Extreme Portraits 1970-1999

2 Mar — 15 Apr 2017 at Miyako Yoshinaga in New York, United States

2 MARCH 2017
KEN OHARA, ONE 1, 1970. Courtesy of  Miyako Yoshinaga
KEN OHARA, ONE 1, 1970. Courtesy of Miyako Yoshinaga

From March 2 to April 15, 2017, Miyako Yoshinaga is pleased to present Extreme Portraits 1970-1999, featuring approximately 30 gelatin silver prints by California-based Ken Ohara. This exhibition is organized in association with Sarah Lee Projects in Los Angeles. An opening reception will be held March 2, 6-8pm.

Ken Ohara (b. 1942) is known as an innovator who expands the boundaries of photographic portraits to the extent that our familiar perceptions of others and ourselves become precarious. While his work has earned international acclaim through numerous exhibitions and publications, this gallery show marks his solo debut in New York, where his career began five decades ago. The exhibition’s catalog features an essay by Sally Stein, Professor Emeritus at University of California, Irvine.

Since the 1960s, Ohara has been photographing strangers, friends, families, and himself. For each project, Ohara sets up a conceptual procedure, accumulates images in a volume, and presents them in a variety of discrete formats. ONE (1970), his best-known work, emerged as a thick softbound book resembling the Manhattan telephone directory. With no caption or explanatory text, closely framed human faces appear on page after page, 504 anonymous headshots captured on the New York streets. These strangers’ diverse yet uniformly positioned eyes, noses, and mouths challenge our conventional notion of physiognomy.

In 1998 Ohara revisited ONE, creating 52 new 24” by 20” prints from the original negatives. He treated each individual print with great care, emphasizing the details of human skin, piercing eyes, and other intricate facial features. Compared to the earlier prints from the 1970s, these later prints have a darker metallic tone. This exhibition highlights a selection of these reinterpreted ONE prints, as well as the monumental piece Grain (1993), a composite face made of 81 cut photo-sheets.

The exhibition also includes other types of Ohara’s work created between 1972 and 1999. Diary (1972), never before presented to the public, features a daily self-portrait paired with a landscape/figure/still-life shot on the same day over the course of nearly one year. The work, shown as a 2”x 1.5” folded book, reveals personal images often of himself and his wife together. In with (1999), another counterpoint of the ONE series, the portrait is softly lit, loosely composed, and the facial features of the person are mysteriously obscured. In fact, Ohara requested his models (a total of 100 friends, acquaintances, and strangers.) to be exposed to his 4 x 5 camera for exactly 60 minutes; thus, the portrait becomes a shared experience and collaborative work between photographer and subject. Ohara’s innovative photographic practice continues to redefine photography as an enduring vehicle of social visual communication.

Ken Ohara (b. 1942) was born in Tokyo, Japan. After briefly studying photography at Nihon University, Ohara moved to New York City at the age of 20. From 1966 to 1970, he worked as an assistant for Richard Avedon and Hiro. In 1970, his first book ONE earned support from The Museum of Modern Art’s photography curator John Szarkowski. In 1974, His work was featured in “New Japanese Photography,” a groundbreaking survey show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. From 1974 to 1975 He was a recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and for the following 15 years he worked as a commercial photographer. In the 1990s, Ohara reemerged as an artist and participated in the “Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul,” a 1999/2000 project at Los Angeles Country Museum of Art curated by Robert Sobieszek. In 2006/2007, the retrospective exhibition “Ken Ohara: Extended Portrait Studies” was held at Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany and traveled to two other German museums.