Emotional recorder: on photographing Noh performance

[This is] what you see when you close your eyes

… says this poster I noticed in the lobby of the Dentogeino Kaikan in Otsu (Shiga pref.) next to Miidera. A woman closes her eyes and remembers an instant from the Noh Izutsu (The Stone-Well). The poster very delicately warns the audience that it is prohibited to take pictures or film in the Noh theatre. I think this this a very well thought campaign, not only because of its gentleness but also because of the depth of its message.


“Emotion” lives on in the memories written on your heart

Leaving aside those who might have an economic or other interest in recording a performance (be it Noh or something else) I am always impressed by the number of people who feel the urge of taking out a camera and filming or taking pictures of whatever work of art they are watching. I was at the British Museum last year and I remember a group of Italian tourists who took pictures of every single piece in the Japanese section – I can assure you, they were not art researchers. Here in Japan, where taking pictures is a stereotypical feature of the Japanese prototype, photographing anything at hand is the norm. And now we have smartphones. Going to an open air-performance is difficult even for me (I’m 180cm tall) because you have to watch the stage through a thick forest of raised arms holding coloured mobiles with Kitty straps and such. The habit of taking pictures of the stage does not only apply to open-air performances, where it is often allowed, but also to indoor performances, where it is clearly prohibited. You hear digital shutters shut, see flashes flash. It is terribly disturbing for the audience, let alone for the performers on stage.

But there’s more beyond the merely physical nuisance. Whenever I see some ojisan (old geezer) with a checkered shirt, a fishing vest and a baseball hat taking a picture of the Noh stage I wonder what they will do with it. Will they watch it before sleeping? Will they print it out at the convenience store? Will they send it to their pals? I don’t know. Or maybe I know: they won’t do anything with it. They just take the picture for the sake of taking it. They satisfy an idiotic compulsiveness. Because no one can convince me that after watching a Noh, and filming it, you go home and watch it again.

There is simply no point in filming what you are actually experiencing live and I won’t spend words explaining the obvious (that performance is an act perceived through a number of senses, and that retains a quality of ‘liveness’ that cannot be reproduced). I think it is enough to think of what you actually do with what you have recorded. Think about it.

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