All posts by Kurt

Leap Year Sale in Bookstore

Six books on sale for February 2012 The following titles are on sale for February:

Anatolia, by Hiroh Kikai ¥9,490 ¥8,490
Published in January, 2011, this book from Asakusa Portraits-famed Hiroh Kikai is the first ever substantial presentation of his considerable body of work from Turkey. It depicts Anatolia, but also points west and east, and was created during six visits (totaling 45 weeks) that Kikai made from 1994 through 2009. See this review at Microcord for more about the book.

Hana Dorobou, by Eikoh Hosoe ¥2,990 ¥2,490
Undergarment designer Yoko Kamoi (1925-1991) presented to Hosoe a series of her handmade dolls and told him, “Do with them what you want.” For Hosoe, they were more human than doll, and they seemed to take a life of their own, the scenes he eventually photographed them in seemingly situtations these dolls were getting themselves into — or so Hosoe felt, so strong was their human-like nature.

Hana Kinbaku, by Nobuyoshi Araki, ¥7,990 ¥5,990
Published in conjunction with his exhibition at Taka Ishii Gallery (Tokyo) in 2008, this 150-plus full color catalogue brings together two of Araki’s well-known obsessions, flowers and bondage scenes.

Kazuo Kitai in China, 1973, by Kazuo Kitai, ¥2,590 ¥1,990
Kitai, who was born in Anshan, Manchuria in 1944, returned to China in 1973 at the behest of the noted Japanese photographer Ihei Kimura, who assembled a group of photographers to travel the country for two weeks with him. The photos that Kitai took on this trip, which he intended to publish as a book but never did, are now collected in this special publication from Tokyo gallery Zen Foto Gallery.

Lime Works, by Naoya Hatakeyama, ¥4,290 ¥3,590
A much-needed reprint of Hatakeyama’s seminal 1996 Lime Works.

Cell, by Taiji Matsue, ¥4,990 ¥4,490
This book from 2008 by Taiji Matsue features tiny pieces (or “cells” if you will) of larger photos blown up many times over, rendering each photo both abstract and concrete at the same time.

The Deteriorating Condition of Silver in Ginza

Eikoh Hosoe season at BLD Gallery in Ginza
Eikoh Hosoe season at BLD Gallery in Ginza
In between jobs the other day I stepped in to the BLD Gallery in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Ginza is Tokyo’s High Street where all the fashion brands have their flagship stores. Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Shiseido, etc. are all here. During the 80s bubble, the area featured the highest real estate prices in the world.

That bubble has long since burst but it still retains its hoity toity air, and to be honest I’ve never felt entirely comfortable there, though I often go there and used to find it a fertile ground for shooting as well, back in the days when I actually took photos. It also happens to be a good place to take in photos, featuring a few good galleries in the area, and it used to be a camera fetishists dream with several used camera shops.

BLD Gallery is one of the newer spaces, going back just three or four years I believe. It’s on the eighth floor of a building that houses a Zara brand shop on the first floor, but fortunately the entrance to the elevator is on the side so I don’t feel so self-conscious about my rather less than foppish attire. Their shows feature established artists, particularly Daido Moriyama, but also including Toshio Shibata, Takuma Nakahira, Masato Seto, and Michael Kenna, and although they are not exlusively a photography gallery, that is what they exhibit in the main.

One thing about BLD is that their shows are always extremely well-presented. Whoever is curating their exhibits definitely seems to make the best of the space, which is one large-ish room and an awkward smaller room off to the side, in addition to a small bookstore/merchandise area. The Shibata show I saw there last Fall was simply exquisite, with large 40×50 inch prints deftly mixed in with 40 or so smaller pieces.

Currently on view is the first of a five-show Eikoh Hosoe retrospective which will run until May. The first installment features work from Kamaitachi, shot in 1965 and first exhibited in 1968, and collected in the 1969 limited edition photo book of the same name. Thankfully due to the republication of this book in 2009 by Aperture in the US and Seigensha here in Japan, more people have become familiar with this work, although sure enough some of the images have become iconic over the years.

In 1965 Hosoe accompanied Tatsumi Hijikata, who along with Kazuo Ohno basically founded the post-WWII Butoh dance movement — to Yamagata prefecture where Hosoe spent his youth (Hijikata himself was from Akita, the prefecture north of Yamagata).

From Kamaitachi, by Eikoh Hosoe
From Kamaitachi, by Eikoh Hosoe
The resulting work is basically various photos of Hijikata interacting with the landscape or with the local residents in this rural part of Japan, ostensibly playing the part of a kamaitachi or “weasel-like demon who haunts the rice fields and slashes those he encounters with a sickle” according to Aperture’s description of the book. We see Hijikata perched on the fence-like structures used for drying straw, or traipsing through fields, sitting on the roadside with local farm workers, or interracting with what seem like other members of his troupe. (You can hear Hosoe — in English — briefly talk about the work in this Aperture video.)

