Essay

A Young Person Recommends... So it goes, so it goes

Emma McGarry reviews the photobook So it goes, so it goes by Miho Kajioka.
 
The work of Miho Kajioka (b. 1973) explores the simplistic, ephemeral beauty of the everyday. Ingrained in traditional Japanese aesthetics, her gentle lens centres on the acceptance of impermanence and imperfection: echoing poignant memories of my mother’s old photographs, with connections to my personal photographic practice. But Kajioka doesn’t describe herself as a photographer. Instead, she is a lens-based fine artist. It’s worth noting that Kajioka, despite studying fine art, had grown distant from photography until the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Shortly after this disaster, while reporting as a journalist in the coastal city of Kamaishi, she detailed roses blooming beside a ruined building. Such fragile grace, amid catastrophic ruin, reminded her of a Japanese poem:
 
In the spring, cherry blossoms,
In the summer the cuckoo,
In autumn the moon, and in
Winter the snow, clear, cold.
- The Zen Monk Dogen
 
The description of fleeting and fragile seasonal beauty inspired Kajioka to reconnect with her photographic art. Alternative dark-room processes are presented across layers of hand-bound translucent paper, as Kajioka playfully blurs the imaginary boundaries between time, memory, and daily life in So it goes, So it goes (2019, the(M) éditions). 

Figure 1: Photograph of Front Cover of So it goes, so it goes, Miho Kajioka, 2019, pub. the(M) éditions. 4 x 4 icons of lips in lght grey, printed onto white card, embossed with pin-punctures.

Tender contrasts are felt throughout the book, even before opening. The cover – formed with seemingly hand-pricked punctures in grainy, barely-there icons of human lips – is structurally reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge’s locomotive studies. In contrast to his late-nineteenth-century cabinet cards, it’s unclear whether Kajioka’s contemporary sequences are similarily chronological. Furthermore, by photographing the quotidian, her practice is rooted within the traditions of Japanese art and wabi-sabi, meaning: ‘the passing of time and subsequent deterioration’. While appreciating time sequences from Western photographic histories, Kajioka explores human conceptions of time. Her work is at odds with linear representation, offering instead a sense of awe and careful restructuring.

Figure 2: Animal Locomotion, Plate 626, 1887, Eadweard Muybridge. Permanent Collection of The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. A sequence of 12 loco-motive still studies of a horse in motion.

Upon opening the book, the reader is met with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a 1969 science-fiction novel, in which events are recollected through flashbacks and time travel.
 
‘I am a Tralfamadorian,
seeing all time
as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.
All moments past, present, and future,
always have existed,
always will exist.’
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
 
Enriched with negative space, evocative of the wabi-sabi aesthetic, this impression is the first of a series of poetic cadences. Bursts of text are peppered between the semi-translucent pages of the book, posing figurative rhetoric like, ‘Is one week always longer than one hour?’ and ‘can time have a smell?’. Such moments seek to interrogate the reader’s relative, personal sense of time. All-the-while, Kajioka immerses her images and texts in metaphorically empty spaces, composing momentary silences and contemplative intervals for breath. Vellum paper leads the viewer through her timeline and loses them within it; allowing the project to be abstractly traversed – forward or backward – from any point.

Figure 3: Photograph of a page in So it goes, so it goes, Miho Kajioka, 2019, pub. the(M) éditions. Text is printed on translucent paper and reads 'Is one week always longer than one hour?'

Similar quiet moments occur in the first few pages, where a sequence of images of a teen blowing bubble-gum bubbles functions like a flick-book. The airily light paper lends a feather-like weightlessness to the photographs. Such delicate intricacies require a slow pace and, in doing so, the reader is invited to cherish these otherwise fleeting moments in time.

Figure 4: A photograph of the bottom corner of two pages in So it goes, so it goes, Miho Kajioka, 2019, pub. the(M) éditions. Pictures depict a teen blowing bubble-gum bubbles, moving like a flick-book.

Spells of intimacy, tenderness, and nostalgia are sewn into the book in fragments; ‘At this moment, my hands didn’t know you yet’ – a hand meets a butterfly, then a mouth, and then a baby’s fingers. Along with suggestive silhouettes of flocking birds, bare feet, a child with a skipping rope, Ferris wheels and an old house, Kajioka’s snapshot aesthetic is infused with themes of memory, childhood, family and friendship; seemingly alluding to the closeness of a mother’s gaze. Most captivatingly, the grainy, black and white images are often indistinguishable from pencil drawings; as though one could leave their graphite finger-prints on the surface of the pages, gracing Kajioka’s personal, printed recollections with one’s own presence.

Figure 5: Photograph of double page spread in So it goes, so it goes, Miho Kajioka, 2019, pub. the(M) éditions. The left image sits central within a white border, depicting a baby’s hand held in an adult’s. The shadow of my hand casts over the right page, depicting a tall, narrow image of a silhouette walking down some stairs

Figure 6: Tanzaku-sized images from So it goes, So it goes, Miho Kajioka, 2019, pub. the(M) éditions. Two tall, narrow images depict a horizon over some water with some land on the right side.

The narrow, vertical Tanzaku-sized images remind me of old 35mm photographs taken by my own mother. Despite their cultural differences, Kajioka's photographs evoke a nostalgic likeness to my mother's photographs – details from a beach scene or strangers passing along a British shoreline. Such meditations allowed me to reconsider the physical distance between my mother and I, understanding the expanse between us as equally important as the love that binds us. What I sense, from both Kajioka's and my mother’s photographs, is sincerity and hope for finding simple beauty in life. Fear, joy, uncertainty, peace and chaos intersect with every particle of So it goes; there lies visual poetry, framed by optimism, spirituality and unconditional, eternal love. 

Figure 7: 35mm Landscape colour photograph of silhouettes of two people walking on a beach towards the sea, taken by my mother Fran McGarry, (2000 and something)

Much like memories, I believe that the fragmented, tangled nature of So it goes is what makes it so inspiring. It made me contemplate both the past and future, while also being profoundly present and grounded. As someone with a keen interest in time, Kajioka’s work has encouraged me to revisit, reframe and re-illuminate my graduate work, Time Between These Walls (2020 – ongoing).
 
Japanese aesthetics have repeatedly appeared within my research and So it goes has sparked my deeper interest in wabi-sabi. I am inspired to read writings by the Zen Monk Dogen as well as Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s 1933 essay, In Praise of Shadows. Overall, So it goes candidly crafts an experimental and intimate moment to pause, recollect and reimagine. It is a must-read for anybody grieving distance or lost time, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic. This body of work is a nod to photographic histories, showcasing a unique aesthetic and hopeful ways of navigating everyday existence.
 
- Emma McGarry