Miyako Ishiuchi (b.1947) has photographs in two exhibitions in London at the moment: Tate Modern and Michael Hoppen Gallery. If you are in London, they are worth seeing.
Ishiuchi didn’t take up photography until she was 28 when she came under the mentorship of Shomei Tomatsu and Daido Moriyama. This influence is clear when you see her first collection ‘Yokosuka Story’(1976-1977), which is currently on display at Tate Modern (the Tate also has an interesting interview with her).
Her early style is very reminiscent of Moriyama but with an eye for interesting patterns and shapes that respond well to the gritty, high-contrast black & white approach common to the photos in this series. The images record a run-down town with seedy traditional architecture as well as western influences left over from the defunct US naval station. It is a town lost; bypassed by life.
The Michael Hoppen Gallery has 3 floors of exhibition space, all of which are currently devoted to Ishiuchi’s work. large images from her most recent series “Silken Dreams” are on the ground floor, black & white images from her early trilogy ‘Yokosuka Story’(1976-1977), ‘Apartment’(1977-1978), and ‘Endless Night’(1981) are on the first floor, and “Hiroshima” on the top floor. The display spaces are chosen well: the large windows on the ground floor and the ample skylights on the top floor are very appropriate for the colour images whereas the darker middle floor complements the dark grittiness of the trilogy pictures.
Some of the “Hiroshima” series (photographs of items recovered from the town after the atomic bomb was dropped) have a fragile translucency to them that reminds me of the old Polaroid image transfer technique. It is as if the ghosts of the owners are still present.
All of Ishiuchi’s images have a studied imperfectness about them, whether this is due to, for example, blur, grain or tilt, or simply the subject matter. In “Hiroshima” she shows she can produce sharp, full-tone images when it is appropriate but, in the other series, is quite capable of using camera and process controls to achieve an altogether different emotional impact. Unfortunately none of her images about body scarring is on show; what a shame as this is a long-running theme of Ishiuchi’s and would complement her studies in time and timelessness in the work that is on display. The scar images can be seen online but I suspect the impact of these as an exhibition would be much greater, so something to look forward to!