°1991, Mortsel (BE)

Photographer and teacher in and around Antwerp (BE).
RISO-operator at SO-RI.

Also available for hire as an architectural photographer.



Contact
︎︎︎ 0032 475 46 57 95
︎︎︎ marnicqroebben@gmail.com

Four Japanese Castles



2019



RISO printed publication, published at SO-RI in 2021.

20x24cm, 32 pages, printed in Fluorescent Orange, Green and Black.

full text:

DECONSTRUCTION OF FOUR JAPANESE CASTLES
perceiving reality through the coloured lenses of language and photography


Upon hearing the title of this work, I would imagine you expected to see another set of images. The interplay between words and images leads to satire; ridiculing our current economic system. You probably expected four photographs of traditional, Japanese castles. The title does imply so. But rather than showing you the expected, I show you a subverted image of what I came across in Japan: houses of commerce [shops, hotels, laundromats, etc.] decorated in the - exaggerated cliché - image of the European, medieval castle - or at least how it is imagined in Disneyfied children’s media [toys, movies, comic books].

INFINTE INTERPRETATIONS

It exhibits a flaw in our language. We often think of language as a rigid structure, with each meaning set in stone - or in a dictionary. But rather than a logocentric view on the title of this work, we notice that each text has an infinite variety of possible interpretations to be found by the reader. And each part of the text, whether it’s a word, a sentence, a paragraph or even its lay-out, bears upon itself the traces of the endless, potential interpretations - referring to itself within the text or referring to anything outside the text.
In this case we can look to the title itself Four Japanese Castles. The meaning it signifies - with most people - is that of four traditional, Japanese castles [like Himeji Castle, or Osaka Castle]. Its meaning would seem obvious to most people.
For the sake of this work I interpreted the title differently. Let us look at each sign independently. Four refers - just like in the previous interpretation - to the numerical amount of photographs to be shown in the book. Japanese doesn’t only refer to the locality of the castles, but also where and in which context these buildings were built. Castles refers to the aesthetic reference of the buildings photographed, which were obviously designed and/or decorated to look like some form of a castle.
The difference within these two possible interpretations is rather small, but brings about a noticeable discrepancy in meaning. We can therefore say that the reality of language is heavily dependant on the observer’s interpretation.

MEDIUM OF [un]TRUTH

Photography, just like language, seemingly holds a rigid relationship to reality. But photography isn’t simply a reflection of reality. The medium holds a rather contentious relationship to reality.
A simplistic view of photography’s relation to the truth would be that of indexicality. Which doesn’t claim that photography is perfect in capturing reality, but that it is capable of capturing the light that has reflected of what has been there. In that sense, photography relates itself to reality through capturing traces of it.
If texts and language contain the traces of multiple interpretations, photography captures the traces of a reality that has existed for at least one moment - whether that moment is a fraction of a millisecond, or a long winded period of weeks or months.
Yet photography as a medium capturing reality isn’t what it seems. The truth is distorted by the manipulation of the photographer. The photographer frames what is seen, and of that same reality there are an infinite ways of interpreting it. Moreover the medium itself bears the traces of what has already been done with the medium, its unreliable nature, its open door to the world of endless digital manipulation, its noise and its history.
To claim that photography is the medium of truth, is to claim that hearsay is evidence.
Yet the traces of one interpretation of the truth are captured within a photograph and are opened up to a broader audience to be re-interpreted. While the photographer has had their say in framing the world, the viewer is free to reframe and rethink what is shown. I’d dare to say that the viewer is even encouraged to pick up traces of the underlying reality and make them their own.
Photography is thus not a medium of truth, but rather just like language opens up endless possibilities of interpreting a reality.

TRACES OF DISPARITY

Looking back at the images shown within this publication, the castles show an economic reality. They advertise themselves in the veneer of luxury and wealth to attract more customers. But that veneer is thin and frail, it’s uncanny how quickly and often they turn to kitsch and camp. They don’t show any luxurious venue, but rather cheaply remind us of European, medieval nobility, in the most childish and Disneyfied commercial interpretation of that same nobility of princes and princesses.
They don’t stand for luxury and wealth but rather for a cheap, quick and convenient commodity. It signifies the economic disparity between the rich and poor of its capitalist run society. Attracting customers with a novel, colourful display of a fantasy it doesn’t fulfill- at least I’d assume no one feels like a king in a laundromat that looks like a plastic yellow castle.
The images aren’t just shots of architectural oddities, but bear the traces of the economic hardships within a society.

MIND THE OTHER

Our initial interpretation of the title of this work can tell us a lot about our view on the world and the reality that is shaped by our perception of language. Our first expectation leads us to an exotic image of the Far East, which in itself alienates us  from the culture that exists over there. While Japan exists - just like us - within the frame of a global, hyper-capitalist, neoliberal economy; we still tend to reduce our thoughts of their culture to that of one that exists in a vacuum.
The contrast between what is expected and what is shown within this publication lays bare a satirical view. The humour might not be that innocent though. Quite often we dismiss the humour from the contrast between the expectation of the exotic and the received banality of the architecture as just silly behaviour of the other. In this way we alienate ourselves from the other’s capacity of humour and satire. We don’t see the other as intelligent and capable of criticising Western culture and how we Disneyfied our own medieval history, but rather we tend to see the other as incapable and silly.
The contrast between the perception of the title and the photographs confronts us with a colonial mindset, which still lingers in our language. A mindset which unconsciously tries to put the other outside of our own perception of the world and which inhibits an empathic process with the other.
Building a conscious mindset around how our language frames the other, but also frames ourselves is therefore of utmost importance.
© Marnicq Roebben
Berchem, Antwerp, Belgium