© Miyako Ishiuchi, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London / Third Gallery Aya, Osaka

© Miyako Ishiuchi, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London / Third Gallery Aya, Osaka

It is near impossible to observe the early photographs of Japanese photographer Miyako Ishiuchi without seeing the influences of her country’s dark history. Through highly contrasted black and white images, thick floods of grain and shadow and an aesthetic that epitomises the photographic style of Japan throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, Ishiuchi’s quartet of early projects ‘Yokosuka Story’ (1976-1977), ‘Apartment’ (1977-1978), ‘Endless Night’ (1981) and ‘Suidobashi’ (1982) all expose the scars of a country traumatised by war. Sandwiched between her two latest projects the first floor of the Michael Hoppen Gallery is currently home to some of the most powerful photography created during the 70’s and 80’s. Both haunting and beautiful, Ishiuchi’s early projects pave the way for the works shown on the second and ground floors.

© Miyako Ishiuchi, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London / Third Gallery Aya, Osaka

© Miyako Ishiuchi, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London / Third Gallery Aya, Osaka

As you enter the gallery you are met by Ishiuchi’s latest series, ‘Silken Dreams’ (2009-2012), a project that is currently seeing its first exhibition outside of Japan. In complete contrast to the style of her earlier projects, ‘Silken Dreams’ is a collection of large, colourful photographs depicting patterned fabrics and various stages of the silk weaving process. Ishiuchi’s fascination with her home country continues through the exploration of an industry that once thrived in her birth city of Kiryū, Gunma Prefecture, but has recently seen an unfortunate demise. ‘Silken Dreams’ is somewhat of a requiem to the process, a look at the surviving remnants of a dying landmark of Japanese culture, but expressed optimistically through large scale, colourful and bright photographs.

Venturing up to the top floor, we find what could be Ishiuchi’s most harrowing project to date. ‘ひろしま Hiroshima’ (2007) is a series of photographs of items of clothing worn by the victims of the atomic bomb dropped by the US during WWII. Tattered, torn and mere ghostly silhouettes of their former beauty, the garments that Ishiuchi photographed are the surviving fabrics that coated the dead, failing to protect them from the blast. The images in this series demonstrate a new power in Ishiuchi’s work; as a viewer, ‘ひろしま Hiroshima’ forms a connection, as if we were able to look at these garments in a museum. There is a direct link between what we are seeing and the event itself that we know so much about, like recognizing an image of a famous landmark. The images have an aura, not as dark and atmospheric as her earlier projects but definitely just as disturbing.

© Miyako Ishiuchi, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London / Third Gallery Aya, Osaka

© Miyako Ishiuchi, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London / Third Gallery Aya, Osaka

Miyako Ishiuchi is one of the leading Japanese photographers to approach the country’s recent past, and this exhibition gives a strong insight into her past and how her photographic career has progressed to the production of the most recent ‘Silken Dreams’. The Miyako Ishiuchi exhibition is showing at the Michael Hoppen Gallery until October 31st.

Miyako Ishiuchi
Michael Hoppen Gallery
3 Jubilee Place
London SW3 3TD

Words by Michael Swann

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