"Japanese" Black and White
OK, the name is probably over-reaching, but I can't tear myself away from seeing a pattern in Japanese B&W photography, in that they often have a look like this:
Soft gradations, deep blacks, creamy mid-tones, strong contrasts that don't feel harsh, absence of grain, and "that special feel" all seem to be characteristic of Japanese photography. It seems to me that those picture attain a high level of contrast with a very soft, even light.
Can anybody (especially if you are Japanese!) comment a little on what is the origin of this look, and how it is attained (exposure/film/dev/paper combo)?
before we comment on this, can you check these links:
http://www.easterwood.org/hmmn/ (think this blog is maintained by an American guy and with excellent links to Japanese photography sites)
a really weird one:
can you point to more images that in your eyes have this Japanese look?
We're asking this, because it might be necessary to establish a common ground of understanding first, before reeling off about the virtues of Japanese B&W, where we mean something completely different than you.
We too think there is something special about Japanese photography, but maybe for completely different reasons. Nonetheless, like you, we are interested in how these images are printed. Perhaps it's also a way of 'being in the world' that is different: they seem sensitive to different things, different lighting conditions and different possible subject matters to take photos of than Americans or Europeans.
Maybe, just maybe, this might evolve into a discussion thread that we find really really interesting...but then, it might also not.
I for one would be very interested in seeing where this discussion leads. I also tend to think of japanese photography in the terms of soft gradation (even when contrasty) , meticulous composition, small grain, etc...
It might, however, be that those are the ones that stand out to us. I certainly remember seeing japanese street photography that was grainy, harsh, and gritty (but still very good). Perhaps there is a cultural trend for soft gradations, but perhaps not.
Sorry for this throughly unhelpful post.
I m not sure but possibly the Professor mentioned in an earlier post the reason for Verito lenses and that era and design of lenses going for premium prices in Japan.....and I believe there was a photographer and a philosophy behind it....but I could have dreamed it also.....I apologize Professor if I spoke out of turn....could you shed some light on this? Sounds facinating...
I don´t think the "Japanese Look" can be defined by a film/exposure/developer/paper combo, but rather by the way these photographers approach the craft as such. Like their woodcarvings, their cuisine, their aquarium tradition and many other artistic manifestations, they show respect for the medium, hard work and a carefully studied approach to composition. I assume that many of these artists would find it offensive (to the viewer and the subject photographed) not to give it their best effort within their very educated sense of aesthetics.
I can only assume that if you grow up in a world where your surroundings, houses, gardens and even food are constantly monitored to be visually pleasing (according to century old rules), you grow up with an eye for these qualities, and it shows in your work.
Photos are made four inches behind the camera
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Interesting comment and I was going to say it is more "cultural" look to it. The culture shows in the medium where our American culture creates the look that we normally see. After college, I read a lot about Eastern Philosophy and I see a lot of that (ying-yang thing to put it succintly) in the Eastern style. I think there is a balance to a lot of those photos. Wherein, you can't see midtones, unless there is whiteness, you can't see deep rich blacks, unless you see creamy whites. Kinda like, you can't know how hot something is unless you contrast it with something cold. Grrr, so hard to put into words, I think Pooh tells it best.
Originally Posted by Peter Rockstroh
Peter, that's what I had in mind as well when I said there might be a cultural trend going on. I have not seen many japanese photographer's work, but the few I've seen were great technically speaking (not to imply that the content wasn't great as well, but we are talking about perfection in craft).
But what I'm wondering about is that as outsiders we tend to stereotype the little we know of japanese photography. I tend to think of American photography as a toss up between great work and crappy-trying-to-break-the-rules work. Perhaps japanese photography is the same way, but we only get exposed to the best of it.
The image I'd really like to show you is from Araki Nobuyoshi, from "Sentimental Journey" (1971). It's a woman brushing her teeth by the window, and there is a single source of light coming from the window pane. Shot seems to be taken with a moderate wide angle, from a distance at which you see her from head to toe. But the distinctive trait I admire in it is how the rest of the scene is pitch black, except for the lit portion which is very bright. Yet the contrast feels smooth, almost seamless.
Originally Posted by medform-norm
I didn't see it on his website, but the galleries at http://www.arakinobuyoshi.com/update_gallery.html have that "special aspect" I'm talking about. (For those who don't know the guy: not work safe!)
In the list that you have submitted, I could say that the first picture on the top of the easterwood.org site has some of that look, especially for the large zones of pitch black, and the contrast with creamy whites.
The other way I can describe what I find distinctive is that they avoid glistening subjects in harsh light. The opposite of this would be Ansel Adams and Edward Weston: shiny surfaces, harsh desert light, strong textures, etc.
My original intent was merely to discuss the exposure aspect of these photographies, because I admire how they tame very difficult contrasts into beautiful works. I was curious to know as to whether this is more the result of a proper examination of lightning in a scene, or if whether this is the result of a technical process on film/printing. As with everything, I'm sure the truth lies midway, but the technical aspect sprung to mind first because I've been printing my first negatives last night, and started feeling how hard it is to work with contrasty negatives.
I find those pictures to be the summum of using the BLACK portion of black and white. They're not exactly shades of grey, rather densities of black. My naive interpretation is to relate them to traditional ink paintings and calligraphy, and how perfect the blacks can be in those artworks.
But I must say that this goes beyond the borders of mere exposure discussion!
En lieu of a very long answer, for which I have no time at the moment, I can say that the book "In Praise of Shadow" by Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) - original title In'ei raisan - available in (modestly good) English translation by Seidensticker - made great impact on us.
Shadows and darkness are very important for the Japanese sense of aesthetics, whereas Western aesthetics tend to have more emphasis on light This is dictated by our cultural history with a strong orientation towards light in both religion and philosophy. But there is more to it than that. We, amongst ourselves, call it a different awareness of how things are present. Like there are also difference in 'being aware of the presence of things' between photographers stemming from predominantly catholic or predominantely protestant regions. For instance, we can tell for 99% sure if a photo was made by a German raised in a catholic region or not. These photos have a certain undeniable mystical quality - in the true (religiously oriented) sense of the word, not the romantic one. If you grew up in a protestant region, you will have a hard time even understanding what quality we're pointing to. This makes discussions on these topics very hard if not impossible.
I think there are certain cultural tendencies to be sure.
I took a ceramics class which had a Japanese student in it. His work was precise and exacting. Excellent attention to detail. I find this carries over into Japanese wood work and architecture too.
Interestingly, I find post-war German photography to be a bit remote and dehumanized. Seems the Germans do a lot of architectural work. At least the stuff that makes it over here.
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