Mt.Rokko Portfolio Review Feedback – Ailsa Bowyer

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There are so many things to be said about the experience of attending the Mt Rokko Portfolio Review festival so I’m going to attempt a ramble the most significant aspects for me.

From the very beginning, we (the Malaysian *cough*slash*Australian*cough* posse), were treated like the most royal of guests. We may have let the whole team down because our un-showered bodies resembled nothing of royalty, but of course there was no mention of this. Even if people were surprised to find that there were in fact no dead animals in our bags or on our bodies, we (and our bags) were just welcomed with open arms and smiles. This was the first of consistent experiences of the Mt Rokko team’s astounding politeness and hospitality.

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We really were very blessed to have been able to attend this festival. I think pre-conceived assumption was that we, as international guests, had a lot that we would bring to the table. But, for me personally, I feel that I had a lot less to bring, and instead had a great deal that I took away. (And no, I’m not talking about the literal taking of amazing food or drinks. Although, as one exception to the culinary amazingness, if you buy the bottled green tea from the local convenience store, you may as well save yourself 70c, and the walk, and instead toss back the contents of the nearest ashtray).

The biggest realisation that constantly hit me was that there is just so much care and intention and pride invested in Japanese photography (or Japanese ANYTHING, for that matter), and that I have so much to learn in this regard. The ironic thing that I realised about my own art throughout this festival is that, I really don’t often treat any of it “like a work of art.” My prints and presentation really did resemble an eight year old’s artwork folder compared to the standard upheld by the Japanese attending photographers.

The Japanese folios were of gallery quality, and no expense was spared in the treatment or presentation of their photography. My favourite question from a reviewer, Didier Brousse, was “Is this how you usually print your works?” To which I answered a confident, “No, no, nooo…” (and in my head “… … … Um, yes? Shit! HIDE!)” What I was left reflecting on throughout this repeated exposure to japanese works was that, in the western screen-based world, we become so consumed with screen-based viewings, so often don’t connect a great deal with print – whether that be loose prints or book making – as a result. And in screen-worlds, we invest so much time, creativity, energy and planning in the execution of our photography, yet spend very little energy reflecting that in the final outcome of the work. And, to me, that really feels like the print version nestled proudly in your hands. (Don’t even get me started on the LIFE-CHANGING AMAZINGNESS OF MAKING A PHOTO BOOK, in particular. Experience this to know this, I can’t recommend that enough. Even in the initial dummy stages, for me, it is currently the most profound and moving experience. PERIOD).

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Pic by Akimichi Chimura

So for this reason, the open-portfolio afternoon where we all laid out our works and then walked around to peruse others, was the most significant event of the festival to drum home this message to me. At one stage I even panicked that my little yet heavy fingers may crease the tissue paper laying between one photographer’s prints. This is how I want to feel about my own photos, that I have sweated over and agonised over and poured so much of myself into. This is how we all, as photographers, should honour and value our own work.

The other giant benefit of the open portfolio session was being able to get somewhat of a mini snapshot of contemporary Japanese photography, in one hit. Walking around the room, I saw just how central family and history (including repeated references to traumatic historical events) was to most of these works. And how delicate each and every one of these works were. They all had such great contemplation and quietness and depth about them. And such beauty as a result. Further, as english is the second language of all the photographers, little words were used to communicate the intention/concepts behind the works; but little words were needed, which just made me realise the strength of the execution of ideas/concepts in their photography.

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Pic by Akimichi Chimura

Actually, I say they were all delicate, but I lie. They weren’t. There were some that were equally amazing for a different reason: because they were so, freaking, in-your-face confronting. Or entertaining. And to be honest, these works are the ones that I personally remember significantly, not for their asthetic appeal, but because the content of those works shook me the most.

Although it’s a given, it needs to be said – the actual portfolio reviews themselves were incredibly beneficial. I was reviewed by Naoko Ohta, Didier Brousse, Takeki Suigyama, Yoichi Nagata, Tuyoshi Ito, and Paula Kupfer. Every reviewer was very competent and knowledgable, and all had very different things to offer, including constructive criticism, positive feedback, suggestions for where-to-from-here, suggestions for presentation format, suggestions for sequencing or editing (note: bring LOOSE prints to reviews!

No fixed-photo folders!), and most importantly, questions that I hadn’t thought of or answered for myself yet. And although they all had very different and sometimes opposing things to say which did in parts leave me confused and overwhelmed, this to me was not indicative of any error of the reviewers, but rather indicative of just how far I’ve personally got to go in terms of being 100% sure of why I’m doing what I’m doing, and exactly how I want to do that, so I can then pick and choose exactly what feedback fits with my direction and where/who exactly I want to direct my photos to.

I’m talking too much. Let me cram in some parting words. The photographers and photography was incredibly giving and amazing. (AH-MAAA-ZING). Japanese people are ALL FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (mass generalisation, but I’m running with it), and may be deceptively quiet but seriously know how to drink an Aussie under the table. The festival had a real quaintness and naivete to it that makes it feel very precious. Takeki Suigyama (coordinator master #1) was a STAR at spreading love and energy throughout the place and dictating the vibe of the festival (including, but not limited to, frequent episodes of dance-shout-clap-chanting). Mariko Yamada (coordinator master #2) was often spotted running around behind the scenes instead of in the spotlight, but was the equal driving force behind the festival. (And with the sweetest smile in all of Japan).

The facilities were wonderful. (*Ahem* … first public bath experience. BOO-YAH)! The location is to die for. If I spent months on the YMCA grounds alone, I would be a very happy lady. And last but definitely not least, my favourite memory: the “sheet workshop” run by Daiki Usui. Literally, how to place one sheet on your bed, lie on that sheet, and then place a second sheet above you. “Like a sheet sandwich.”

Like I said, care and pride in EVERYTHING.

~ Ailsa, Perth 18 September, 2014

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