Issue #3

Are, Bure, Boke was a description applied to a style of photography created among certain Japanese photographers during the 1960s. The phrase, translated as rough, blurred, and out of focus, was associated with a magazine called Provoke, a highly influential magazine which published several well-known Japanese photographers, including Masahisa Fukase, Eikoh Hosoe, Daido Moriyama, and Shomei Tomatsu. I've been particular attracted to this style of photography lately despite the fact that it is no longer particularly subversive and is now, in fact, pretty widely emulated. Look at a lot of enthusiast street photography posted around the web and you will find this style. Most of the time it is a soulless copy of the style - high contrast black and white, heavy grain, etc. - and nothing more. I even emulate it myself, but there is something about it that draws me in and I like to think that I employ it not just because it is somewhat fashionable to do so.

I've been trying to understand why especially in light of this quote I read in a review of Stephen Shore's "The Nature of Photographs":
“The book closes with a succinct discussion of ‘mental modelling’: these models are the result of the photographer’s conditioning, insights and understanding of the world, and they form a filter that determines what kinds of picture will be taken. By becoming conscious of this model, the photographer can bring it under control. New perceptions derived from the process of photography feed into the model, leading to new photographic decisions.”

As someone who makes photography a central part of my life, what I photograph is not just the image itself. The images that I make are a un/conscious decision of what I think is important and interesting. What I show and how I show it is a small piece of a puzzle that makes up who I am and what I think about it. Photography becomes a whole different thing when you think of it this way. It's much more difficult and makes you feel much more vulnerable.

This past week I read Blake Andrew's interview with John Sypal. I was initially drawn to the interview because they discussed the Japanese style of photography and the Provoke-era photographers, but what I really took away from it was their discussion about the practice of photography from a Japanese perspective. Western photography is focused on the perfect photo. The process of photography starts with a search for the perfect image, being able to capture it, and then spending time editing it until it is just right. Japanese photography, especially the Provoke-era photographers, aren't interested in the perfect photo, at least not nearly at the same level. Images are thought about more in terms of a set; how they work together as a whole is valued over a single great image in isolation. There is also a diary-like component to the photography. Sypal has a word he coined called Zuisha that denotes a kind of photography that is a lot like the free-form writing, stream-of-consciousness sort of stuff that writers use to mine for ideas beneath the level of their conscious thought. I find it fascinating that the same can be applied to the practice of photography.

The more I think about all of this together, the more I realize I'm drawn to the Provoke-style because being rough and blurred and out of focus is pretty much how I understand myself. If you have a clear picture of who you are, what you value, what you want, well, then you have something I don't. My insights into who I am are not nearly so well-defined. My sense of self right now is a mismatch of conflicting ideas, fuzzy concepts, and dream-like memories, much like the images I find myself drawn toward.
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