Keizo Kitajima

Keizo Kitajima – a contemporary Japanese photographer, who studied under Daido Moriyama and teamed up with him to create a ground-breaking gallery/shop/publication “Camp” in the end of 197Os (when someone like Jacob Aue Sobol was a snotty toddler. Just saying). Keizo Kitajima is mostly famous for his street portraiture series (not to forget a cult snapshot of young Mick Jagger, but mostly how Kitajima commented on that, read the interview below plz). His choices in photography – monochrome or colour, digital or analog – are all equally impressive, his images – very memorable, his interviews are joy to read.

“…when you’re taking a color photograph the color is also an object. In other words, that you could take a photograph of something just because it is blue. Or red! Color is on par with taking a photograph because of the object properties of it. Color is a very important question”- Keizo Kitajima

I personally like what he said about colour, because I often feel like that: the very reason for me to take the shot of a blue plastic bag was because it was blue. Why convert everything what breathes in grey monochrome?

But back to Keizo Kitajima’s “Camp” with its outrageously high-contrast images in black and white. They are my favourite of all outragelously high-contrast images I’ve seen so far, online or in photobooks.

The portraits in the series are stunning. Very expressive, reduced to a few outlines, sometimes to a hint of a gesture under tons of grain, and that is all I need, and that is so, so, so good.

What is also important to me – I believe it all.

I believe these photographs, I don’t find them artificially over-dramatized. I believe – they started from a subject, from a certain point of view, from an opinion. From the beginning. High contrast is just the best way to express it.

However, there are cases when a photographer starts from the end, having decided on the “signature look”(i.e. square, black-and-white (in common eye – serious already), and so they proceed, injecting “dramatic” look to some cabbage by simply pushing contrast to the extreme. To me – a terrible, consumer-oriented approach, very cheap. Every kid’s face is over-processed to look… “dirty”, every plain wall made to look “abandoned”, every  woman – a victim of violence of some sorts, every (lovely otherwise) town square – apocalyptic. You’ve seen those artificially dramatized images a million times, I am sure, and like me, you probably sense made-up drama when there is none. It’s just a lot of black. Reduce the contrast and you’ll see normal, even dull scenes. I am so tempted to give you an example, that maybe I will – in a separate post one day, about stuff that I loath only by comparison to honest photography I cherish most.

And time after time it makes me think of Japanese Provoke (Mariyama) and post-Provoke (Kitajima) how well – especially in Keizo’s portraits, for the sake of this post – their unnaturally high-contrast work in harmony with time, depth and meaning. Besides, it’s about every single photograph being able to stand alone, even when taken out of the context.

To see what I mean by high-contrast, and how  the series were made please read about “Camp” 1979″ in photographer’s words.

“Let’s get used to digital.” – Keizo Kitajima

What I immediately liked about Kitajima’s street portraits is the composition – his signature composition I think:  slightly tilted close-up, main subject takes almost all the space, the background works like a “frame”, to complete the image, to fill in the corners. Often he shoots from a hip up, I like that,  it works in most cases. Definitely in Kitajima’s shots, very strong, holding attention portraits… and I am thinking that the Provoke-related photographers, following constructivists in that tilt-angle-up-down matter, pioneered this approach to street shots,  so popular today.

I am obviously a fan of Kitajima’s early black and white images made on film, but his work in colour is also very interesting, especially if you like colour and don’t mind digital photography as medium.

I don’t mind, camera is just a tool, nothing else.  It doesn’t create images, we do.