Michi Suzuki was born in Tokyo and moved to Florence, Italy in 1994 where she attended the three-year course in photography at The Fondazione Studio Marangoni. During school days she participated in numerous exhibitions in Italy, France, Finland, and Japan as well as other events related to photography nationally and internationally.
Freelance since 2000, a member of Agenzia Grazia Neri from 2006 to 2010, she worked mainly for the editorial with special attention to current events and portraits. Her research in recent years has focused on the evolution of identity, cultural and social comparison with reality apparently distant, but related to personal experiences. She currently lives and works in Milan.
Italians. In 2011 Italy celebrated 150 years since its founding. Many events were held on March 17th the official birthday, and every participant in these events, including foreigners who live in the country, showed their pride in being Italian. On that day I felt a kind of joy, maybe because I feel like I am half Italian after almost 20 years since I moved here from Tokyo. At the beginning, I decided to work on the Italian identity after reading for the umpteenth time in an article in the newspaper about the racial discrimination which exists in the country. I felt I needed to illustrate the present and future of this society photographing Italians, especially those who are mixed blood (half-Italian half-foreigner) to fight against the prejudice. Eventually I noticed that the path I took to search for the Italian identity has overlapped with the journey to find my own identity – that of full blood Japanese girl, but with an Italian soul.
Portfolio from the Contemporary Photography workshop with Lise Sarfati, November 2014.
Written review by
Independent curator and teacher of History of photography
To group a portraits selection with the intention to think on something that is as complex as what they call «national identity» is a bold approach that several authors tried to have before you with less or more success: We English, of Simon Roberts, to give a recent example or the famous The Americans, by Robert Franck. They are notorious examples without a doubt, even so I would like to invite you to formulate the questioning of the usefulness of this approach in your case - to you and by extension, to your portrayed subjects and the viewers - especially since you are willing ‘to fight against the prejudice’ like you say in your statement.
Does the approach you’ve chosen really help you to go deep into your subject? Don’t you think that by the simple fact of presenting them as mixed blood, you are also contributing in a way, without wanting it, to its stigmatization?
In your images, there is another aspect that attracts our attention : the houses where you portrayed them and its decorative elements, they have quite a lot of protagonism nearly as much as the subjects themselves. Why? Did you want to emphasize on the fact that racism can take place in all kind of social layers, including the ones with high quality of life?
Without pretending to resolve this question here, I would simply say that the problems of your approach might be in willing to “represent” or “illustrate” a society, an alleged social identity throughout portrait as if in the faces - in skin color or physiognomical traits, provided that you do not give us more information about their lives - we could find an answer or a key to a phenomenon that, as you know well, is very complex. On another hand, this question also resides in an old dilemma of the photographic scope and, more specifically in what is documentary and portrait.
«Eventually I noticed that the path I took to search for the Italian identity has overlapped with the journey to find my own identity - that of full blood Japanese girl, but with an Italian soul». This question you’re asking yourself is, to me, much more interesting. You’ll agree when I say that this question is very subtile, giving that it is about behaviors and attitudes that cannot be understood without being seen throughout interaction with others, but also tastes and habits, it is to say, ways of being.
Consequently it is also difficult to separate your own growth as a person. What is exactly this “italianity” that you discover in yourself after so many years there? Can you photograph it?
Or, better said, can you think about it throughout your photographic practice? I am pretty sure that the answer is yes, even if it banishes the belief that the camera is an instrument of the truth that brings proofs and evidences. There are more possibilities of approaches and it would be magnificent if you could explore them.
Before recommending some references that could help you discover new directions or visual narratives, I would like to comment on a few formal aspects of the portfolio. In your editing, there is an insistence on the eyes of the subjects that you portray: sometimes very fixed in something the viewer ignores and, on other occasions, totally absent, backed to themselves.
In some cases, this trick leads to provoke a certain fascination to know what the subject is feeling-thinking-experimenting, but the persistent insistence to those eyes ends up provoking an atmosphere slightly strange and, at the same time, their poses ends up to be too “Sarfati”. In her case, her glances backed to themselves and the statism of her portrayed people have a sense and a strength.
