Date: 17.03.2017 - 27.08.2017
Place: Trade Fair Palace

The National Gallery in Prague is proud to present for the first time in Europe an exquisite series of large format black-and-white photographs from the series Photosythesis 1978–1980 by the acclaimed Japanese photographer, Keiichi Tahara.

Exploring the relationship between physical light and the human body, this series is based upon multiple photo sessions which Keiichi Tahara conducted between 1978-1980 with the legendary Japanese actor and dancer Min Tanaka. It was initiated at the exhibition "MA-Space/Time in Japan" which took place in the frame of the Paris Autumn Festival in October, 1978.

“How does light affect perception? What about emotions? I was obsessed with these questions at that time”, recalls the photographer, “The idea of ‘Body Weather’ brought Min and I together. This depicts the pivotal moment where meditations on physical light met the art form of the human body. The project turned out to be a fascinating three years blurring the lines between the object and subject matter of art”.

While portraying Min Tanaka in “Photosynthesis” Keiichi Tahara experimented with various types of light, ambiences and seasons. The sites included urban and natural environments: from Paris, Rome, and New York, across Iceland and Bordeaux, down to Tokyo, Kujuu-Kurihama and Akikawa-Keikoku. The photographer’s aim was to observe how a dancer's body adapts to outer stimuli, or to rephrase it: a human body reaching into the light with its raw skin and nerve endings.

Keiichi Tahara recalls working on two locations, in France and Iceland: “In Bordeaux, France lie the remains of a U-boat pen built by the Germans in the Second World War. It resembles an enormous vessel covered with chunks of concrete to assure protection against air attacks. Slivers of light and recollection interweave in this vast unmanned space, where a solitary human body entwines with the light. In June, the season of the midnight sun, we had been endlessly driving through the geothermal areas of Iceland in search of a good place for a photo shoot. Days bled into nights. The sun never went down. The glistening black ground and intense tranquility enclosed on us. The camera clicking and rewinding film were the only sounds accompanying our steps”.

“Although this work has been nearly abandoned for the past 35 years, today it holds special meaning to the both of us in revisiting our creative starting points”, Tahara concludes.

Min Tanaka (born 1945), well known to Czech audience from his numerous appearances on the stage of Archa Theatre and elsewhere, began his solo career with a series of nearly-naked primarily outdoor improvisational dances that took place throughout Japan, often dancing up to five times a day. For a time in the 1980s, associated with Hijikata Tatsumi and butoh, a loose genre of Japanese dance, from 1986 to 2010, Tanaka hosted dance workshops based in the so called Body Weather, a movement ideology which "conceives of the body as a force of nature: omni-centered, anti-hierarchic, and acutely sensitive to external stimuli." In 1985, Tanaka and his colleagues founded Body Weather Farm, located four hours west of Tokyo, where he taught summer sessions lasting four to five weeks in Japanese and English. Much of the training workshop students received was centered on the labor of workaday tasks, primarily in agriculture. Tanaka taught that performing such tasks in their environments and with their accompanying physical stimulations functioned as a dance student's teacher itself, overturning the tradition of the environment taking on a subordinate role to the dance student's technique.

Keiichi Tahara works in a variety of media, ranging from photography, sculpture, and various installations to massive light-scape pieces that are produced as a part of urban planning projects. His commitment to the search for the form of light and his delicate but strong sensibility towards light and shadow constitute the foundation of all of his works. Tahara was born in Kyoto in 1951. He learned photographic techniques at an early age from his grandfather who was a professional photographer. He began making photographs after moving to France in 1972, where he remained for 30 years. He encountered a sharp, harsh and piercing light that he had never experienced in Japan while traveling Europe with Red Buddha Theater where he was a lighting and visual technician. His first series of work “Ville (City)” (1973–1976) captured the unique light in Paris in black-and-white photography. With the next series “Fenêtre” (1973-1980) he won the Grand Prix at the Rencontres d’Arles in France (1977). Tahara went on to produce a variety of photographic works including the “Portrait” series (1978–1987) and “Eclat” series (1979–1983), and traveled throughout Europe to photograph late 19th century architectural spaces. Proceeding from the thought that he does not want to limit himself to photography, but instead wants “to see the existence of light itself; to catch light with my own hand,” since the late 1980s Tahara has realized a number of projects in many parts of the globe —including sculptures and installations—that are based entirely on light, such as, for example, “Garden of Light” (Eniva, Hokkaido, 1989) where light sculptures are installed in a public space that is covered by a meter of snow six months of the year. The light changes in response to music and presents a space of poetic dimensions. Tahara's works are on permanent display in museums and other various sites.

As French philosopher and psychiatrist, Felix Guattari explains in “Les machinations de lumiere de Keiichi Tahara”: “No matter what means of expression Keiichi Tahara appropriates in his works, they are always premised on their reconstruction as light and shadow… The works are constantly inflected as they perennially shift and transform. Inside and outside, white and black, nature and culture­. The introverted and extroverted aspects of Tahara’s personality do not contradict each other. His introversion is apparent from the long years he spent shooting windows for his “Fenêtre” series and fixing his gaze on interior living spaces for his “Eclat” series. That he traveled around Europe making Seikimatsu kenchiku [fin-de-siecle architecture], his massive six-volume set of books of images of architecture, or rather spaces, is evidence of his simultaneous extroversion. These various aspects of his work are not in opposition. They are constructed along a continuum… The infinite number of fractals and fissures, which Tahara’s photographic activities produce, are important because they empty all interpretations of meaning while requiring their endless regurgitation, and further create a new existential ecology equipped with a universe of new lines of meaning and referents.”

The exhibition Photosythesis 1978–1980 by Keiichi Tahara is accompanied by a durational dance performance by Min Tanaka within the space of 5th floor Respirium. Lasting for one week (March 17-25), conducted on a specially constructed stage with a unique arrangement of traveling theatre lights, Tanaka’s minimal, gestural performance is a live act of an exquisite endurance and physical force. As such, it creates a fascinating dialogue with the representation of dancer’s body as documented by Keiichi Tahara’s camera eye 37 years ago…

Curator: Adam Budak




Keiichi Tahara
Photosynthesis 1978–1980
featuring Min Tanaka


Date: 17.03.2017 - 27.08.2017
Place: Trade Fair Palace

The National Gallery in Prague