This article has been adapted from an interview originally published in August 2019.
Yusuke Yamatani’s drum performance begins with a crescendo of cymbals. The room is pitch black, but as the bass and snare drums kick in, intermittent strobe lights fill the space, lighting up Yamatani’s topless figure, beating his drums, posessed in a trance. A nearby printer, hooked up to cameras positioned around the drum-kit, ejects hundreds of images — of Yamatani, and the crowd that surrounds him. After the show, the photographer randomly gathers his new prints, offering them out to the participants of his multi-sensory spectacle.
After presenting Doors for the first time at Kyotographie in 2018, Yamatani embarked on a European tour in the summer of 2019. Over the course of eight 15-minute performances, Yamatani produced 3,563 images. Now, a selection of them, along with snapshots from the road — of landscapes, receipts, the food he ate and the people he met — are presented in an impressive photobook, alongside a 20,000 word interview, encompassing Yamatani’s approach and outlook on photography.
The photographer describes the work as “part-documentary and part-road movie, about a half-naked Asian pulling of performances and driving around freely in Europe”. The photobook feels much like a manuscript of this physical journey, its materiality echoing the quality and quantity of the original printed images, and the impulsive nature of the performances. “My wish is for people to see this photobook… and use it as an opportunity to reflect on a nostalgic past for the future to come,” he writes.
The idea for the project developed out of Yamantani’s desire to “embody the mechanisms of seeing and being seen,” and to question the discrepancy between the image that flashes before his audience’s eyes, and that which the camera captures. According to Yamatani, one audience member commented that “it was as if the photos were being printed directly on the retina”. The resulting images vary from close-ups of Yamatani’s face – some capturing a twinkle of joy, others the rush of adrenaline — to more distorted, awkward images of abstract shapes and twisted forms.
Yamatani tittled the project Doors, after the rock band, The Doors, whose name originated from Aldous Huxley’s essay The Doors of Perception. Huxley’s essay was in turn inspired by a line from a poem by William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
“I related to this line,” reflects Yamatani. “The foundation of my work, and what The Doors and Aldous Huxley were trying to express, are similar. They tried to open the doors of perception through drugs and music, but I am taking a more primitive route, driving my body to its limit and trying to look into my subconscious.”
“By creating a situation where the audience also feels that they are being seen, they too can experience the reciprocity of the gaze”Yusuke Yamatani
The photographer does not identify as a musician, but until he discovered photography at the age of 22, he was a drummer in a hard-core punk band. “I was getting bored of the structure of a band, ” says Yamatani. “I wanted to do something by myself. That lack of cooperativeness may have been the reason why photography suited me – on the one hand, it is affectionate, but, on the other, it has a certain coldness.” In 2010, several years after discovering photography, he met renowned post-war photographer Shomei Tomatsu, who offered him guidance and introduced him to the work of practitioners such as Daido Moriyama and Takuma Nakahira, which would come to inspire Yamatani’s early work.
Doors is Yamatani’s first performance piece, but the photographer has collaborated with audiences and employed more conceptual approaches to photography before. For Ground (2013-15) he photographed a segment of the dancefloor in several clubs around Tokyo, pasting the print over the same spot that he captured. After a night of partying, the prints were trampled, and stained with alcohol and cigarettes. “They were like garbage, but also emanated vitality like in the works of Jackson Pollock or Kazuo Shiraga,” says Yamatani. “The records of the night shared by these people were explicitly etched onto the print. I had a feeling of confirmation then that that was precisely what photography was.”
Doors by Yusuke Yamatani is self-published.