Takehiko Nakafuji — from STREET RAMBLER

Takehiko Nakafuji was born in 1970 in Tokyo, and after attending Waseda University he transferred to the Tokyo Visual Arts College where he graduated from the photography department. In 2013 he won the Special Price at the 29th annual Higashikawa International Photo Festival, and to date has published several photography books including Winterlicht (2001), Night Crawler 1995 & 2010 (2011), Sakuan, Matapaan – Hokkaido (2013), and his latest, STREET RAMBLER (2014), from which the above photo comes from.

Please also see this gallery with more images from Nakafuji’s STREET RAMBLER.

STREET RAMBLER is available in the Japan Exposures Book Shop.

Some Mid-December Thoughts

View of Taiji Matsue TYO-WTC exhibition
View of Taiji Matsue TYO-WTC exhibition at Nadiff

I had to go down to the Nadiff A/P/A/R/T bookstore last week — don’t ask me why they call themselves that — and they have a tiny gallery tucked into what must have once been a storage room in the basement. Tending to claustrophobia myself, and having bumped my head a few times on the narrow spiral staircase that descends down there, it may take the prize for my least favorite place to see a photography exhibit. (Perversely, it also happens to be where I saw one of the best exhibits of recent years — tiny 4×5 color landscapes of Toshio Shibata.)

Currently they’re showing Taiji Matsue, a photographer I quite like. However, not having paid any attention to the listing, I thought I had wandered into the wrong broom closet when I entered a completely dark room closed off with a black curtain, only to realize it wasn’t an exhibition of his photography at all but rather a single television auto-playing a video. (“Video installation” might be a tad generous). I was immediately turned off and was going to turn around, but just as I never leave a film or the dying cause of a lost sporting contest early, I forced myself to tough it out.

The video, or at least the seven or eight minute stretch that I saw, featured a single, fixed-camera shot of a busy Tokyo cityscape, one familiar to me from his new book TYO-WTC. Once I got past the initial urge to bolt from the room, the video grew on me and was actually quite interesting, my eye delighting in the various patterns that presented themselves in such a pedestrian view, and brought me back to my younger days when I used to eat up work of an ostensibly similar nature by such folks as Andy Warhol and Michael Snow, and to reflect with some regret on how much less patient I become with each passing year.

. . .

 

I don’t really see Matsue as a landscape artist but more like an earth artist or a geologist — which in fact is what he was before he turned to photography — but as we’re speaking loosely of landscapes, recently someone asked me to recommend to them some books of Japanese landscape work that were specifically “black and white and moody”. Aside from Kaiiki, which I had recently reviewed, I was hard-pressed to come up with any good examples, but the other day I finally got around to picking up Koji Onaka’s Twin Boat, which among other (frankly more important) things, would seem to meet the bill of “black and white, moody landscapes”.

From Twin Boat, by Koji OnakaI had actually passed over Onaka’s latest book for a couple of reasons. One, I simply adore his color work like Grasshopper and Dragonfly, and indeed both of those were my relatively late introduction to his work (along with Tokyo Candy Box), to the point where it was hard to accept that Onaka once worked in black and white. Secondly, I had assumed Twin Boat was, like Slow Boat which Schaden put out a few years ago, an American publication, owing to the publisher being Session Press in New York. While they are in fact the publisher, the book is really a joint publication between them and Onaka himself, and was edited by Miwa Susuda, a Japanese curator living in New York, and the book itself was printed here in Japan. So my biased bases covered, I promptly picked it up and I’m very glad I did.

Onaka’s book is certainly dark and moody in tonal palette (it seems as if a large handful of the images have been shot on days of bad weather), but it doesn’t strike me as psychologically moody. The photo from the book that I’ve included here has darkness, a looming sky, an expansive view (if not exactly a “landscape”), and in the eyes of this beholder, which is what matters most, an uplifting beauty. This is all to say that generic labels like “landscape” or loaded and heavily subjective terms like “dark” and “moody” are never the best way to talk about photography, but mea culpa we almost always over-rely on them. Speaking about talking about photography…

. . .

 

As Onaka’s popularity in Europe especially attests, the cachet of Japanese photography — and specifically Japanese photo books — shows no signs of abating. But as someone recently asked me, what about Japanese photo criticism? There’s plenty of tumblr-ing of Japanese photography, and certainly tons of blogs about it (this one included), but is there anyone writing about it at a more complex and nuanced level? Is there any criticism being written about Japanese photography that would be akin to say Max Kosloff, Alan Trachtenberg, Susan Sontag, or even someone in the slightly more popular vein of Janet Malcom?

My stock answer, gathered from inference and second-hand recommendations rather than primary knowledge, is Kotaro Iizawa, who has written innumerable books and was the founder and driving editorial force behind the 1990s journal Deja Vu. However, aside from some short essays, hardly any of his work is in English.

