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In 1975, Mochizuki Masao stopped watching television, and began using his camera to observe and document the programmes broadcast daily to hundreds of thousands of Japanese homes. This self-conscious interruption of the transmission from screen to audience, in which Mochizuki mediated the television’s stream of images through his camera, articulates an early encounter with mass media which has become integral to our collective experience of the last half century.
By the 1960s, television had replaced film as the most popular national pastime in Japan. In 1964 the Tokyo Olympics were broadcast internationally, live and in colour for the first time, whilst the enduring popularity of American shows such as I Love Lucyand the unfolding drama of rolling news footage from across the world continued to captivate Japanese audiences. Mochizuki’s photographs, with their miniaturised, soundless grids of black and white images, are reminiscent of an earlier era of television – that of Mochizuki’s adolescence.
For Mochizuki, growing up in this transforming media landscape, the television proved a kind of democratizing portal; lipstick commercials, static frames and the appearance of the programming clock are juxtaposed in disorienting sequence with stills from shows about USSR defection and developments in mountaineering. Each image occupies the same amount of space within the grid and occurs in the original sequence of the show’s course, with no precedence allocated to any subject in the unending and sometimes surreal flow of imagery.
Mochizuki describes his process of photographing live programmes as reflecting the experience of watching television in its linear and instantaneously evolution: ‘I drew 35 frames on the focusing screen of a twin-lens reflex camera in the form of a grid pattern. I then sat right in front of a television set in a dark room and set up a camera at a distance from which the shining television screen fitted into one of the frames. I then selected a channel. The shutter was fired to capture the live image in the frame. Going to the next frame, I released the shutter again. The 35 different pictures, which are given a multiple exposure, are thus embedded in the frames one after another, but I can actually see only a single frame at any one moment.’
Mochizuki Masao ( 望月正夫 ) was born in Osaka in 1939, and was admitted to Tokyo College of Photography as part of the fourth generation of students. He graduated in 1963, in the same class as award-winning photographer Suda Issei and Motomura Kazuhiko, the founder of celebrated photobook publisher Yugensha (who published Mochizuki’s acclaimed book Television in 2001). In 1999, Mochizuki was awarded the 11th Society of Photography Award in Tokyo, and he was the subject of solo shows in both Japan and Europe. Mochizuki’s work is held in the permanent collection of MoMA, New York, and was recently displayed at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, as part of their exhibition Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media (2017).