Sometimes photographers need not say much by way of introduction to their work. In Japan Drug, recently published by Pierre von Kleist Editions, António Júlio Duarte writes: ‘It was 1997 and the new millennium was imminent, one could feel the tense anticipation about what was to come next. I was alone in Japan, a place I had never been before. During the day I would go out looking for my own sense of the place, photographing, exploring notions of centre, a place of convergence, as the world expanded before me in its uncertain course.’
Duarte revisits his experience of the country at this particular time through black and white images that carry a sombre appeal. Alone in a foreign country, searching for connections yet remaining invisible and vigilant, Duarte is paying forensic attention to its corporeal and material detail.
Cars flash through puddles, construction workers examine ‘art’, iguanas peer stubbornly out of aquariums. There are people pictured mid-commute, gambling or drinking, not to mention sleeping in all manner of uncomfortable positions, the sight of which seems to endlessly fascinate western photographers.
With an eye for the absurd, the irreducible complexity of this truly unique place is all but present: the new versus old, modernity versus tradition, manmade versus natural are all fixed through metaphor with a largeness of vision.
Duarte is under the skin, like a drug, wrenching out a poem from this amorphous state, mid-recession. Looking outward but really gazing within, the stillness and silence evinced in these photographs is touched by a palpable sense of uncertainty that is yet to disappear, despite the fact that the turn of the millennium is long passed.
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