The Dog in France by Koji Onaka

It is in “the flowering city of Paris” that the story of this book has started. On one of the large pavements around Place de la Bastille a dog was tripping around. In the twilight of the sunset, he was only following his nose. Perhaps not a straight direction, but – for a dog- an important direction.  As soon as Mr. Koji Onaka caught sight of the dog, he decided to grab his camera and make this photograph against the light of the low shining sun.

© Koji Onaka

In photography, timing is everything.  When the shutter was pressed, the dog was still totally oblivious of the photographer from Japan. Only one of his four paws is in touch with the earth. Like the leaping man behind the Gare Saint Lazare in Cartier-Bresson‘s iconic image, the Parisian dog seems to be sailing elegantly through the turbulence of the big city. The decisive moment, indeed. At the same time, he also beautifully resembles the unforgettable dog-sculpture that Alberto Giacometti has made (in Paris too), although the latter looks perhaps a little bit sadder. And, of course, the image of a dog also reminds us of Mr. Onaka’s teacher Daido Moriyama – the stray dog of Tokyo!

© Koji Onaka

There is a lot to say about images like this one. We are not looking at a random moment of the past that is frozen by the photographical process, at a dull death mask of history. We are looking at a fresh image that is full of life and movement. By framing the dog the way he did, by pressing the shutter on that very moment, by the associations that the resulting image is triggering, the photographer has created a cinematic scene full of soul.

Why do we like it so much when photography becomes cinematic? Or what does it mean when that happens? Mr. David Campany wrote a great study about the issue. It is stated that photography is at its strongest when it confirms the immobility of things, that photography it is about stillness while cinema is about movement. It is stated that stillness and movement are mutually exclusive. However, in the study, it is demonstrated as well that the “problem of stillness” in photography can be “solved”! While we expect an image to be “still”, some images, like this one, are totally about movement.

© Koji Onaka

Here, the problem is partly solved by the composition of the image. Partly by the associations. Koji Onaka himself explained in ASX that there is in his individual photographs “a definite overlap with cinema” because “free associations are a very important part of his work“. By means of the freedom to make use of our own associations and experiences with the image, our reading experience is set in motion, is drifting away. At least in our minds, the perception of movement is created. And, we all know it since we were babies, movement makes us happy!

© Koji Onaka

However, it is when individual images are assembled in a photobook that the different elements of the “solution” to the problem of “stillness” are coming together in a very effective and interesting way. The autonomous art form of the photobook allows artists to operate somewhere between “stillness” of e.g. painting or sculpture and “movement” of cinema. In a photobook, “still images” can create a “dramatic event”. And, The Dog in France” is a great example thereof.

© Koji Onaka

Throughout the book we are following a Japanese narrator along different moments of his journey through France. Laconic captions about his experience as foreigner in French culture are assisting us through the reading experience, the “dramatic event” that is created by the book. “How can they eat so much bread every single day” or “Waiting for a train arriving who knows when“.

© Koji Onaka

The captions are really funny without limiting the free associations that we are making for ourselves. Also, the concept of a journey (implying a beginning, a time of transitting and an end) streamlines the reading experience without limiting our own interpretatons with the work.

© Koji Onaka

Koji Onaka’s idea for the journey was to retreat from some personal troubles. The first caption reads “In 1992, amidst various personal problems, I felt it would be best to let them clear up by getting away from Tokyo for a while.”  The last caption reads “returning home tomorrow, without having found a single answer“.  We have understood. The journey was about the pleasure of tripping around like a stray dog. Not in a straight direction, but only following his nose. Just like the Dog in France.

© Koji Onaka

 

.