The title of the series is a translation of the Japanese word kurofune, an idiom used by the Japanese for Western vessels approaching their shores. This dates from the 16th Century when the hulls of Portuguese vessels were painted black with pitch. The term became a symbol of the end of Japan's isolationist policies and the modernisation that ultimately ensued.
Created during a trip to Japan, the series dramatises aspects of the physical environment as symbolic gesture - pathways, bridges, walls, wrapping, fences, nature and decay. It references the work of photographers who travelled there in the mid 19th Century and Japan's 20th Century experience of militarism.
Presented as a travelogue that interrogates the machinations of history, Black Ships also aims to embody surreal aspects of the culture and landscape. More broadly it is an articulation of the curiosity of the traveler, seeking out points of difference from home - the peculiar, the beautiful and the unfamiliar.
Carefully hand-printed in the darkroom the prints are on fibre-based paper and selenium toned. Hand-printing is important to Brown's practice as she seeks to perpetuate darkroom processes. The materiality and physicality of analogue practice gives the work meaning, placing them in a liminal realm between being images and objects.
The series examines Brown's ongoing interest in temporal ambiguity. By working with monochrome and reviving traditional photographic techniques the work appears to originate from a different era but simultaneously depicts contemporary subjects. This inspires thinking about past and the present, enduring versus ephemeral - notions central to Japanese ideas and aesthetics.
Image: Jane Brown
From Three views of the Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, 2015
Hand printed, toned, fibre-based silver gelatin print
17 x 21cm, edition of 5
courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney