Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Irezumi and photography #1

Irezumi is incredibly impressive when first exposed to it in real life. Photographs cannot do it justice at all. Often it becomes a mere image for reference, void of spirit.
Because that is what one experiences in the precense of a person fully dressed in Irezumi, that insight that it really should be experienced moving, breathing, talking, doing other things than just posing formally before the camera. Another funny thing that happens when viewing a color photograph of a full piece of Irezumi, is that the black and grey background easily slips away, letting subject matter dominate and reign supreme. Japanese tattooing is based on traditional Japanese art, woodblock prints, handcarved Noh masks, paintings and other artifacts stretching mostly from the Edo period (1600-1868) and backwards, sometimes all the way into the mists of ancient China.

Japanese art often rest upon the use of ink and brush on paper. This is where it happens. The black and grey background so intimately associated with Irezumi traces its origins to Sumi-e (monochrome ink painting) and the neighbouring expressions, often buddhist ones.
When photographing Irezumi using black and white this background comes alive, embracing the subject matter in a different way. It begins to flow, curve and jump around. Most of the time, when viewing Irezumi, it is in fact the shaded background that carries the piece, but since most photographs published of traditional Japanese tattoos are in full color, the phenomena of background is rarely appreciated in full.

Kofuu-Senju use a lot of black and white photography when dealing with Irezumi, especially in the making of Kokoro, our new book on Horiyoshi III. This doesn't mean that we are strangers to the color photograph. Some of are scheduled and upcoming publications will be done in color.
It all depends upon the story you want to tell the reader/viewer. Are we talking about insides or outsides? Or both?

(photograph made by Matti Sedholm. From the grounds of Daitokuji Zen Temple Complex, Kyoto, Japan)

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