The walls of Miyako Ishiuchi’s first solo show in Scotland are painted in alternating sections of ultramarine and silver, a reference to the stylings of the Yokosuka home where the photographer first set up a darkroom in 1975. This studio finds a suitably dynamic correlative in this deceptively simple exhibition, which brings together three bodies of work—ひろしま/hiroshima (2007–15), Mother’s (2000–2005), and Frida (2013)—across three rooms. The scattered hang invites comparisons between the series and heightens the ethereal, disembodied quality of the photographs, which catalogue the personal effects of dead women.
ひろしま/hiroshima avoids a documentary approach. Ishiuchi selected ripped, stained, and weathered garments from the holdings of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and photographed them against a plain background using 35-mm film. The poignant angles and cropping evoke a feeling of physical closeness to the departed. Mother’s also enacts a kind of séance, convening various items from the artist’s mother’s toiletries and wardrobe. Images of intricate floral-patterned lingerie are paired with those of their owner’s scarred skin. In Frida, Ishiuchi explores the ingenious means through which Frida Kahlo concealed her disabilities, including enhanced corsets, sunglasses, and tailored shoes. Here as elsewhere, there is a strange tension. While human subjects are rarely present in the photographs, Ishiuchi’s treatment of worn-out clothes, depleted cosmetics, and personal effects is darkly sensuous. This elegiac presentation meditates on national, familial, and artistic inheritance. Its concern for detail represents a yearning for these absent women as they really were: stylish, injured, strong.