Touchscreen Abstract Expressionist KENTA COBAYASHI

“I’ve lived in various share houses around Shibuya, and a majority of my photographs depict scenes from these spaces in the center of the city,” photographer Kenta Cobayashi explains, “Other work stems from travel around Japan and abroad, as well as experiences shared with my girlfriend – in short, they are images from everyday life. Basically, I want to approach photography in a similar vein to all those people the world over who now document life on their iPhones.”

In a photograph by Kenta Cobayashi, a boy stands with his cheek in his palm. Under his baseball cap, his face stretches and melts around the surface of his smartphone, as though the motions of his fingers on the screen are altering his own being in real time. It is an image that brings us directly to the main lesson of Cobayashi’s book Everything_1: In a moment where games like Pokémon Go have us questioning the implications of “augmented reality,” we discover that reality itself is already quite complicated.

“I think that photography is like a GUI [Graphical User Interface],” explains the Tokyo-based photographer, “The abstract concept of ‘reality’ has traditionally been too complex for human understanding. But by processing reality graphically as images, it allows us to gain some new degree of understanding of our existence.” Comprised of snapshots of friends and landscapes in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, Cobayashi’s blog-turned-book appears as a diary bathed in digital slime. Computer-generated swipe-marks serve as the guide on this safari, at times resembling painterly brushstrokes, and at other times meandering across surfaces in winding gestures of boredom. In one, the yellow light of a neon sign is dragged across the photo in a sloppy figure-eight. In another, a young man holding a book is exed-out by smudges over and over, as if the photographer were mashing Command-Z. Yet these elements of post-production find their analogue mirror in an everyday landscape punctuated by jumbled wires and bent Venetian blinds. In one picture, a girl’s face is overlayed by a barrier of violently scratched plexiglass as she presses herself against the interior of a phone booth, smiling.

Sixty  years since the death of Jackson Pollock, the swipe has gone from being the foundation of Abstract Expressionism to being the core gesture of mainstream telecommunication. A swipe turns computation into a process of autographing, opening up a language much more powerful and emotional than a keyboard punch.  Given the right operating system, a swipe can delete an email, sign an e-vite, and turn down a sexual advance in one motion. In this mode, the techno-sensual zone of the touchscreen serves as the interface between reality and its digital representation. This is the surface that Cobayashi’s photography occupies, capturing a world that looks perpetually more editable and made of liquid crystal.

Text: THOM BETTRIDGE

Images: KENTA COBAYASHI

Related Content

  • Never Walk Alone

    MARK PARKER, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nike Inc., a multi-billion dollar footwear, apparel, and equipment supplier headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon, once summarized his challenge in The Wall Street Journal: “The question is, how do you not let your size become a disadvantage? How do you keep an edge, a crispness, a relevance?” Joerg Koch talks to Nike CEO MARK PARKER about creativity, commerce, and charity.More
  • Deeper

  • TERRITORIAL SIGNALS: A portrait of TOLIA TITAEV

    For 032c Issue 35, we photographed the young Russian skateboarder and designer wearing our COSMIC WORKSHOP collection. “If I didn’t have skateboarding in my life, I have no idea what I’d be doing," he told us. "I owe all my achievements to skating.”More
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c COSMIC WORKSHOP "Rock Bottom" Vest Black

    €190
    Buy Now
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c Cosmic Workshop Belt

    €170
    Buy Now
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c COSMIC WORKSHOP "Maria" Longsleeve Grey

    €90
    Buy Now
  • Life Exists: Theaster Gates’ Black Image Corporation

    Theaster Gates' “The Black Image Corporation” presents photographs from the holdings of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, a sprawling archive that shaped “the aesthetic and cultural languages of contemporary African American identity.” Gates approached the project as a celebration and activation of the black image in Milan through photographs of women photographed by Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton – of black entrepreneurship and legacy-making. “Life exists” in the Johnson archive, he says, just as it exists and should be honored in other places of black creativity.More
  • FRIDA ESCOBEDO: The Era of the Starchitect is Over

    Rising Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is relentlessly inquisitive, eschewing stylistic constants in favour of an overriding preoccupation with shifting dynamics. Personal curiosity is the driving force behind her practice, which makes he an outlier in a profession dominated by extroverted personalities keen on making bold assertions. "I think it really is a generational shift," Escobedo says. "The idea of the starchitect making grand gestures with huge commissions is over."More
  • “I live a hope despite my knowing better”: James Baldwin in Conversation With Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)

    Born in Berlin in 1931, editor and writer Fritz J. Raddatz relied on food delivered by African American GIs after the death of his parents. To Baldwin he was an “anti-Nazi German who has the scars to prove it.” Debating his return to the USA after 25 years, Baldwin explores the political climate in America at the end of the 1970s in a conversation at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.More
  • House as Archive: James Baldwin’s Provençal Home

    For her new book, Magdalena J. Zaborowska visited the house Baldwin occupied from 1971 to 1987 “to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity”. Here, she narrates her early journeys to Baldwin’s home and proposes a salve for its recent loss: a virtual presentation of Baldwin’s home and effects.More