates within it.

Japan CoastBy Silva Bingaz. Andre Frere Editions, 2014.

Bingaz, a Turk with Armenian heritage, makes it clear from the cover and first inside images that this is her in the picture. Gazing down upon a well-tattooed Japanese man, sunlight falling directly on him, her shadow arm rising diagonally across his chest, her hand on his neck and face, her silhouetted head hovering somewhere south of his navel, the photographer merges her superimposed shadow self with his ink. The cover depicts a female, Caucasian hand resting on a naked, apparently male, non-Caucasian back. This book reflects an accumulation of “snapshot” (her word) observations made to record her meaningful interactions with littoral lives — the “coast” of the title defines an overall series initiated around 2002. Japan is the coastal area described in these photographs, made since her initial visit to Japan in 2010.

Japan CoastBy Silva BingazAndre Frere Editions, 2014.

Given that short timespan, this series shouldn’t feel like the work of an insider. Five months seems insufficient for one to achieve the closeness and sensitivity these images project. Perhaps the Turkish/Armenian identity finds a dimensional counter-part in Asian culture. A psycho-cultural historian might, from the evidence of these photographs and Bingaz’s eloquent statement, articulate a theory characterizing Turkish anima and Japanese animus. While the images often project intimacy — couples cuddling in bed, men, women, and children staring into her lens as she straddles them, tactile flesh and hair throughout a population ranging from infants to elders — a quality of respect, of decorum, lingers.

Japan CoastBy Silva BingazAndre Frere Editions, 2014.
Japan CoastBy Silva BingazAndre Frere Editions, 2014.

The conceptual construct of Bingaz’s “Coast” project as a whole provides a philosophical lodestone that amplifies the accomplishment of intimacy and allows her to track her connections with a local ethos despite little or no experience of its daily routines or hidden patterns. I admire what she writes to describe “Coast,” saying that it “lets the human soul show in the simplest way possible, by focusing on all the values that it was able to create and its efforts to protect itself from the hierarchy imposed by authority.” There may be some nuances lost in translation here, but the spirit seems clear, echoing David Heath’s profound photo-text Dialogue With Solitude in its iconoclastic insistence on the unique power of individuals. She continues:

Wherever we go in the world, when you disregard outward appearances, the human soul has similar basic characteristics. And when the existential dilemmas of the soul pile up like small pieces of gravel, they form a mountain that embodies heaviness. These deep feelings form a sort of common knowledge in our relationship with the world.
Japan CoastBy Silva BingazAndre Frere Editions, 2014.

There are a lot of people, artists, poets, playwrights, novelists, teenagers, and others, who would line up behind this leading, idealistic statement. In Japan Coast, Bingaz describes a culture confronting its existential dilemmas and sharing its hopes for resolution with the photographer and the other outsiders — we viewers — she brings to the encounter.—GEORGE SLADE

Editor's Note: The original version of this review indicated that the photographs were made over a span of five years; the period was in fact five months. We've corrected this error at the request of the photographer.

Purchase Book

GEORGE SLADE, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant. He can be found online at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/


Read More Book Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment