Daisuke Yokota’s photographs seem pulled from dream, memory, or hallucination, where figures and landscapes shift and morph, and time becomes unstable (a phenomenon that Bennett Sims explores lyrically later in this issue). This deep sense of subjectivity is somewhat ironic, however, in that many of their visual effects occur through controlled accidents of physical process rather than through manipulation in photo-editing software. Yokota captured the original images in his 2014 Glass series with a compact digital camera, but much of their evolution occurred through analog processes, as he re-shot the prints on film, exposed the negatives to light, fire, and other variables, then repeated the process over and again until, in this series, he printed them on museum glass. In the final versions, the viewer is often compelled to puzzle over what is being depicted, or the relation of figures and limbs. In some images, human skin appears to have the texture of rough stone, an effect heightened by the sculptural poses of Yokota’s subjects. In others, figures conversely appear almost translucent. Interiors and landscapes blur with fog that may never have existed.
Yokota has frequently cited electronic music as an inspiration for his method in this period of his photographic work. As he told Dan Abbe in a 2012 interview for American Photo magazine, “there’s a lot of experimentation with delay, reverb, and echo, which is playing with the way that you perceive time. Of course there’s no time in a photograph, but I thought about how to apply this kind of effect, or filter, to photography. I was definitely influenced by the idea of ‘ambience.’ ” Discussions of his art often note his admiration for Aphex Twin (Richard David James), the influential British artist whose use of hardware samplers and synthesizers to create otherworldly sound is almost mythical among fans. Rather than mimicking a synchronous performance of a group of musicians, this music collages layers of repeating sound into a dreamscape that is more open-ended than the tightly structured trajectory of a conventional pop song with a verse-chorus-verse format. Some of the sounds may have first been generated on stringed or wind instruments, but passing through multiple filters transforms them into something previously unheard, often eerily beautiful, like Yokota’s images retaining traces of their originals, but not enshrining them. At a performance at the New York Public Library in 2015, Yokota appeared with electronic musician and visual artist Aki Onda, developing one hundred solarized prints in a darkroom to accompany Onda’s music. He has also collaborated with Danish singer-songwriter Majke Voss Romme.
With later series, including Color Photographs (2015) and Scum (2018), both seen here, Yokota moved farther away from the tradition of a photographer framing and preserving a seemingly identifiable moment in time, rejecting the camera altogether and working directly with film as a medium. He assembled large sheets of unused color film in the first series, layering them and experimenting with the development. For Scum, he cooked about sixty sheets of color negative film in chemicals, then cracked them. The resulting abstract images, scanned in high-resolution, are almost psychedelic in their gem-like, spreading colors, though once again, any association with mental phenomena is supplied wholly by the viewer. Yokota’s fascination with the material dimension of photography is also expressed through his engagement with the photobook, an important genre in Japanese photography. Since the early 2000s, he has published dozens of limited-edition photobooks, some self-published, some released by publishing houses in Japan, Europe, and the United States, most sold-out.
Daisuke Yokota was born in 1983 in Saitama, Japan, and lives in Tokyo, where he attended the Nippon Photography Institute. His work is held in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Foam Photography Museum in the Netherlands, the New York Public Library, and elsewhere, and has appeared in numerous solo and group shows, including exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, the Tate Modern, the Aichi Triennale, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
C. J. Bartunek
Images © 2022 Daisuke Yokota. Images appear courtesy of the artist and the Kominek Gallery, Berlin.