Minoru Shimizu column page screenshot
A screenshot of Minoru Shimizu’s semi-regular Critical Fieldwork column.

Recently though, I re-stumbled onto Minoru Shimizu’s semi-regular Critical Fieldwork essays over at the website for Art-It, the bilingual Japanese/English magazine about Asian Art. I confess I have not read all of the 38 essays posted there — Shimizu writes about other disciplines in addition to photography — but from what I have read I can tell that Shimizu certainly is someone worth reading. Particularly exciting for me is the prospect that Shimizu is not afraid of ruffling some well-preened feathers.

The Japanese photography “scene” as it were is a fairly chummy and mutual back-slapping place, by my observation, so when I read Shimizu refer to the work from a photographer that people seem to not be able to get enough of at the moment as “B-grade horror”, I had to take heart — not because they echo my own thoughts so much as they at least constitute a push-back against the fashionable tide. (The first footnote on that page consolidates this impression.) Superficial and reductive on my part, yes, but with only so many hours of the day and so much cheerleading to slog through, negativity is often a better tool for separating the wheat from the chaff.

Some semi-random thoughts as we enter December

Issei Suda Exhibition: magi no hira - fragments of calmLast week I managed to get myself down to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (Syabi) and see the Issei Suda retrospective exhibition just before it closed. It may come as a surprise but I miss a lot of these major exhibitions at Syabi (and other museums/galleries), and I had basically already written off seeing this one. When I do see one of these exhibitions, more often than not it serves as an all too easy to forget reminder that it is worth the effort (but that won’t stop me from wondering if it is whenever the next one rolls around).

Suda has been on my mind recently, spurred on by this altogether rare and insightful piece on Suda and then later by my conversation with the author, Ross Tunney, who was in town recently specifcally to see the Suda retrospective. (If he could make a 12-hour round trip just to see the Suda exhibition, well then really I have no excuse.)

When I do make it down to Syabi I always try to avail myself of their excellent reference library, and this time was no different. I particularly wanted to look again at two Suda books I don’t own, 人間の記憶 (Human Memory, 1996) and 犬の鼻 (A Dog’s Nose, 1991) — particularly the latter as Suda’s color work is still by and large ignored even amongst all the Suda exhibits and books we’ve been treated to recently. Both of these are excellent but unfortunately not really affordable on the used market. It would be great if both of these could be re-issued so I could affordably buy them, or perhaps not….

. . .

Seiji Kurata's Flash-up, reprinted by Zen Foto GalleryAt the risk of biting the hand that sometimes feeds me, I’ve been thinking about the recent spate of re-issues such as the new Flash-up (Seiji Kurata), Suda’s Waga Tokyo 100 (both of those from Zen Foto), the reprint (or re-reprint) of Katsumi Watanabe’s Shinjuku Guntoden: 1965-1973, or the new facsimile editions of Daido Moriyama’s Another Country in New York, both of which are the latest in a string of re-issues from Akio Nagasawa Publishing they’ve done over the last couple of years. These are all worthy of once more seeing the light of the everyday, rather than languishing unseen and out of reach in the usually overpriced listings of AbeBooks, and most of them are very fine renditions indeed.

Nobuyoshi Araki's Banquet, published by Errata EditionsHowever — and I’ll admit right up front that I have no idea of the economics of putting these books out — do they all have to be so damn expensive? Speaking as a photo book lover, rather than a photo book store proprietor, I would much rather see more Errata Editions type of facsimile editions, which admirally accomplish several goals (of mine, not necessarily their’s or that of the publishers’ I mentioned above): allow people who have no access to the original to see the work; present the work as it was presented originally, but with better printing; provide context and perspective through contemporary essays; and make the books available to consumers at a very affordable price point. Japanese publishers are hardly the only guilty ones here it must be said. The German-based Only Photography has put out very nice — so people say, as I have never personally seen them — editions of work by Yutaka Takanashi, Suda, and Shomei Tomatsu. Nice and deserved, but not really priced at what sane people would call “affordable”.

. . .

From Someone's Wife, by Nobuyoshi ArakiFor better or worse, Nobuyoshi Araki’s work is ubiquitous enough that hundred-dollar reprints are not yet in abundance. I caught Araki’s “Someone’s Wife” exhibit the other day at Rat Hole Gallery. I went down there to pick up a book and probably would have given the show a miss otherwise, but I’m glad I got to see it. The subject of the series is hitozuma, which the gallery translates into the vaguely innocent-sounding “someone’s wife”, while the translation I’m more familiar with is the altogether more titillating “another man’s wife”. (If you’re after a more culturally accurate English equivalent, “MILF” is what you want — for those not familiar with that term, I recommend you search Google for it when you are not at work).

