The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Milking It

I`m an immigrant but that is not news or a thing to gain me sympathy or respect because it was easy for me to get here to Japan and, as a happy accident of my birth in a developed, English speaking country, it is mostly easy for me to stay here too. I do understand however that for many other immigrants around the World, life  is not that simple, I wrote before about  the shocking cases of exploitation in the UK that many immigrants, illegal and otherwise, have to face and if of course just being somewhere where your skills, passions and character are unimportant at best or even unwanted for the menial tasks you`ll be expected to perform, it can be very hard. To illustrate this the picture above is of a fantastic artist my the name of Marcos Nakasone who came to Japan from Brazil to work in a car parts factory in Hamamatsu . Which is seriously slumming it for a man of his talents. So anything you can do to make your situation work for you is to be encouraged. Especially if you are an artist.

But having read about this guy in the Independent here I think there is a time when you can milk the drama of your life as an refugee and immigrant a little too much. Don`t get me wrong, I think the photographer`s  life story is amazing: he deserves to profit from it and if you look at the other galleries on his site you will see that the life of the immigrant and refugee is his consuming passion. With his unique perspective of having been both of those things  how can it not give him a depth of understanding and insight that creates amazingly moving stories and artistic photos of raw power and mesmerizing integrity. Particularly with a degree in journalism to boot. Yet looking at his images I feel disappointed; I would have expected much better than the contrived and affected film wasting we are offered.

I have a soft spot for the SalAM gallery though, it is so nearly trying to aspire to be something resembling an Alec Soth inspired work that you have to like it just a little bit.

When I say affected, I mean his artistic gimmick. Many photographers have one but Sebu does an interesting thing. After taking photographs he “ruins” the negatives by dropping them in the sea or exposing them to sunlight before developing. Then he, or others usually, write words and words and words about how the effect suspends his (rather bored) looking subjects in ethers of isolation or mists of fantasy and dreams of escape. Etc, etc, etc. ad infinitum.

Personally I think word “ruin” doesn`t need the quotation marks and should not be used with any artistic meaning. The dictionary meaning is a good enough one because when I see a sometimes adept portrait style spoilt by a big orange glare across the top and bottom due to the negative being exposed to light or the colours faded and hazy to the point of invisibility I would put the image in the bin and kick myself for not taking more care with the negative.

But then I am not an “artist” obviously and I am not a member of the horribly branded Vauxhall Collective. So what do I know?

I do know that Marcos (above) is an professional artist in Brazil who came to Japan to learn about the Japanese style of painting. He is also a member of a group of artists that meet at the HICE offices in Hamamatsu and use a love of art to bring Japanese and immigrant artists together. There are about fifty members of the group and they all want to get the message across that Brazilian and Peruvian immigrants to the city are more than just factory workers even if the vast majority do work in factories to make ends meet, like Marcos. But when they are talking art that doesn`t matter they are human again, more than that they are talented, interesting humans that put on exhibitions that instruct and inspire each other. And most importantly they do not milk the status of being an immigrant for sympathy or subject matter.

There are for sure stories and great art to be made from the lives of the immigrants to Japan because though they may have flown here, have a relatively high paying job and are legally allowed to live in Japan, they are not always welcome. The fact that they didn`t have to smuggle themselves across The Channel in a truck or swim to Spain from Morocco does not mean they feel any less the hardships of leaving a home they know and love.. Yet the market is hard here, The Japanese feel less apologetic than many in Europe do about the situation of the immigrants in their country, and prefer not to see the negatives if they do care. If you are going to show the underside and hostility of the country you came to; the country that you may have even grown to love, understand intimately and now call home; and also the country that you are irrevocably changing with your unique commentary, it had better be powerful and skillfully done. Sebu Kurtis`s images, for all the finery of the words written about them, do not do that about the UK.

In my opinion.

Art opinions are open to debate and I am not here to slag off a fellow photographer, I don`t doubt that he can take pictures as there are some that are so nearly good. He just seems to have caught the British art disease that seems to suggest it is okay to exploit a niche or weakness in the corporate sponsorship circus that allows greedy capitalists to pretend they have morals and are philanthropically bringing to issue some great hidden cause that they deeply care about for the greater good of mankind. As some with the money know nothing of art: they just want the cause out there, memorable and graphic (and branded with their goodness),  lazy or desperate artists do lazy and desperate things to grab a piece of that pie. The gimmick is lazy, the subjects fleetingly connected with, which considering there shared histories is unforgivable, and the whole collection looks rushed and greedy.

I am happy to be corrected though, as I`m a photographer not an artist, so what do I know?



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