Photography has always been an intensely private and social medium. As a holder of secrets and proclaimer of existence, it’s no surprise that voyeuristic desire has gone hand in hand with the exhibitionist impulse. People will always want to look at other people’s lives. The real challenge is to keep them looking. Eschewing the sensationalistic tone typical of the genre, Motohiko Hasui’s Personal Matters offers a varied, diaristic look into the life of a young photographer. Unapologetically private yet open, the work both reveals and conceals itself in equal measure.
From the declarative title to its Moleskin journal-like appearance (complete with cover band and cloth bookmark), the book mimics a personal diary, but looks are deceptive. Despite the title and diary-like physical form, the pictures are decidedly reserved. Unlike the hedonistic and confessional work of Nan Goldin or Ryan McGinley, the book is filled with quiet moments of personal significance and visual delight.
Collected over a number of years, the images form a portrait of a young artist on the road absorbing the world around him. In some ways, this is welcome. The default for such diaristic work is often shock, which can be a trap – luring us in, but escalating in its demands. But how does one distinguish between a photograph of great personal significance and a simple snapshot with little or no meaning for most viewers? Rather than disclose all, or titillate, Hasui’s work is cunningly transparent. These are personal moments, but like most photographs their meaning is intensely personal. It lies on the surface, but runs deep.
Personal Matters by Motohiko Hasui can be purchased here.
Adam Bell is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing and reviews have appeared in afterimage, Ahorn Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, foam, Lay Flat, photo-eye and Paper-Journal. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts’ MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department.
This review was previously featured on Paper-Journal and is reprinted with their kind permission.