Skip to main content

Takashi Homma: Letting in the light

Cotonoha, a journal and multidisciplinary space based in Okinawa, Japan, commissioned me (Twitter has its uses!) to review the latest book of Japanese photographer Takashi Homma. I was fascinated, and used this essay to explore the origins of photography in the camera obscura, and the role of windows in our lives.

Below is an excerpt from my essay, published in Cotonoha on 21 February 2018.

Takashi Homma, The Narcissistic City, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and MACK.

Photography, in the end, is about darkness. 

Centuries ago, there was an invention that eventually led to the creation of the camera as we know it today, and which also lent the camera its name. This device, the camera obscura (Latin for "dark chamber") is based on a scientific concept: light travels in a straight line. Allowing light into a dark enclosed space through a tiny opening creates a reflected image of the world outside within the chamber. This image is both upside down and inverted – left becomes right and vice versa. 

Though this might be difficult to remember in a digital age, the evolution of photography has involved negation, using light to create an image by the darkening of chemicals, and later from a negative in a dark room. For Japanese photographer Takashi Homma, darkness is special in a world that "overflows with light." In his most recent book titled The Narcissistic City, he goes back to the past, to the origins of photography, to explore and question the role of the photographer in image-making. 

Using hotel rooms in America and Japan as his camera obscuras, Homma has created a series of shadowy renditions reminiscent of ghost towns rather than the happening, colourful places of our imagination. The artist's photographs have always been characterised by a certain quality of detachedness from their subjects, with a sense of trying to freeze the present before it gets away. In The Narcissistic City, however, his photographs give the impression that he had all the time in the world. ‍ 

The method is basic. Windows are covered and blackened to create a very dark room, leaving only a tiny opening to let in light. Photographic paper is placed at a suitable distance from the opening, on which the image will materialise. The views thus captured are from the vantage points of various windows in various cities, pieced together like puzzles that literally spill out of the pages. The book, co-designed by Takashi Homma and GrĂ©goire Pujade-Lauraine, contains a number of gatefolds – folded pages that open out to reveal large images.

Takashi Homma, The Narcissistic City, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and MACK.

What do windows see? The answer to this question, upon perusing the book, seems to be: water tanks, skylines, and other windows. Sometimes windows see upside down; sometimes they see with aqua- or rose-tinted glasses, but mostly windows see in black-and-white. They see a reflection rather than seeing directly, but of a real world, an accurate world.

Read the complete article here.