On June 30 we finally left Yukuhashi for Hamburg, arriving back in our usual dwelling on July 1. Little bleary, worse for wear and tear, but happy to be back. We had left Europe as two and came back as three to a place that had changed as well, arriving one and a half months later than we had originally planned.
Coincidentally, our flight with JAL was the first one by that airline between Japan and Europe since the Covid-19 outbreak. Things seem to slowly creep back to some measure of normal, and we too are trying to fit back into our usual lifes. But like the river you cannot step in twice, things are not quite the same anymore, making us accept new roles to fill from now on.
One role that I nevertheless intend to continue to play on this stage will of course be the humble photographer. In Yukuhashi, I exposed and developed 38 cartridges of Fujifilm Neopan Across 100 II, with the last two rolls of film developed on the morning of our flight back to Hamburg. Whenever I will find the time for it in the next few weeks I will work on editing a small spread of pictures showing what we saw in Yukuashi between March and June. Other projects — more on those later — are forthcoming as well.
On February 28, I arrived in Yukuhashi, the hometown of my wife, where she wanted to give birth to our first child. As intended, this happened not long after my arrival and since then both her and the baby are doing fine.
We planned to return to Hamburg in the middle of May, but now it looks like our return has been postponed indefinitely, due to the recent worldwide unpleasantness related to the Coronavirus. This leaves us stranded in Yukuhashi, a small (dare I say rural?) town on the southwestern shore of the Japanese Inland Sea, in the vicinity of the metropolitan area of Kitakyushu. Even though the baby naturally takes up most of our energy (which we gladly give to him), still plenty of opportunities to record the peculiarities of local life with my camera present themselves almost on a daily basis.
Since as usual my weapon of choice is a film camera, it will take some time for anyone to see the photos taken here. They are forthcoming though.
Meanwhile in Hamburg: Various issues of my photo magazine “reflex” are now available through the online store of the Nachladen, as are many other publications by local artists from Hamburg. Please check it out.
Exhibition shown at the nachladen (Sternstraße 17), December 7th, 2019 to January 4th, 2020.
On display were 12 b&w risograph prints of Christmas trees after Christmas. At the exhibition’s opening around six o’clock, my brother Frank read from a text he wrote for the catalogue accompanying our exhibition.
Reflex 05 is here, with photos from (mostly) Hamburg, Strande and Kiel. And its not just here, now its also there:
I decided to make the new issues of reflex available to the general public in the “nachladen“, Hamburg’s hot spot for self-published magazines and art printing. Drop by if you are in the area and have a look, they have heaps of nice prints and magazines by local artists well worth a visit.
issues 01 to 04 are finally finished. Each issue contains 36 of my photos taken
during one quarter year, printed using electro photographical printing.
It’s been a long time coming: In March of 2018 I wrote that I would concentrate on printing my photos, instead of just publishing them on my homepage. Afterwards it seemed like no progress happened in this regard for well over one year. What can I say? The PhD thesis continues to occupy the largest part of my attention and from last summer onward, curating the exhibition “Negative/Scans” kept me busy as well. As a result, the stream of photos published on the homepage became a mere trickle, while no printed photos appeared.
I continued shooting though, as well as developing films and making proof sheets of the films. When some time was available, I experimented with different ways to print my photos.
The question of printing process
reason why the silver bullet – traditional enlargements, chemical development –
could not be used: Our apartment lacks the space necessary to set up a darkroom
able to handle print development. Turning the bathroom into a darkroom by putting
an enlarger onto the toilet seat and some development trays in the shower is
nice for some fooling around, but not for producing a reasonable quantity of prints.
The throughput rate would be far too low. While I do hope to be able to set up
a real darkroom again in the future, for now I will continue to use a hybrid
workflow, meaning I take my photos on film, scan them and use the computer to
prepare them for printing.
question of the throughput – or maybe better output – rate, there were further
requirements which the printing process would have to meet:
– The prints need to be reasonably archivable
(they should not degrade before I do, print durability should be in excess of
– The prints should cost as little as possible
(a drugstore print of the size 13x18cm costs around 0,40€. Nice for a few quick
prints, but too much when having to print a lot)
– Print quality (resolution, tonality, luster)
should still be as high as possible
experiments with on-demand digital photobook printing, which proved to not be
right for me due to reasons of cost and lack of control over the process, I
tried to print the photos myself using an inkjet printer. That one did a good
job preserving the tonality of the negatives, but I do not print every day (or
even week) and the danger of inks drying out in the printer is looming too
large. (The printer wasting ink on purpose to flush out its printing heads is
also unacceptable for financial reasons.)
I then stumbled upon “xerography” or electro photographical printing. The prints meet common archival standards and are not very costly in production. Their only downside is that tonality is not too good (resolution is reasonable though). Even if electro photographical printing sounds exotic to you, you probably have already encountered the process: It is the same one used in the humble photocopier. Following some deliberations, I figured since exhibition prints would be done through a different process anyway, xerography is the way to go for producing this little ongoing catalog of my work.
The editorial workflow for “reflex”
After the question of printing process was settled, another decision had to be made on how to edit my photos. Sometimes I work on limited projects, which turn into little portfolios of photos almost by themselves (compare the Greek wedding), but what about the photos I take day-to-day without any connecting thread? These form the bulk of photos I shoot, by a wide margin.
I decided to select 36 out of all the photos I take every quarter year (Jan.-Mar., Apr.-Jun., Jul.-Sept., Oct.-Dec.), purely based on the criterion of which photos I like. These will be printed, presented and archived together. What results over time will be a kind of photographic reflection of the world around me, in the shape of a photographic journal. The focus is smack on the pictures, usually printed one per page with as little captions provided as possible.
