Onnanoko shashin, or ‘girl photographs,’ was the term given to describe the work of young Japanese women photographers at the turn of the 21st century. The term, considered derisive by many, was applied to the flood of images made as photography became widely popular among women for the first time. Countering the idea of a single kind of ‘girl photography,’ a show at the J. Paul Getty Museum, “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography,” on view until February 21, looks at five mid-career female photographers, finding in their work widely diverse approaches and interests, and selecting work from a single series by each. The show is a companion to “Ishiuchi Miyako: Postwar Shadows,” which highlights the pioneering photographer who worked a generation before these younger women. “These photographers bring a variety of approaches to their explorations of living in contemporary Japan and how they observe and respond to their country’s deep cultural traditions,” says Timothy Potts, director of the Getty Museum, in a statement. “From quiet morning rituals to scenes of matchmaking and marriage, this body of work provides a rich perspective on Japan’s ongoing examination of its cultural uniqueness and place in the wider world.”
In her unmistakable snapshot style, Rinko Kawauchi records moments of everyday life that frequently escape notice. Using color film and often employing a square format Rolleiflex, she presents the world around her in quiet, fragmentary scenes, as if suspended in a dreamlike state. Her series “Cui Cui,” named after the French onomatopoeia for the twitter sound made by birds, examines the passage of time in the context of her family and her hometown.
Yuki Onodera uses photography to generate surrealistic images that defy reality. On view are photographs from her series “Portrait of Second-hand Clothes,” made from garments she collected from Dispersion, an installation by the artist Christian Boltanski that collected piles of clothing for visitors to take home and “disperse.” Onodera photographed each piece against an open window and used flash to give the images a ghostlike quality.
Chino Otsuka, who left Japan to study in England at a young age, examines the intersection of her Japanese and British identities in her work. In the “double self-portraits” from Otsuka’s series “Imagine Finding Me,” she seamlessly inserts contemporary self-portraits into old photographs of herself from a family album. The results combine pictures from different ages and moments in her life, allowing her to look forward and backward in time at once.
Using self-portraiture to explore identity, Tomoko Sawada transforms herself into various characters using costumes, wigs, props and makeup. Her project OMIAI♡, recently acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, includes thirty self-portraits, each made in the same photo studio but intended to represent a different kind of woman. They resemble the photographs traditionally produced as part of the Japanese custom of omiai, a formal meeting that occurs as part of the arranged marriage tradition.
Lieko Shiga, whose works are also on view in MoMA’s “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015,” works with local communities, incorporating their histories and myths into her photographs. In 2008 Shiga moved to the Tōhoku region in northern Japan, a rural area known for its association with Japanese folklore. Working out of a small studio in Kitakama, she became the official photographer of the town, documenting local events, festivals, and residents. After much of Kitakama was devastated by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Shiga continued to photograph, recording the impact on the land and people. Made between 2008 and 2012, her series “Rasen Kaigan” (Spiral Shore) highlights the chaos and mysteriousness of this otherworldly place.