Araki has over the last 15 years produced quite a number of “Hitozuma” books (in the main series of this type of work, 人妻エロスor hitozuma eros, published by Futabasha, Araki released #17 this past March). They’re a bit slick but I quite like them. However, I only own one since to the casual eye of say, my wife, having more than one of them would be the equivalent of a teenager with mound of Penthouse magazines stuffed under his mattress.

The exhibit at Rat Hole features about 15 large black and white portraits of middle-aged women exposing their unclothed bodies in various degrees of nudity that we assume is the limit of what they’re comfortable with, each one daubed in brightly colored paint that Araki has often employed in recent years and here uses as a way to censor the images in the same way that his books of old featured black strips over women’s private parts.

Thus superficially the tone of the show, and that of the accompanying book, is different from the hitozuma eros books I mentioned before, and one may be forgiven for thinking that here Araki is trying on his “I want to make serious movies” Woody Allen hat. But ignoring the trappings of the large prints, black and white film, and a large, airy gallery space, the series produced the same feeling I get from much of Araki’s oeuvre, and what I suspect drives Araki much more than his legendary dirty old man-ness — a deep empathy for the people he photographs, and a loving embrace of the notion that the flawed and fragile represent the true pinnacle of beauty.

If you’re in Tokyo, the exhibition is on until January 19, 2014.

New Arrivals in the Bookstore

Another Country in New York Fascimile Edition, by Daido Moriyama Page Spread
Another Country in New York Fascimile Edition, by Daido Moriyama Page Spread

Over the last few days we’ve been adding quite a few new titles to the bookstore, and I wanted to highlight a few of them for you:

Another Country in New York Fascimile Edition (Signed)
Daido Moriyama

Another Country in New York Fascimile Edition, by Daido MoriyamaThis is a complete facsimile reprint of Daido Moriyama’s 1974 self-published photocopied book of the same name which originated out of his famed “printing show” exhibitions (which in the last couple of years he has reprised in New York, London, and elsewhere). At the time they were issued, only around 100 versions — no two exactly alike — were issued. These facsimile reprints are available in two cover versions — “Stars and Stripes” (pictured), and “Airplane” — and while certainly not cheap, they are an order of magnitude cheaper than what some booksellers would like you to pay for one of the 1974 originals. Available here.

Ever After
Asako Narahashi

Ever After, by Asako NarahashiAsako Narahashi has released several small print books since her breakthrough 2007 half awake and half asleep in the water (Nazraeli Press), but this can be considered her first major book since that release, and it sees her continuing to explore the relationship between water and land, or put another way, between a floating indeterminateness and the grounded elements which dominate the landscape. The images in Ever After were shot in Japan, Dubai, Amsterdam, the suburbs of Paris, Santa Monica, Taipei, and elsewhere, between 2002 and 2011. Narahashi explains at the beginning of the interview that accompanies the book (included separately as a booklet), “I think I’ve always had an interest in things which lack a stable state, at least unconsciously perhaps. Although I’m not particularly aware of other people’s shore photography, most seem to be images taken of water as something beautiful. […] In my case, I took these because I wanted to capture something that gives a sense of scale, or artificiality, somewhere in the image, not because I wanted to get closer to nature.” This is a nice large-size book complete with slipcase and the aforementioned interview booklet (bilingual). Available here.

Standard Temperature
Masayo Ito

Standard Temperature, by Masayo ItoMasayo Ito’s Standard Temperature, a collection of family portraits taken between 1979-1981, began its life as a student project for Ito when she was a BFA student at Musashino Art University’s Department of Visual Communication Design in Tokyo. In fact, it was her graduation thesis and garnered her the Department’s “Laboratory Prize”. Her biography characterizes Standard Temperature as “photos from random visits with Tokyo families”, which would imply she just pounded on apartment flats randomly until she found subjects willing to sit for portraits. The results, however, belie such arbitrariness, and without any background knowledge — Ito’s own afterword is itself ambiguous about who these people are — one feels sure that even if not Ito’s own friends and family, Ito must have known these people fairly well to capture them as intimately as she has done. Available here.

Berlin
Hiromi Tsuchida

Berlin, by Hiromi TsuchidaHiromi Tsuchida is best known for his exploration of the effects of Japan’s postwar economic boom in Zokushin and Counting Grains of Sand. However, he has also devoted a considerable body of work exploring the WWII-scarred cities of Hiroshima and Berlin, producing at least three books on the former, and two on the latter. These works often feature photos taken over different periods which are then juxtaposed, or as in the case of his first Berlin book The Berlin Wall, by digitally superimposing the words “East” and “West” to note which part of the wall was which. The 2011 book entitled simply Berlin brings together photographs of Berlin shot at three different points of his career, and critically, three different and distinct periods in Berlin’s post-WWII history — 1983, 1999-2000, and 2009. As Rei Masuda writes in one of the book’s two accompanying essays, “The three periods at which Tsuchida was shooting in Berlin correspond to three phases in the history of the Berlin Wall: existence, disappearance, and memory.” Available here.

