Get out of your comfort zone. Popular advice nowadays. I’ve dispensed it myself, in this very column. I must admit, though, its begun to sound like a giant cliché. Too bad.
People say it all the time, as if a comfort zone was a physical place, like an oppresively small powder room. You’re trapped, with little more than a toilet and a sink. The walls are closing in. And you must get out. Are you too big to shimmy out the window? Are you strong enough to break down the pinewood door? If not, you’ll be trapped in your comfort zone. Forever.
It doesn’t work like that. Though the phrase is admittedly overused, the meaning is profound. What do you do well? What is your behaviour pattern? What can you bang out in your sleep? Those are difficult questions. Once answered, then comes the hard part. Stop doing what you do well, and try things that you are bad at.
I push myself with my artwork, and realize that I need to do it here as well. Lately, I’ve tried to change up my writing routine by letting books germinate in my head, rather than being so quick to judge. Does it make me a better writer? I don’t know, but the point is that growth rarely happens without work.
Today, we’re going to follow up on this new trend. In fact, I’d like to discuss a book that I previously dismissed: “Okinawa,” by Daido Moriyama, published by Super Labo. If you read this column religiously, you might remember that I made an offhand comment about how even great artists can make boring books. True.
To challenge my preconceptions, I picked this one up again off the stack. And, for once, I decided to look at it back to front, which is my old habit with magazines. Reverse the narrative, as it were. Backwards book review.
Open the back, and the first thing you find is a statement by the artist. Apparently, in 1974, someone organized a photography workshop on Okinawa with Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki, among others. Wow. Talk about getting your money’s worth.
Mr. Moriyama goes on to describe a place where it was hard to tell night from day. Her senses were on high alert, as everyone scoured the Island for “photo moments.” His experience was so powerful, that he claims, “These were sensations that I could not experience elsewhere… meaning that it was as though my body had, on a celluar diension, understood Okinawa preceding my arbitrary thoughts and preconceived notions I possessed then.”
Thank goodness we’re going back to front, because that informs everything to follow. Now, looking at the book, I can visualize a team of photographers, including Japanese masters, roaming around a somewhat-desolate Island, replete with American Military Presence. Mr. Moriyama, compelled to shoot, follows her instincts, and produces the dreamy, grainy, stylized time capsule from the year I was born. (Big ups to 1974.)
When I looked at the book the first time, it felt arbitrary and too long. Now, we have purpose. I notice that the book shifts formats regularly: some images require it to be turned on its side. Then, I see that many of the horizontal format images are diptychs. Some are terrific: an old building, it could be 200 years ago, then the companion image shows the same building, slightly to the right, and a 7UP sign brings us back to the 20th Century.
Elsewhere, we see lots of Pepsi signs, and burger joints, symbolizing the impact of the US Military, and Globalization. There are dogs, and horses, and motorbikes, and cool 70′s cars. Long dirt roads, leading who-knows-where, but always with a person far off in the distance, or close, yet walking away.
Overall, the photographic quality is very high. There are still too many images, but the narrative tightens up quite a bit, with enforced hindsight. Light shimmers off of rain slick roads, kids are everywhere, the perfect subject for the roaming photo army. This time, it’s an altogether more pleasurable viewing experience.
Daido Moriyama: An Okinawan timecapsule from 1974. Can you dig it?
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