One might be tempted to think, at first, that abstraction is simply an aesthetic choice for Kikuji Kawada. In fact, using illusion and allegory, the photographer impels us to become attuned to specific events and global issues. A sampling of some 20 images is on view at L. Parker Stephenson Photographs through April 30, taken from three intersecting projects: The Map (1965), Kawada’s first long-term project, which addresses Japan’s trauma in the aftermath of World War II; 2011-phenomena (2011), his observations of the world in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster; and Last Things (2015), a “follow-up” to this evocation of apocalypse, exploring climate change, the subsequent political tensions, and media saturation.
The sumptuous work from Kawada’s two most recent series includes a range of apparently disconnected themes: a ghostly child riding a bicycle (Lost Child); an explosion of color exploring the 9/11 tragedy (New York City, Air Force One, ABC-NHK TV Tokyo); and a digital tapestry evoking global warming (Wild Weather, NHK TV, Traffic Sign). Kawada draws viewers in, encouraging them to identify with the issues explored in his photographs, whether they’re his early black-and-white analog work, or imagery created using digital techniques, a practice the artist espoused when he was over 60 years old. Embodying an overarching compassion for humanity, these graphic and complex images subtly combine layers and associations to present an expanded view of a world in flux.
Kawada, 83, is a household name in Japan, alongside Eikoh Hosoe, Daïdo Moriyama, and Nobuyoshi Araki. He is beginning to enjoy a certain notoriety beyond his country’s borders, even if Last Cosmology, at L. Parker Stephenson in 2014, was his first solo exhibition in the United States. It is worth noting that his series Last Things alludes to Paul Auster’s book In the Country of Last Things, pointing to Kawada’s obsession with a dystopian future populated by lost souls. Kawada also evokes the world of the artist Chris Marker, whose abstract experiments include the World War III post-apocalyptic film La Jetée; and the musician John Maus, whose existential synth-pop evokes a pessimistic disorientation. His sounds could form a soundtrack to Kawada’s photographs, creating a melancholy ballet in images that reflect on the future of our civilization.