Shoko helps me to embed the 36 photos selected into a simple layout using the
software InDesign. After printing the pages, I stitch them together between two
sheets of packaging paper, resulting in a durable booklet of 21cmx21cm. On the
front of this, the most important information about the content is given, as
well as the issue’s number.
Xu Yong’s exhibition shown in Hamburg, Germany from February 11 to March 16, 2019
This year’s June will see the 30th anniversary of the deadly suppression of the 1989 Chinese student movement. The movement represents the peak of China’s gradual move towards openness and social liberalization in the 1980s, its untimely, violent end was a traumatic rupture of civilization which China had last experienced during the infamous “Great Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s. Since then, the subject of the student movement has become taboo in China, the taboo enforced both online and offline, targeting “professional” dissidents as well as common relatives of victims of the military crackdown.
To do our
part in keeping memory and awareness of this turning point in Chinese history
alive, the Hamburger Sinologische Gesellschaft (Sinological society) advanced
the idea of having an exhibition of Xu Yong’s negatives, eventually implementing
the exhibition in cooperation with the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung
Hamburg (Center for political education), as well as the Bücherhallen Hamburg
(Public libraries). It was decided to hold the exhibition from the middle of
February to the middle of March.
My part was the task of curating the exhibition, which gave me a chance to get in contact with Mr. Xu, to work out the details of the exhibition in a half-year long process of deciding on the final shape of the artworks as well as their presentation in the exhibition alongside information about the student movement and the artist, among other things.
Mr. Xu (*1954)
is an internationally acclaimed fine art photographer based in Beijing. With
more than ten published photobooks under his belt, and being represented by international
galleries, he does not need to pursue a project like this just for shock value
or the publicity. Presenting the negatives to the public (which he originally did
for the first time in 2014) as a form of historical testimony is a matter dear
to his heart.
Xu’s earlier photographic artworks, among them his photos of Beijing’s Hutongs
from the 1980s, published in 1989, already touch upon the passage of time, or
photography’s relationship with time.
are the culmination point of this pursuit. They were taken by Xu, presumably
without “artistic intention”, when he was 35. He had left the Beijing Advertising Company, where he worked as a
photographer, the year before. In 1989 he had started his own company and at
the same time began to exhibit his own art photography. Such was his situation,
when the student protests began to unfold in the middle of April.
30 years later, Xu Yong has already carved out his place in the Chinese art scene. The publication and exhibition of the negatives as an artistic statement by Xu, now 65 and looking back on a successful career, is at the same time both a brave jab at history and the forces shaping it, as well as a symbolic return to his beginnings as an artist. The passage of time itself integrates the author Xu into his artwork, transforming his role from that of a witness in 1989 to one of a conceptual artist in 2019.
colors of these negatives, which I exposed 30 years ago and kept deep down in
some drawer, are slowly fading away. Due to the circumstances, they cannot be
exhibited as regular photos. Because of this, I used the method of digital
scanning to capture the material form of the negatives, which is almost like
recording the photographic records of that year a second time.
pictures contain the traces of the oil used in the drum scanner. These traces
are – just like the images on the film – the most direct proof of the uniquity
of our world. The pictures appear inverted, because they have not been
corrected, but the technological progress allows us to transform the pictures
into their correct form, by using the digital devices we constantly carry with
As far as I am concerned, the most important message of these artworks is the form of the negatives in itself. It expresses what I want to express. Maybe it can prompt the viewers to reflect on the essence of photography and the relationship of the film age and the digital age, especially in China.
— Xu Yong
The 20 artworks on display are reproductions of snippets of 35mm color film in their raw, negative shape, enlarged to 60cmx60cm. Using a properly set-up smartphone, the viewer can reverse the negative colors and see the “true” historical picture inscribed in the material artifact of the film strip.
Compared to the negatives already published by Xu in book form in 2014, the shape of the negatives exhibited in Hamburg differed slightly: This time the scans of the negatives showed the film base around the picture area of the film, including sprocket holes and oil traces from the drum scanner used to digitize the negatives. This alternative shape was suggested to Mr. Xu by me, hoping to strengthen the perception of materiality of the negatives in the shape of the artworks.
The name of the group of artworks displayed in the exhibition was accordingly extended to “NEGATIVE/SCANS”, to cover the difference in regard to the “NEGATIVES” already published in 2014.
exhibition was displayed in the entrance area of the central library of
Hamburg’s public library system. While it is an unusual location for an art
exhibition, its daily average of around 4000 visitors from all walks of life,
who would pass the exhibition on their way into the library, ensured a high
visibility of the artworks and the issue of the student movement of 1989. In
theory, about 120.000 visitors of the library would have had the opportunity to
see the exhibition while it was on display, but of course it is impossible to
say how many of those took a closer look.
personal point of view, when I sometimes went to the library to check up on the
exhibition, every single time there were people taking a closer look at the
artworks. The central library also reported a Chinese gentleman had contacted
them to tell them that the Chinese characters on the banners of the
demonstrators in the artworks were all wrong, showing up as mirror images of
the normal characters. This mirror image is of course an intentional part of the
form of the artworks, but I’m glad someone even noticed and took the time to
For the end I saved a little practical joke: The picture below is a scan of a negative, which I — exposing Fomapan 400 ISO film through a 1:2.8/55 Micro-NIKKOR — made of one of the artworks in the exhibition. Looks like you don’t necessarily need a smartphone to decode the images. On a film negative, the negative shape of the artworks is reverted to a positive image too.
choice of medium through which we engage with historic images is not all that
important after all, the importance is in the engagement with the images themselves.