But in your project, with your suggested approach, what function does have this trick? If, above a purely formal strategy, it is something wanted because you think that it brings content to your thinking, it is important that you provide the required paths so we, as viewers, we can understand or intuit its sense.
We definitely can see you’re an experimented photographer and this allows you to reach good results. However, I think you can improve the expression of your sensibility and of your thinking if you take care a little bit more of the frame set and of the elements that surround the people you decide to portray: volumes, textures, angles, superficies.
A few examples: the cupboard behind Davide plays a strange role because I think it is to peculiar to remain in a second blurred background; don’t you think that the right part of Eleonora’s portrait is too filled with shapes and color and it makes it difficult to distinguish each thing?
If to this, we add the stupor of her face, the mix ends up being kind of explosive; what’s the purpose of this table’s piece invading picture n° 1, which head ended up fitted inside one of the picture frame; and this so big plastic green piece behind n°4? it takes a lot of space behind her back! Did you see how the frame’s angle disturbs the shoulder? Or you wanted it to fit that way? In Maria’s picture, the lamps literally eat her, what significance does this have? The less achieved of your selection is n°11. Except the glance - the only one looking at us directly - remains too emphasized with the glance of the girl looking at us with surprise from the frame.
Also, the curtain seems to be only emphasizing her pallor and what is shown behind her seems to not add content but rather visual noise that is not necessary. It’s not about trying to hide environments that maybe bring information on their parents’ tastes, but to play with a little more subtlety with shapes and volumes, as no detail is banal and everything maters.
In other photographs, on the other hand, you reach a much more important harmony that clearly contrasts with the others. I refer to Victoria’s and Lyana’s, the best of the selection without a doubt, even if we cannot understand what’s behind her. N°7 also has strength, as well as the portrait of Constantino, even if this Bruce Lee ‒¿is it Bruce Lee?‒ jeopardizes him. It distracts us a lot and removes presence to who should be the protagonist.
Maybe your choices were very conscious and for everything there is a reason. In any case, I think it would be very important to analyze if the details, fragments and associations produced throughout the frame go in the same direction than the discursive focus of the project to give it sense and consistence in various narrative levels.
A few recommendations I’d like to make are authors who show how to tell a story without the need of direct or literal proofs. Even if you’re not in the same wavelength, I think that they could be useful to you to give you ideas of how to approach new possibilities when telling what you’re willing to tell. A good example are the videos of the recently deceased Harun Faroki, especially “Inextinguisable fire”. A real masterpiece that you can see here: http://vimeo.com/album/3067789.
I would also recommend those books and articles:
Olivier Lugon, “1890-2000. Le réel sous toutes les formes”, L’Art de la Photographie. Des origines à nos tours, Citadelles & Mazenot, Paris, 2007.
Martha Rosler, her work and her texts, especially “In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography)” y “The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems”.
The piece of Allan Sekula, Meditations on a triptyck (http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/108.2012.a-d/)
The work of Carrie Mae Wems, especially, In these Islands (http://carriemaeweems.net)
Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography, Zone Books, New York, 2008 and of the same author: The Civil imagination. A Political Ontology of Photography (http://cargocollective.com/AriellaAzoulay#Civil-Imagination).
· VVAA, Les images manquantes, Le Bal, Paris, 2012.
· VVAA, Que peut une image? Le Bal, Paris, 2013.
I also recommend you have a look into the projects promoted by the platform http://creativetime.org/ and http://creativetimereports.org/. In the same line, you should find interesting the issue N°214 of Aperture magazine, devoted to «Documentary expanded». There is an interview of Susan Meiselas and another of Ariella Azoulay that are really interesting.
The approaches of those artists and investigators could inspire you in what is related to your work methodologies, helping you in finding new ways to expressy our thoughts.
Good luck with everything and happy end of year’s celebrations!
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