Satoshi Fujiwara: This City on Rails, It Pivots Relentlessly
AMERICAN SUBURB X
''....Satoshi Fujiwara’s “Code Unknown” is a book that gives me anxiety. I don’t think I can place its fore-bearer. Perhaps there is a similarity to Walker Evans Subway series. There is a touch of the grotesque that I see in Bruce Gilden’s aggressive portraiture, but the definition of the images is more direct. I can see crumbs on the corners of mouths. I can see untrimmed nasal hairs and almost feel close enough to smell muesli on the breath of the passengers. It is nearly a forensic investigation into travel portraiture. I am convinced that I am on a human Safari, perhaps what “The Most Dangerous Game” could have been if it were written on Berlin’s transport systems. The pages are laid out in nearly scientific display with the page sizes varying towards fragments of character that elude the simple glance. The book is something that I have been aware of since late 2015, but I had not received it until recently. For me, this is one of the most interesting publications that I have seen in the past couple of years. It’s a simple concept, but the high definition of the portraits and the use the fragmentary in hyper color really disturbs and fascinates me at the same time. It is superb. I have seen installation shots of an exhibition from the work where Fujiwara plays on the plasticity or plastic nature of these images. They feel like billboard signs that have been ripped down and placed on gallery walls. I suggest that people check this book out. It feels like what I wish Magnum was doing with imagery in contemporary terms. There is a suggestion of an investigation and I am pretty sure that is what it should be. Photography is too often absorbed into telling a story or shelves itself into some sort of bizarre desire to be understood as linear. This is how to tell a story. To let the viewer come to their own subjective conclusion based on an idea that is not blatant. It has my highest recommendation. ''
Satoshi Fujiwara’s documentary photography questions the notion of reported reality
It's Nice That
In his latest series of photographs, #R, Kobe-born, Berlin-based photographer Satoshi Fujiwara produces narrative through high quality, extreme close-up artistic reportage, which document a vehement clash between the police and the people protesting in Berlin in response to the ongoing refugee crisis… or so it seems. In fact, what reads as clear and true high quality reportage is actually a subtle feint. Making use of careful composition and compilation and manipulation of context, Satoshi orchestrates the narrative and insinuations of the viewer. Satoshi reveals, “there were no demonstrations or protests on the day the photos were taken, there were also no actual clashes between the people and the authorities.” Both #R, and companion series #Police #Cover-Up #Demonstrations #Brutality produced a year prior, play with perceptions of reality and likeness, in response to his central thesis on how the state makes “strategic use of visual images, as seen in propaganda”. Satoshi poses the following question: “Given how digital editing technology allows for the possibility to obscure the truth, is there the potential to do the reverse and use fake images to tell hidden truths?” The framing and focal distance and extreme high definition of the photographs places the viewer in the midst of the action, claustrophobic and urgent, selling the fallacy. Satoshi has previous remarked, “We are aware that scenes portrayed in the media are nothing more than images taken from a single perspective, yet are we not able to free ourselves from the pictures that are broadcasted to us?” and so, the viewer is coerced by context and construction. Likewise, by obliterating the backgrounds of the image the context is left malleable and manipulable, leaving the remaining distinguishable characteristics to dictate the narrative. Polizei logos and epaulettes strike authoritarian apprehension when placed in the context of a series of close-up images, people pressed together seemingly in struggle and their faces embellished with bruises and blood. In this way Satoshi says that he “made each photograph an icon of violence”. The end result is a shrewd experiment, repurposing his own signature style and making use of the photojournalistic aesthetics, which makes the images appear as genuine prestige reportage. Coercive, the images simultaneous make us question and scrutinise the way we process and accept the visual information given to us.
BLINK // Satoshi Fujiwara
Berlin Art Link
Satoshi Fujiwara‘s photographs are unflattering, harsh and brutal. Anybody caught within one of his covertly snapped images would no doubt look at themselves in both embarrassment and disbelief, regardless of their efforts by way of makeup or outfit. Yet, beyond that, his approach to his work, utilizing the subtlety of light and a telephoto lens, means that the resulting images are inescapable, mesmerizing and at times humorous. Covering a series of three volumes, Code Unknown uses a signature style in shooting detailed images of passing strangers within the subways of Berlin, only to then digitally alter their photographs in ways that contradict their actual likeness, challenging not only perceptions regarding ownership and rights within the public eye but also the beauty of the un-composed and un-staged. Other series’ such as #Scanning, R and #police #cover_up #demonstrations #brutality make use of the same approach, but expand onto the details of fabric, contrasting between that of police officers and citizens. Aside from this, Fujiwara makes use of gentler approaches to imagery in projects such as Eye of the West and Migrated Surfaces, where he explores the concept of identity in contrasting ways and examines their place within today’s western society, which both act as antidotes to the brazen and merciless nature of the street imagery he is widely known for.
