PGI is proud to present Munemasa Takahashi’s second solo exhibition at our gallery beginning February 12th.
The idea for Spinning a Yarn came from a casual conversation the artist once had during a car ride with a friend. It went something like “You should try taking pictures of things floating in water.” “Yeah? Like What?” “Dunno, the thought just came to me’” “Maybe I’ll give it a try someday.” The topic was soon forgotten and nothing came of it for some time.
After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Munemasa Takahashi became a member of the Salvage Memoryproject, which returns lost photos to their owners in the town of Yamamoto in Miyagi prefecture. Throughout this project, he collected heavily damaged photos which had been thrown away and turned them into a traveling exhibition named Lost & Found Project in an effort to spread awareness of the issue.
While working on these projects Takahashi made a dear friend whom he later lost to suicide. The two had many conversations while working together to restore a massive amount of found family and commemorative photographs. During this time Takahashi had also been struggling with the role of photographers and the value of photography as art.
Until then, Takahashi hadn’t included himself in any of his works, instead focusing on images devoid of information or context to invite the viewer to create their own stories. In his previous work Laying Stones, he began the process of confronting his friend’s death by expressing private, tangible experiences in photographs for the first time. The resulting images speak to the viewer’s own unique memories and experiences.
With Spinning a Yarn Takahashi has turned his camera to myriad subjects, shooting everything from daily life to personal moments, strangers, landscapes, family and documentary. By changing his equipment to an 8×10 large format camera he found that his approach and means of expression evolved as well. He became keenly aware of photography’s ability to serve as documentation when choosing subjects, and strived to capture each with the utmost respect. His search for things that float in water led to unexpected places–weddings, child rearing and even delivery rooms, all of which left a profound mark on him. This project is a mediation on the strange loop of forgetting and recollection that is our memory as well as the larger theme of photographs being left behind for future generations.
『Spinning a Yarn』
In a car running along the coast, a friend suggested that I take photos of “things that float on water.”
Then I asked him what exactly the subjects would be, and his answer was it was just a random idea he came up with. I replied, “Maybe I will give it a try sometime.”
In 2011, in a small town called Yamamotocho, I began engaging in a volunteer activity to cleanse photographs that had been swept up by the tsunami and to return them to related people. They included really many family photographs: recollection of travels, wedding photos, documentation of children’s growths, and so on. Each of the approximately 750,000 prints must have been linked to a particular memory. Under water, such images were slowly eroded by bacteria.
It was through this volunteer work that I met him. The phrase “things that float on water,” uttered by someone like him, having grown up in a town disastrously damaged by tsunami, made me imagine a lot of things.
Our activity kept going; around 450,000 prints were successfully returned to the original owners or closely related ones. At the same time, there were also many other photos that would be most likely discarded due to their serious damages. He and I therefore established the Lost & Found Project, an activity to organize occasions for those with difficulties to physically visit afflicted areas to see such nowhere-to-go photographs.
We received a lot of inquiries to do exhibitions in various places in different countries, to which we ourselves were also invited to go. With the exhibited photographs in front of their eyes, each viewer, regardless of age, gender, and nationalities, seemed to relate themselves to the imagery by substituting the tsunami-deprived parts with their own memory. In the meantime, the words “things that float on water” were still in the back of my head, but unable to think of anything particular to photograph, I could not yet start working on it. Around a year had passed and he died. I thought such nonsense should not be true. And since then, I had somehow forgotten our promise for quite a while.
One day, after another few years, I went to a shrine on the top of a mountain to pray for a safe delivery for someone I know. In the slightly cold air, I ascended the steps all the way up, and beside the shrine gate, I found a couple of large jugs filled with transparent water to the limit of surface tension. Into each of the jugs, coins have been tossed, among which many lay at the bottom, looking blue, and a few floated on water, glittering in silver. At the very moment when I saw this light swaying on water surface, I realized that the time had come.
After all, what does “things that float on water” really indicate? Seeking for an answer to this, I photographed different subjects one after another. At the same time, life went on; I got married and then we had a child around a year later. Here came my turn to take our own family photographs, just like those numerous ones that I cleansed in the aftermath of the earthquake. Marriage, delivery, child-raising. Every time a new photo was taken, in association with the existing ones, it slightly changed the entire meaning.
Photographs straddle over multiple timeframes, through which some are forgotten and others are recollected. Every time you look back, episodes are newly connected or separated, continually spinning the narrative into the future.
When I responded to him saying I would sometime try with “things that float on water,” I never expected it would eventually get related to me photographing my own child. And now, what the words he uttered eight years ago allude to also feels different from before.
Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1980. He graduated from Nippon Photography Institute Tokyo in 2001.
After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, he became a member of the Salvage Memoryproject which returns lost photos to their owners in the town of Yamamoto in Miyagi prefecture, one of the places hit worst by the tsunami. During this project, he took heavily damaged photos which had been thrown away and turned them into a traveling exhibition named Lost & Found Projectthat aimed to raise funds for tsunami survivors. He has published a catalogue of this exhibition titled Tsunami, Photographs, and Then – LOST & FOUND PROJECT(AKAAKA 2014). His other photographic books, SKYFISH(AKAAKA 2010), Laying Stones(VERO 2015), Birds on the Heads / Bodies in the Dark(VERO 2016) andSpinning a Yarn(VERO 2020) have been published.
|Mar 10||－||Arp 28, 2016||Laying Stones|