In the West, Japan is like a fantasy. A strange, isolated culture of almost perfect self-preservation, we imagine suited Yakuza, manicured raw fish, a blubbery sumo, bonsai trees, samurai swords, wasted bankers, Geishas, karaoke. When Max Pinckers arrived in Japan, via a commission from the Belgium-based cultural project European Eyes on Japan, he couldn’t find much of the Japan he’d come to imagine.
This conflict, between what he’d almost been conditioned to expect and what he found, is explored though his series Two Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself – a series of stage images set within the contemporary Japanese landscape, or in actual streetscapes.
There, the Brussels-based, 28-year-old photographer, a graduate of the School of Arts in Ghent, would weave in stories, tableaus and scenarios that seem actively influenced by, and might serve to affirm, our cultural stereotypes and cliches of Japan.
“Projected as other and isolated, Japan’s unique self image is in part self-created under the project of nation building, as well as being a construct of outside perspective and popular fetishisation,” Pinckers says of the series.
Pinckers points to a quote from David Pilling, in the 2014 book Bending Adversity. “The idea of thinking about Japan as different from anywhere else, including Asia, is seductive. Yet there are many reasons to reject this notion. if we look closer, much of Japan’s supposed ‘essence’ turns out to be a relatively modern distillation.”
The Japanese photographer Munemasa Takahashi assisted Pinckers throughout his stay in Japan. He can be seen in the images, suited and drunk, playing the Western cliche as requested.
“Max’s stories are modest scenes with a hint of mystery,” Takahashi says. “Perhaps what Max has come to see from living in Japan, perhaps what Japan looks like from overseas, his research into works related to Japan’s past.”
Two Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself was produced in Saitama Prefecture for European Eyes on Japan / Japan Today vol. 17 with the EU-Fest Japan Committee and the European Capital of Culture 2015.