Carrie L. Cushman: Infrastructure Comes Alive – Miyamoto Ryūji’s Photographs of Kowloon Walled City
Miyamoto Ryūji (b. 1947) is popularly known as the “ruins photographer” of Japan. His work centers on transformations in the cityscape – demolition sites, the handmade shelters of the homeless, and post-disaster landscapes – structures and sites in the process of formation or deformation that can be related visually by the trope of the ruin. This project intersects postwar architectural and urban studies with the close visual analysis of Miyamoto’s photography to show how ruins have served as a visual trope to challenge modernist narratives of progress and to offer up alternate readings of the late-modern city in Japan. In this context, his photographs of infrastructure within the notorious Hong Kong slum, Kowloon Walled City, can be understood as an example of a photographer looking abroad for alternative, informal approaches to urban housing in the late 1980s. An examination of the Kowloon Walled City photography asks what happens when infrastructure is detached from its original function via its representation in photographs, or loosed from its material context in the space of the art gallery. How can infrastructure-as-image come to represent a population, create new urban imaginaries, or define alternate ways of being in the world? This collection of photography shows how entrenched biological metaphors for infrastructure make its material compositions amenable to narratives of human resilience, creativity, and agency. The historical and visual analysis of Miyamoto’s prolific photographs of Kowloon in the final years before its demolition reveals how the visual affect of infrastructure operates on diverse actors who continue to speak for the Walled City’s former population and condition its existence.
Carrie L. Cushman is the Linda Wyatt Gruber ’66 Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. She completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in 2018 with a specialization in the history of Japanese architecture and photography. During her time at Columbia, Carrie was the recipient of the 2015 Meyerson Teaching Award and the 2017 Chino Kaori Memorial Essay Prize. Her dissertation research was completed through the generosity of a Fulbright Graduate Research Fellowship and a Mellon Humanities International Travel Fellowship. Carrie’s current book project is entitled, Transient Ruins in Late-Modern Japan: The Photography of Miyamoto Ryūji.