To understand ‘Yama no Shashin’ by Linda Fregni Nagler, one must travel back in time to 1853.
This is the date when the American fleet entered the Bay of Tokyo, marking the start of the modernisation of Japan and its opening to the West.
Ever since Japan opened its borders, the Western world has been fascinated by the art produced in this island.
First came the ukiyo-e woodcuts that captivated European painters and changed art forever. And right behind them, the pioneer photographs of the School of Yokohama.
[CLICK to read about the time Wayfarer Books visited the Museum of Pont-Aven’s archives and saw the books that inspired painters like Paul Gauguin, Paul Sérusier or Émile Bernard, including ‘Le Japon Artistique’]
The photographs of the School of Yokohama were targeted to European buyers and “pandered to the Western taste for the exotic, soon becoming a popular iconographic source for the West” (from ‘Yama no Shashin’).
Some photographs of the ‘School of Yokohama’ showed certain aspects of Japanese culture and geography (Buddhist temples, Shinto sanctuaries, Mount Fuji, the cherry trees…).
Others constructed elements traditionally associated with Japan (sumo wrestlers, Geishas or the world-famous flower vendors) in a photo studio.
In ‘Yama no Shashin’ (which translates as ‘Photographs of the Mountain’), Linda Fregni Nagler displays her impressive collection of photographs from this era and appropriates it with her artistic practice.
For about ten years, she has collected images from the ‘School of Yokohama’. For this book, she focused on Mount Fuji, a classic in Japanese pictorial culture, best known after Hokusai’s prints.
Looking at her collection of photogaphs, she realised many shots were taken from the same point of view – looking at Mount Fuji from the most picturesque angles.
In fact, for Linda Fregni Nagler it was interesting to imagine how the tripod had been placed at the exact same place, perhaps years later, by different photographers.
In ‘Yama no Shashin’ she gathers these photographs and acts upon them with her own hand-colouring.
This technique was used at the time, and several Japanese artists achieved great fame for their mastery, as noted by British writer Rudyard Kipling:
“In Japan you have to buy photographs and the best are from the Farsari & Co. studio, known from Saigon to America.
Farsari is a nice and eccentric chap; he has the soul of an artist and these are qualities to pay for but his stuff is worth the price.
A coloured photo makes you think of a horror and it normally is so, however Farsari knows how to colour well and can reproduce the light tones of that beautiful country.
From over the bridge on the ship I was laughing at his red and blue hills but once I reached there I realised that what he had painted was real…” (cited in ‘Yama no Sashin”)
The result is a photobook that poses questions regarding photographic techniques, craftsmanship, the passing of time and cultural imperialism.