The work is playful and irreverent, a departure from the dark brooding portraits of Yukio Mishima in Barakei, and perhaps my favorite part of Hosoe’s extensive oeuvre. There is a free-wheeling sense to the work — like much of what was being produced in Japan at the time (think Provoke) but yet in some of the portraits and landscapes, a classicism as well.

What’s particularly special about this BLD exhibit is that they are showing the same prints from when Hosoe first showed the work in March, 1968, under the title “An Extremely Tragic Comedy”, exhibited where else but in Ginza, at the Nikon Salon (still operating today in Ginza, in a newer location as both showroom and gallery space). That is to say, the very same pieces of paper that hung on the Nikon Salon walls 44 years ago. Not knowing this at first I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on — why the prints had this strange discoloration around the edges (due to the oxidation of the silver into silver ions), as well as these peeling circular labels with numbers on them that were affixed to the bottom corner of each print. (This .pdf from the Eastman House is a nicely thorough guide to gelatin silver print conditions.)

Having seen a few years ago some plantinum prints from Barakei that had been done by Hosoe and his son, I thought initially that these prints were a result of some vintage printing process, but the fact that they were just simply vintage was not a let down but in fact extremely interesting from a visual point of view, and fit in perfectly with the work and the emotional connection I was having as I walked around the room. And I found it refreshing that Hosoe could see the emotional value of these messy, deteriorated prints rather than getting hung up on pristine and prissy print quality.

One of my photos, taken in the Ginza in 2004
One of my photos, taken in the Ginza in 2004
After leaving the gallery, I passed by one of the used camera shops I used to window shop at, marveling at how far prices had fallen for some of the cameras I would lust after in the past, like a Wista 4×5 Field camera, or the Fuji Papageorge Special 6×9. No customers were inside, and no other window shoppers either, for that matter, and I wondered how much longer for this world were shops like these. Amidst some vague self-promises to start shooting photos again, I continued on my way thinking about a fleet(ing) Hijikata and Hosoe’s deteriorating silver particles.

(Update: January 30, 2012) You can see some examples of the prints via a few pictures from BLD Gallery’s Twitter feed: here, here, and here.

Jun Abe’s Citizens back in stock for limited time

The last batch of Jun Abe's Citizens
The last batch of Jun Abe's Citizens
Update (Jan. 24, 2012) All copies have now been sold. Thank you, and sorry if you missed out.

One of Japan Exposures’ best-selling books — and definitely the best-selling book that is not by Daido Moriyama or Nobuyoshi Araki — is Osaka-based Jun Abe’s Citizens. Even after going out-of-print early last year, the requests for this title still come in, as do orders for Abe’s follow-up Kokubyaku Note and the recently-published Manila.

After much pleading Japan Exposures has managed to secure an additional eight copies from someone’s closet, available for order now. As we have been told in no uncertain terms that this batch is the last we will ever receive, you need to order now if you missed out the first time and would still like this book.

For more about Citizens, Japan Exposures friend John Sypal has long been a champion of Abe’s work, and photographer British photographer Nick Turpin is likewise a big fan of the work.

The Tokyo Sky Tree as fait accompli

Shintaro Sato with a small part of one of his new panoramas
Shintaro Sato with a small part of one of his new panoramas
The other day I took my 8-year old son with me to Photo Gallery International in Tokyo’s Minato Ward to see Shintaro Sato’s new Tokyo Sky Tree work, Risen in the East, which is now showing until February 25.

My son and I have had fun dabbling in creating panoramas with our respective iPhones — he “inherited” my old iPhone 3 when I upgraded to the iPhone 4 a year and half ago — and the great AutoStitch iOS app, so I thought seeing some physically printed panoramas might resonate with him, as well as the likely chance to meet Sato-san.

Although I have yet to see Sato-san’s new book, I of course was familiar with some of the new work from helping put together the gallery on this site. Yet the immediate take away when I entered the second-floor gallery space where the work was being exhibited was “Whoa, what a completely different experience to see these panoramas in person.”

Now this is a common and predictable reaction to seeing any work, I admit — it’s very rare for the real thing, as it were, to underwhelm the printed collection. But it did strike me that short of printing a book as a scroll or with pages that fold out, panoramas are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to conveying their message via more modestly-sized media like the photo book or an online gallery.

There are only nine or ten pieces in the entire show, but most are large and three pieces take up an entire wall to themselves. While I’ve never really been a fan of the trend for large canvases, the sizes here felt right and especially with two different Tokyo cityscapes on view, provided an almost infinite series of details to pore over. (Sato-san told me some of these photos are composed from over 20 individual shots, stitched together using PTGui).

