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This week I am excited to pass the baton to Declan Murphy for our first Resident Blogger post. This week Declan takes the reins with a thoughtful piece on still images that depict war through the civilian perspective. Let’s keep the conversation going. . . and going . . .

Best, Laurie


I recently visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Japan where the works of five contemporary Japanese photographers were being exhibited. One of the featured photographers, Ken Kitano, is currently working on a project titled, Our Face. This project’s focus is to combine multiple portraits of people participating in a group activity and then to print these multiple images onto one sheet of photographic paper. Kitano has photographed 150 different groups in Asia – from girls wearing costumes in Taiwan to policemen in China to war protestors in Japan.  Kitano plans to make this project his life work and eventually also photograph people in America, Europe, and Africa. [For more information on Kitano’s project, Our Face, click here.]

It’s easy to pass right over the statistic of the 150 groups he photographed, but when you stop to think about it you realize the rounds he is making and the effort he is putting into his work.  With the bold statement of his goal of reaching America, Europe, and Africa (in addition to his work in Asia), Kitano sends a clear message that he is out to photograph the world and seriously document people.  His title Our Face takes on more depth when you consider this.  I personally love photographing people in their natural environment, they tend to let their guard down and there is a possibility for more natural portraits.  This also applies to people in groups; with all the chaos of a parade or a party people become less aware of their surroundings and a photographer can capture images without the people being stiff or completely aware of the camera.

On March 8, 2003, Kitano went to a war protest in Tokyo and photographed some of the 50,000 people marching in the “World Peace Now” protest against the U.S.-U.K. attacks in Iraq.  His photograph is a combined portrait of 30 people with only one face shinning though clearly. The protest was in a section of Tokyo called Hibiya.  During my five week stay in Tokyo I rode past the Hibiya station daily, sometimes changing trains there, and at most I was just trying to learn how to read “Hibiya” in Japanese.   And as I walked through the exhibit suddenly I found myself looking at a photo taken in Hibiya.

"March 8, 2003 - World Peace Now"**

As I looked at this image of protestors, it caught me completely off guard. Before looking at the photo I never even knew that Japanese people protested the war in Iraq.  It struck me because here I was, a visitor from America, looking at a photo of thousands of Japanese people protesting a war in which my own country was involved.  I began to feel self-conscious looking at it, as if all the other Japanese people in the museum would begin to resent me.  But with the way the news comes and goes maybe the Japanese people didn’t remember the protest either.

Often we think of war photography strictly as the depiction of soldiers in combat but Kitano has taken war photography in a different direction and photographed the civilians protesting the war.  It reminded me somewhat of a photo WWII photographer Robert Capa had taken.

Robert Capa (image from warchronicle.com)

Similarly, in Capa’s photograph, the people had their guard down because they were so preoccupied with their own involvement in the war.  The photo shows a mother and daughter crossing a street in Bilbao, Spain, 1937, looking up with worry at the enemy planes flying overhead. 

[Source: http://www.photoworks.org.uk/media/images/Robert-Capa-07.jpg]

Both Capa and Kitano saw a way to depict the larger impact of war by looking at civilians, specifically, their faces.  The tension in the faces of the mother and daughter says it all.  Without capturing the gritty violent side of war in their photos the photographers were able to communicate the worry and disdain civilians have for war.

In Capa’s photo, the body language of the people in the background and the mother and daughter’s rushed movements show a sense of urgency and chaos.  The crowd Kitano photographed was probably moving just as hurriedly and equally distracted as the mother and daughter in Spain.  The blur in Kitano’s image and the tension in Capa’s image creates a sense of bewilderment. Nonetheless, both photographers were focusing on people’s faces to depict human emotion.  Additionally, in Kitano’s photograph there are ghostly faces that lurk in the background giving the photo a disjointed feeling. By including the extra faces and wild abstract blur in his image Kitano is conveying the hectic nature of a protest and the chaotic nature of war.  It’s difficult to channel one’s anger at a war, but Kitano’s muddled image conveys that feeling of frustration with no outlet.

A photo from the "Our Faces" Exhibit. (Source: http://1839cg.blogspot.com/2010/10/our-face-11-7.html)

Kitano’s photography also has a strong impact because of the sheer size of it, measuring at 4.6 feet by 5.8 feet. I remember looking up at the photos as they loomed over me.  In a self-statement Kitano wrote that, “A portrait should confront us like a mirror (as if we can see ourselves in them) and ideally be full size.”***  Printing his photos so big definitely makes it feel like the viewer is being engulfed by the image.  Kitano is making an effort to push photography to new boundaries.  With the partial faces and barely visible objects from other photos surrounding Kitano’s main subject, it begins to feel like an abstract dream.  But included in the exhibit are Kitano’s detailed captions and pinpointed map of where he shot the photos and where they were exhibited, proving he was there and these people were real.  The clarity of the main subject’s face is the only readable portion of the photo but the blurred movements and the disarray of the image verifies that the people were in motion and that Kitano only captured a brief moment of the group’s outing.

Until next time,


[For more about Declan’s photography work click here.]

What do you think of Kitano’s work? What do you think about Capa’s work? In your eyes, how do they convey war?

Up Next: Labragirl Resident Blogger Rene Hernandez’s discussion on the portrayal of the mental psyche in Full Metal Jacket

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** Harumi, Nwa. Elan Photographic – Contemporary Japanese Photography vol. 10 [exhibition catalog], published by Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, Tokyo, Japan, pg. 56 (image #46 in exhibit).

*** Harumi, Nwa. Elan Photographic – Contemporary Japanese Photography vol. 10 [exhibition catalog], published by Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, Tokyo, Japan, pg. 47.