Monday, July 25, 2011

Shoichi Kitamura's Studio

Shoichi Kitamura, professional carver and printer pictured on left.
Shoichi Kitamura was the carving teacher I worked with during the residency in 2004. Since that time he has started a professional studio where he works and teaches in Kyoto.  A group of us spent the day with Kitamura-san at his studio, where he showed us several carving and printing projects he had worked on over the years.

In Japanese traditional woodblock printing, the work of the artist, carver, and printer is a collaborative process. Kitamura-san is a master carver, who carves the blocks for artists in Japan. While he is officially recognized as a master carver in Japan, he is also an accomplished printer. He showed us a project he completed for an artist in Australia, where the artist appropriated two images from a photo archive, pasted newspaper headlines on the images and enlarged them to approximately 18 x 22 inches. Kitamura interpreted the photographic images to woodblocks, carving and printing them in the technique of mokuhanga. I found myself consumed with this work, comparing sections of the source photographic image with sections of the completed print. As much as I wondered over the imagery's likeness, I was extremely aware of how not-the-same the photographic image and printed image are.

Xerox copy facsimile of enlarged photographic image. (Print #1)

Mokuhanga (Print #1)

Xerox copy facsimile of enlarged photographic image. (Print #2)

Mokuhanga (Print #2)
As a printmaker, I am amazed by the pure technical achievement of these works. Yet, the technical achievement leads me to questions about technology. Photographs and newspaper printed headlines are technologically advanced processes in contrast to the archaic and obsolete reproduction methods of mokuhanga. And, arguably, darkroom photography and printed newspapers are in danger of being replaced with newer digital technology. In 2011, what does it mean to hire a Japanese master carver and printer to reinterpret these photographic images?

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