One of my son's panoramas from a visit to the then under construction Tokyo Sky Tree in May, 2011
One of my son's panoramas from a visit to the then under construction Tokyo Sky Tree in May, 2011
One of these details, and you’ll find it in all the photos, is the Tokyo Sky Tree satellite tower, which is the ostensible “subject” of the work. I have to admit that a couple of years ago, when I saw Sato-san’s first attempts to negotiate the subject matter of Tokyo Sky Tree, I had my doubts about whether this work was the right sort of follow-up to Tokyo Twilight Zone. At that point the tower was in its nascent stages of construction, and the photos were, well, photos of its construction. Verbalized, I could understand Sato-san’s interest in documenting this new — and ambivalently welcomed — addition to his Tokyo cityscape, but visually it was not very interesting. All the more reason why I was so blown away by what I saw at the show.

The difference between that early work and what Sato-san finally arrived at is that now there is a connection — a connection between this tower and the neighborhoods it looms over, and therefore a further connection between us as viewer and these photos. These photos really are not about the tower at all, I came to feel as I walked around the gallery, but about the cherry blossom viewing party, or Asakusa’s famed Sanja Festival, or kids playing soccer on a sandy pitch along the river on a Saturday afternoon. Whether obscured almost completely, as in the cherry blossom photo, or unmistakably centrally located as in the soccer photo, the Sky Tree isn’t the proverbial 900-pound godzilla in the room but simply a part of the landscape — a fait accompli if you will.

One of the elements of Sato-san’s previous Tokyo Twilight Zone series that I really responded to was how the photos placed themselves on that borderline between grand city landscape and intimate neighborhood portrait. In Risen in the East, Sato-san has I think gone even further in the direction of the neighborhood portrait. Here the residents no longer have to be assumed — they are here playing soccer, partying in the park, setting lanterns into the river. That Sato-san can achieve this, and still keep the 634-meter Tokyo Sky Tree in his sights, is not only a measure of his photographic achievement, but a larger statement that for better or worse, the tower is going to be with us for a long time to come.

Tokyo Sky Tree viewed from Asakusa, with the Asahi Beer headquarters in the foreground
Tokyo Sky Tree viewed from Asakusa, with the Asahi Beer headquarters in the foreground
After the exhibition, my son and I caught the subway to Asakusa to have sushi at a place we like there, and after coming out of the station there was Tokyo Sky Tree towering above us, seemingly. Although I’ve of course been seeing the tower for a couple of years now, this was the first time to see in in a few months, and the first time to see it more or less finished (it opens next month). For me it still has that out-of-character-ness to it, something I’m not quite used to. I wonder when, or if, I will come to view it as just present rather than omnipresent, but then again Tokyo isn’t my city in anything close to the way it is for Sato-san and millions of people. I’m a weekend tourist, at best, and as such can afford to keep it at bay for a bit longer. My son of course, like most kids I suspect, is enamored of it.

Supporting the Relief Effort

Akira Gomi - Tulip.jpg.scaled1000 The number of individuals and organizations that have stepped up the plate to assist financially and otherwise in the wake of the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami is truly staggering. Curator Marc Feustel was quick to highlight some of these efforts on his eyecurious blog, and he has been updating it, so I fear this post is not only late in coming but mostly superfluous, but like assistance, there can’t be such a thing as too much in this case.

Zen Foto Gallery — Tokyo’s Zen Foto will be holding a photography exhibit and auction this weekend (March 25 – 27th) with all proceeds to go to Tohoku relief charities. Photographers based in Japan are encouraged to bring ready-to-display works to the gallery in Roppongi on the 25th and 26th. Prices will be set by the artists themselves. Those interested in participating are encouraged to contact the gallery by Wednesday March 23rd, but given the short notice it should be okay to just show up on Friday or Saturday with your piece(s). (Map). Contact Mark or Amanda for more information.

Charity Print Auctions — Charity Print Auctions is a Flickr group that was originally set up to support relief efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, raising over £18,000. The group is now actively supporting Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. The concept is simple — members of the group submit photos (one per day per user) and people can bid on the photo by committing to donate a certain amount to one of the recommended charities. When the highest bidder submits proof of the donation, the photographer will send the bidder the print.

Life Support Japan — The Wall Space Gallery in Seattle and Santa Barbara was very quick to set up an online photo auction and as of March 18th they had already raised $20,000 and had to temporarily ask artists to stop submitting works so they could catch up. They have also started a dedicated blog with information about their efforts as well as spin-off efforts, including this effort in the UK.

See Marc’s post for even more efforts. Also, while not photography-related, Jean Snow has compiled a list of various creative efforts being done to raise money. Other creative efforts you might want to support include Font Aid V, