Ahn Sehong’s photos and Nikon (yet again)

Yesterday I had half an hour to kill in Nishi-Shinjuku and decided to go again to Ahn Sehong (安世鴻, 안세홍)’s show 重重 (Layer by Layer, 겹겹, Gyeobgyeob, Jūjū).

There were fewer security guards this time, but instead of (very politely) going over visitors with a metal detector, they now (very politely) asked these to put baggage and the like to the side, and to walk through an airport-style security gate. This device pleasantly added to the general surrealism of the whole affair. Fewer visitors this time than last, but still a lot for a show at Nikon during working hours on a weekday.

Not only the uniformed people were extraordinarily polite, all were. The Nikon staff in particular seemed alert to the slightest possibility that they might be in my way, deftly stepping aside when I even started to approach. At least one of them magically combined this with an impression that he was avoiding looking in my direction. Extraordinary peripheral vision there.

And so the Nikon staff helped me concentrate more on the photos than I could the previous time. The best of these are good, but I was less satisfied with some others. It’s just that they don’t all have much visual interest. As for other interest, there’s probably plenty — but because there are no captions, one can only guess. Or one can’t — yes, I see (for example) that a lady is holding what I suppose is a Chinese ID card; but I can’t make out what’s written on it, and don’t know what other significance it may have.

I hope that an informative booklet eventually comes out of this work. (There’s already a modest brochure.)

The news today is that the Tokyo District Court turned down Nikon’s appeal against its provisional ruling and instead ruled that the exhibition should go ahead as planned (Asahi [at WebCite], Mainichi [at WebCite]).

All the best to Ahn and, despite its recent aberration, my thanks to Nikon for mounting shows such as this.

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Ahn Sehong’s work is on show, so go and see it.

Today I went to see Ahn Sehong (安世鴻, 안세홍)’s show 重重 (Layer by Layer, 겹겹, Gyeobgyeob, Jūjū), on Koreans in China who had been “comfort women” for the Japanese military about seventy years ago.

It’s an odd show: one passes by three security guards on the way to the room, and is given a once-over with a metal detector when entering, and in the room there are security guards, Nikon employees, and also other staff affiliated with Ahn. But everybody is very polite, and trying not to get in others’ way.

The photos are good. Some of the subjects are very frail indeed, making Ahn’s task difficult; but all in all the photos are satisfying. They’re on warm paper and are somewhat mushy (which is surely deliberate): I wish they’d instead been on the kind of paper usually used for exhibitions (deep black, etc), but perhaps that’s just me. The photos don’t have explanations or even captions, which seems a pity. There’s a text in Japanese and English on the wall. This is so political that, um, the Japanese version at one point euphemistically describes the women as 朝鮮人元日本軍慰安婦 (i.e. Korean comfort women of the former Japanese military) but makes no other mention of Japan; while the English text doesn’t mention Japan at all. Note for the slow-witted: This means that (contrary to what has been claimed) the exhibition isn’t political in the slightest, though I suppose that if you’ve been a credulous consumer of the kind of whitewashed histories that most Japanese governments have more or less openly wanted taught in Japan, or if you have somehow managed to take far-right haranguing seriously, you might hallucinate something political about the show.

Here’s a report from Fotgazet about yesterday. For those who can’t read Japanese text: the first three photos there are of the exhibition space (on the 28th floor); the fourth is I think of the second floor (thanks to elevated walkways outside, perhaps a more widely used way in than the first floor), and the point is that Nikon is advertising the other, smaller show (see below) but not mentioning Ahn’s show. This was unchanged today.

As usual the exhibition space is divided into two. Ahn has the larger room. The smaller one is for this, by ten members of the Department of Photography, Nihon University. The only way you can enter the smaller show is via the larger one. When planning their show, the Nihon University team can hardly have imagined that would-be viewers would be subjected to a security check (however polite). I felt a bit sorry for them and went in. There’s plenty of technique on view there; what’s done with it is of widely varying appeal to me. I enjoyed the works of four of the exhibitors, which is pretty good going — four out of ten is a far higher success rate than I get from, say, books published by Akaaka. This exhibition runs till 3 pm on Monday, so be sure to see it when you see Ahn’s.

More to look at and read:

  • some of the photographs
  • “Court orders Nikon to allow ‘comfort women’ exhibition”, Asahi Shinbun, 23 June; here, WebCite backup
  • Olivier Laurent, “Judge rules against Nikon in controversial ‘comfort women’ case”, British Journal of Photography, 27 June; here
  • Miho Inada, “Judge orders Nikon to hold ‘comfort women’ photo exhibit”, Wall Street Journal, 25 June; here, WebCite backup
  • Antoni Żółciak, “Sąd w Tokio nakazuje Nikonowi otwarcie wystawy ‘comfort women’”, SwiatObrazu.pl, 26 June; here
  • “‘Comfort women’ exhibition goes ahead amid protests”, Asahi Shinbun, 26 June; here; WebCite backup
  • Jung Nam-ku, “Amid tension, Nikon photo exhibit goes ahead”, The Hankyoreh, 27 June; here
  • “‘Comfort women’ show makes Nikon uncomfortable but not Tokyo courts”, Japan Subculture Research Center, 28 June; here
  • “Comfort women photographer pleased by Japan court”, Bangkok Post, 28 June; here
  • right-wing fantasists

Nikon isn’t happy

Ahn Sehong’s show should start at the Shinjuku Nikon Salon tomorrow. But Nikon says (here):
Nikon saying it’s not going to show Ahn Sehong’s show, for unspecified reasons
In short, no show. However, it also says (here):
Nikon is provisionally showing Ahn Sehong’s work
The phrasing is a bit obscure, but Nikon is “provisionally” showing the work, because it has been ordered to do so. However, it’s appealing against this order.

So if you want to see the photographs, better go there earlier rather than later.


Nikon ordered to show Ahn Sehong’s photographs

On 22 June the Tokyo district court ordered Nikon to do what it said it would do, and show Ahn’s photographs. (This Mainichi story is one of several that report on this decision.) Nikon does not seem happy, which is not surprising as its employees will probably be subjected to harassment and amplified wobbly natsumero tunes from the loony right.

I look forward to seeing the exhibition, wearing earplugs if necessary.

If Nikon puts on the show with good grace, I might buy a Nikon camera. No, wait, I really don’t need another camera. Well then, Nikon spectacles or whatever.


Nikon chickens out

I must have seen dozens of photo exhibitions last year but only a handful made a strong impression. One was this one, in a small Shinjuku gallery, by Ahn Sehong (安世鴻). The man is taking and exhibiting photographs worth taking and exhibiting. He had two slim books (海巫 Haemu and 魂巫 Honmu) for sale and I was happy to buy and bring home a copy of each. Though not in that exhibition nor in either of the two books, among his subjects are the elderly survivors of Japanese wartime sex slavery.

A postcard from Nikon:

Jūjū exhibition postcard from Nikon

Yes, to its credit, the Nikon Salon had been going to exhibit this work later this month. But now it isn’t:

Ahn Sehong's show, cancelled by Nikon for unspecified reasons

Nikon says that Ahn Sehong’s show has been cancelled. It cites various reasons (諸般の事情), none of which it deigns to specify.

The real reason appears when Ahn’s name is googled: lots of nitwits are proclaiming that he’s anti-Japanese. Liberally financed far-right thugs are offended by any mention of war crimes, when these war crimes are Japanese. They have hugely powerful megaphones and plenty of time and energy. But the police can and do protect embassies and similar from them. The question is, did Nikon contact the police, and if so, what was the response?

The office of the Governor of Tokyo is a few minutes’ walk from the Nikon Salon. Perhaps the current Governor would care to support the freedom to quietly remind others of facts that noisy minorities happen to want expunged from public memory. (But more likely not, as he too prefers a fantasy account of the past.)

If I were a photographer, I’d happily add I’ve added my name to this petition. But I’m still wondering how best to let nikon.com know they really fucked up but they can still come out on top.


shamans, brocade, knives

Ahn Sehong (安世鴻) has a show in Place M and M2, Honmu (魂巫 魂を呼び寄せる躍動), that’s worth seeing. These are black and white images of shamanistic practices in South Korea. The ladies are dressed very elaborately and are doing rather alarming things with knives, pig heads and so forth. As I’m chronically incapable of taking religious rituals seriously I shan’t attempt any explanation here; but whatever’s going on, it allows some dramatic photographs. (The show is not for small children or the squeamish.) Not all the photographs are too obviously dramatic, and the rather oddly shaped Place M is used effectively.

Certainly this very different from the demure material in many other small shows. A friend and I took a quick look at four shows last night before staying longer at this one than at all the others together.

Honmu is showing from 12:00 till 19:00 until 27 October. You can buy a well printed booklet of works in the show, and also another of works in a show last year — Haemu, 海巫 — of rituals for the sea. Ahn has embarked on a long-term project of photographing shamanism in South Korea and Japan, and is also doing other worthwhile work, with tentative plans for further exhibitions.

Exhibition notice / stylized map / Ahn’s website / Ahn’s blog