In addition to the new titles in the store, we’ve recently added some book spread photos for the following titles:

Record No. 23 (Signed), by Daido Moriyama

Tokoyo no Mushi, by Yoshiichi Hara

Soul Blue, by Keiko Nomura

Itasha-Z (signed), by Tomoyuki Sakaguchi

Fuji’s New Retro Instant Camera Now In Stock

Fuji Mini 90 Instax Neo Classic camera
Fuji Mini 90 Instax Neo Classic camera

In recent years Fuji has released some well-received film cameras, both for their functionality as well as for their looks. Their latest — the Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic instant film camera that hit the streets on September 20th — looks to continue this trend.

No matter if it is just looks or function, the level of interest in this camera is enormous, as seen in this post on John Sypal’s Tokyo Camera Style.

One nice and very contemporary thing about this camera is that it features a rechargeable Lithium battery as opposed to the throw-away alkaline batteries that Fuji’s other instant film cameras take. What’s more, Japan Exposures is pleased to confirm that unlike a lot of Lithium batteries, this particular battery can be shipped with the camera (provided that certain transport conditions are met, which Japan Exposures will comply with). We can also confirm that the instruction sheets included with the camera have English sections (in addition to several other languages, and Japanese of course). Funnily enough, early commenters on Japanese user sites have complained that there are too many instructions for the camera — go figure!

Some other features worth noting over previous Instax models are various shooting modes, such as macro mode, double exposure mode, a bulb mode (for up to 10 second long exposures), kids mode (freezing fast action), party mode (slow synch flash to balance fore- and background), landscape mode (high depth of field) and flash fine tune facility.

As of right now, no release date has been mentioned for the camera outside of Japan, so the time is now if you want to get one — perhaps to make sure you are covered early with a Xmas present to yourself, or a Instax person near you.

Fuji has understandably been laying on the “retro” vibe thick in its promotional material for the camera, as can be seen in this jazzy promotional video:

We have the camera in stock and ready to ship.

Japan Exposures Tourist Bureau

Photo gallery in Yanaka
Photo gallery in Yanaka (Tokyo)

We get a lot of emails here at Japan Exposures headquarters along the lines of “I’m coming to Japan/Tokyo and wondering if you could recommend some photo galleries or museums to check out while I’m there,” so allow us to copy and paste a response just sent to one recent said inquiry, to which we add some links to make it handy while we’re at it. It should go without saying that what follows barely scratches the surface, especially where Tokyo is concerned. (In this case the destinations asked about were Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima.)

[Recipient],

There are so many galleries in Tokyo that it’s really hard to recommend any above any else, as it depends on what they’re showing, etc. Off the top of my head, without knowing their exhibition schedules, you should check out in Tokyo:

Syabi (tokyo metro photo museum)
Photo Gallery International
Sokyusha
Gallery 916 (site | Japan Exposures profile)
Zeit-Foto Salon
Taka Ishii Gallery
Zen Foto Gallery
Taro Nasu

Put any of those into Google, or better check out Tokyo Art Beat which is quite comprehensive and up-to-date. (They’ve also got an iOS and Android app.)

As for Kyoto and Hiroshima, I’m less familiar with those cities, and certainly there are far less galleries. The Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto) companion site to the one above should help out.

As for Hiroshima, I used this site (and their printed map, available free at various places in the city) when I traveled there 5-6 years ago:
GetHiroshima

Have fun!

Of course after firing off the email we thought of others to add, but we’ll leave it to other photo gallery lovers to chime in in the comments below (especially about Kansai and Hiroshima). One thing we would add is that there are a few areas in Tokyo which have clusters of galleries, which makes a nice and convenient walking tour and a better chance to happen upon the unexpected. A few areas that come to mind are Shinjuku (especially around Shinjuku Gyoenmae and Yotsuya San-chome stations), Bakurocho, Kiyosumi, and Roppongi.

MS Optical Lens News 2013

 

The MS Optical lens MS Optical 50/1.13 Sonnetar continues to be popular, in fact so popular that the complete initial batch of 200 Sonnetar lenses is now sold out.

The following lenses are on the horizon for later this year and early 2014 and beyond:

We hope you find these MS Optical lens news of interest and welcome questions or comments.

For those wishing to be placed on a notification list, please comment below in this post and we will notify you accordingly.