Miyako Ishiuchi

Yokosuka Story


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Miyako Ishiuchi born 1947
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 115 × 158 mm
Purchased with assistance from the artist through The Third Gallery Aya, Nishi-ku Osaka, Japan, with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2013


Yokosuka Story 1977, by the Japanese photographer Miyako Ishiuchi, comprises forty vintage black and white prints which are typically displayed in a large grid. As the title suggests, the work depicts the town of Yokosuka, a small port in Japan where Ishiuchi grew up during the 1950s and 1960s, when the town was the site of a large American naval base. In these years of military occupation the town was infiltrated by American culture and in turn the visual landscape reflected this struggle between local and foreign, past and present and the uncertainty of Japan’s future identity. Like other slightly older Japanese photographers associated with the ‘Provoke’ movement, such as Shomei Tomatsu and Daido Moriyama, with whom she worked, Ishiuchi was part of the post-war generation who used their cameras to record and explore what it meant to be Japanese at this pivotal moment in history. The Provoke movement experimented with photographic techniques in order to offer a more subjective and radical vision of society in Japan post-Hiroshima, focusing on the alienation and disaffection characterising urban life.

Shot in 1977, Yokosuka Story was followed by two other series, Apartment 1979 and Endless Night 1981, which together later came to be known as a trilogy of early works. They were revisited in the publication Sweet Home Yokosuka 1976–1980 (PPP Editions, New York 2010). Photographed in the winter, the images that make up Yokosuka Story are deliberately grainy and dark, printed with high contrast. Ishiuchi documents various aspects of the town, from narrow streets of residential housing, to the architectural details of commercial buildings and views of the port and ocean. Often shot from a moving car, the images are sometimes set at a diagonal, with tilted horizons and cropped framing. This aesthetic is characteristic of photography associated with the Provoke movement. Unlike the two later series, Yokosuka Story is the only work from this early period in Ishiuchi’s career which contains images of people. The citizens of Yokosuka are depicted going about their daily lives, not necessarily aware of the presence of the photographer. Ishiuchi is also present in one of the photographs, in which she captures her shadow while photographing a dog.

Ishiuchi’s work is often referred to as stoic and unsentimental; she appears not to be concerned with the documentary process, but interested in capturing the passing of time and the experience of a place while photographing. This also holds true for her processing of images in the darkroom. For Ishiuchi this work is an integral part of realising the photograph and bears much more significance than simply producing high quality prints. In Yokosuka Story she often exposed the photographic paper for long periods of time, sometimes up to thirty minutes, turning skies that would usually appear white into a dark and grainy grey. This long exposure time can also be seen as related to her desire to transfer onto each image the entire memory of the experience of shooting the picture.

Further reading
Rei Masuda and Tohru Matsumoto, Miyako Ishiuchi: Time Textured in Monochrome, exhibition catalogue, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo 1999.
Kasahara Michiko, Ishiuchi Miyako: Mother’s, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo 2006.
Ishikawa Miwa, Sweet Home Yokosuka 1976–1980, New York 2010.

Shoair Mavlian
August 2012

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