Book Review 'Code Unknown'
In today’s selfie-obsessed culture, many people have a rehearsed pose or facial expression to enact within milliseconds of a camera being shoved in their face. We are so used to posing for pictures, it becomes natural to stand willingly for the camera and a photo taken without permission can be highly offensive. Berlin-based photographer Satoshi Fujiwara (1984, Japan) breaks this unspoken rule in his book Code Unknown, in which he photographs unsuspecting commuters on Berlin trains, capturing unpractised and unaware facial expressions close up and in minute detail. Inspired by Michael Haneke’s film of the same name, Fujiwara takes these images without the permission of the ‘models’ in the train, questioning the right of likeness and pushing it to its limit. The images are unflattering, and in some places, almost grotesque, due to the presence of deep pores, burrowing wrinkles and wiry hair all over the rough-looking skin. They were taken while the subjects were absentmindedly rubbing their face or squinting from the sunlight, contrasting the manicured and sanitised portrait imagery we might’ve become accustomed to. The faces almost start to become one homogenous image, as the eye is unable to determine what to try and interpret, all one sees are meaningless details. Printed larger than life, these details take on unnatural proportion. Taken over months of travelling, Fujiwara photographs his subjects in close-up and then edits the images in order to make the person depicted unrecognisable, by means of selecting faces obscured by shadow, cropping extremely close so the viewer sees no personal style choices the subject could have made and in some, digitally editing the image. Fujiwara notes in the accompanying essay that technology is moving so quickly and cameras are so much more sophisticated than the human eye, that “you might not even realise that the person in the picture is you.” The artist does this in order to “obscure the individuality”, disallowing the viewer from reading the various unspoken codes we project by how we dress. The format of the book itself adds to the confusion, as the different types of matte and glossy paper come in all different sizes, meaning images layer over and interrupt each other. The orientation of photos is also mixed, some spreads feature a cropped face on one side and on the other, an extreme close-up detail from that same face, but rotated ninety degrees. The result is a bombardment of information, referencing the busy nature of a city train, the brain overloaded with shades of pink, beige and brown, pockmarked and damaged by daily life. It becomes difficult to identify or decipher any distinguishing feature, all faces and actions portrayed become the same. Fujiwara, originally from Japan, notes how Western cities like Berlin are full of people form different ethnic backgrounds, so trying to read the various codes from these cultures can be impossible. Code Unknown displays an outsider looking in, noticing detail that make us all the same and removing all social convention. The book is an innovative look into how we are portrayed in modern society, it rebels against our acute awareness of an ever-present camera and questions the privilege of privacy in the 21st century.
Book Review 'Code Unknown'
The surreptitious subway shot has been a staple of photography ever since Walker Evans made his first hidden camera images of New York passengers in the late 1930s. Even back then, his snatched glimpses of unvarnished life were full of vitality – when the subject isn’t aware of the photographer, posing doesn’t take place, so authentic everyday gestures and expressions aren’t covered up. While many photographers have followed in Evans’ footsteps (Bruce Davidson, Chris Marker, and Reinier Gerritsen just to name a few), few have done so with as much up close intimacy as Japanese photographer Satoshi Fujiwara. Taken while riding the trains of Berlin, his pictures bore in with tight invasive skew-angle attention, seeing anonymous passengers with the observant eyes of a curious outsider. Fujiwara’s images quietly break the usual contract of private space, getting right up in people’s faces like Bruce Gilden, but without the overt aggressive confrontation. His secret photographs are full of tiny details – folds of skin, wrinkles, pores and stubble, fingernails, wisps of colored hair – pulling in so close that specific individuals become more universal abstractions of humanity. In the crisp light of the morning and the warm glow of the afternoon, he has tallied movements and idiosyncrasies – the way a hand is brought to the lips, the downward glance of eyes, a vacant stare, the styles of eyeglass frames, the intake of breath. He watches these fragments of gesture and appearance looking for codes, the small overlooked moments that act like identifying marks of personality and background. The crumple of candy wrapper, the interlocked pendant, the awkwardly carried orchid in plastic, the edge of leather, they all tell stories and reveal identities. There is a certain brash ugliness to such intense scrutiny and Fujiwara is well aware of his privacy invasion (especially in this social media age) – he uses cropping, shadowing, and after-the-fact manipulation to pull us away from recognizing people and toward seeing disembodied details. The real energy of this photobook comes from its unconventional construction. Fujiwara’s images are gathered on loose pages of various sizes, creating a folded layering effect when the small and large images are interleaved next to one another; when we step back and take in an entire spread, the images become a twisting collage of mixed body parts. His portraits are oriented in all directions (tumbling eyes look here and there) and different paper stocks make the tactile engagement unique for each page turn. The book’s dynamic design also highlights a distinct sense of immersive motion. Faces swirl and overlap, building on one another (sometimes on the same page), becoming an interwoven mixture of disconnected features, just like the swim of passing faces on a crowded train. Humanity comes and goes, we see it fleetingly, catching just a glimpse of an eyebrow here, a scarf there, trying to make connections and conclusions from the barest of visual information. The minute variations and topographies of skin (not unlike those found in Nicholas Nixon’s skin-centric portraits) become a study all their own when Fujiwara forces us to look at his subjects with such unwavering clarity. Our eyes jump around, recalibrating, resizing, recombining, and reconsidering. This is a case where the packed density of the photobook form is likely the fullest manifestation of Fujiwara’s vision. While certain individual faces stand out and will make striking large scale prints, it is the pleasingly jumbled public/private experience found in the book that thrums with visual and conceptual richness. Fujiwara’s patient eye has found expressive detail in these distracted and unknowing subway riders, turning a forgettably dull commute into an engaging visual cacophony.