Masashi Mihotani

Images are for illustration purposes

This is a series of photographs made in a color darkroom using packaging from candy wrappers, food, and other products that I consume in my daily life. This packaging is used in place of film negatives as a way for me to separate the printed image from its original meaning and context. Through this gesture, I am able to create photographs which present an unintelligible husk of the packaging’s original visual information.

As the title of this work suggests, the majority of photographs that we encounter in society are actually treated as illustrations, associative tools whose primary purpose is to facilitate sales and consumption. This evolution is particularly fascinating when one considers that photography was originally a physical trace of real-world processes and phenomena. In this sense, the unintelligibility of these images is a way for me to re-examine the photograph’s potential to contain new encounters and discoveries about the physical world around us.



By Darren Campion, from YET magazine: issue12

One major consequence of the digital economy is that more images are produced and circulated than ever; at this point the numbers involved have become almost meaningless. Such intensity of production has also meant that images are more volatile than ever, sometimes literally so, one overwriting the next in a seemingly endless cycle, seen and then forgotten, all physical traces of their existence erased. But of course digital technology only changes the scale and not the fundamental terms of our visual consumption. Even printed media can be ephemeral, often serving a particular function, such as with advertising, the images used having a definite communicative purpose, but a short life, soon replaced. The cycle of photographic production and consumption is itself part of a larger social pattern.


Masashi Mihotani makes this apparent in a quite literal manner, because although the subject of this series Images are for illustration purposes seems to be food, what we're really seeing here are images, refracted back through another visual technology. These pieces are made by placing material from food packaging encountered in the artist's daily life into a photographic enlarger, which projects the image onto light-sensitive paper to create a new image, heavily cropped and recontextualised from the original. Because of how they are made the colours and tonal values are all reversed, further distancing them from their starting point, so that they begin to resemble scientific specimens. Indeed, Mihotani has likened the process of working with this material to his childhood passion for collecting insects; there is a shared concern for varieties or types, for sorting and classifying, but also for wonderment, in this case at the sheer proliferation of visual media.


Here the consumption of images is related to consumption more generally, as a kind of mass production, something emphasised by the texture of half-tone printing dots apparent in the images, and by the largely artificial nature of the food pictured. The relentless pattern of image production and consumption is critically framed as being fundamentally unsatisfying, substance replaced with mere echoes or traces, simulations of the real. And yet, Mihotani does something that seems quite paradoxical with this work, he gives a physical form back to the increasingly disembodied image, reproducing a reproduction so that the underlying processes- iconographic and technological both - become visible. In doing so he suggests it is possible to reimagine broader practices of representation, however disposable they might be in material terms.

Installation view >>