Leo Rubinfien “The Ardbeg”

2010 December 25th – 2011 February 25th

Leo Rubinfien, who was my teacher, became a knight of the New Color movement in America in the late 1970s. From his home in New York, he travelled the cities of the world, and found expression of himself in the wanderings of countless other people, whom he looked at sideways while sitting on an airplane, or across the breakfast room in some big hotel, or out the window of a passing train. In the volumes “A Map of the East” and “Wounded Cities,” he accompanied the photographs with writing that is itself done in a photographic style. The present exhibition here at Kurenboh, and the text “The Ardbeg,” began as part of his large, unfinished project “In the World City,” but came to stand by themselves as the starting point of a new project in which, after more than three decades, Rubinfien has finally begun to work in his own city, New York.

About “The Ardbeg”

Though I have lived in Manhattan for many years, I have done most of my photographing in places far from there. I always knew I would eventually have a large project to do in my own city, but I hesitated to begin it. So many superb photographers had already brought extraordinary work out of that dark, shining, pounding city – Evans, Frank, Winogrand, Diane Arbus and Daido Moriyama are just a few of them – perhaps my problem was that I couldn’t empty their pictures out of my mind.

Meanwhile, I had maintained a friendship with Akiyoshi Taniguchi since the early 1980s – ever since he’d been a student of mine in New York – and ten and fifteen years ago he would speak longingly of New York, in the way one does of a place one associates with the lost freedom and bright possibilities of one’s youth. The city was not just a place in the physical world for Aki, it was also a time in his life, and a way of thinking and feeling to which he often wished he could go back. I was strongly affected by how he talked, and at the end of the ヤ90s I ended up writing a brief story about one winter evening we spent drinking Scotch in Kuramae, when what he felt came out with even more poetry than usual. I didn’t know what to do with the story, but I kept it and re-read it many times over the years; sometimes I even read it in public.

More recently, I thought that this small text, “The Ardbeg,” might be a place from which I could start to photograph in New York, which I’d been waiting to do for so long. What would happen if I tried to see the city through “Aki’s eyes”? Not see it through Aki’s real eyes, of course, but see it in the way I thought he might dream of it, after that night of drinking and the things he’d said had planted themselves in my imagination. Whether this idea made any sense, it did enable me to start, and this show at Kurenboh is the first presentation anywhere of what I managed to produce. These pictures are my first steps into an investigation that will probably go on for a long long time to come. (L)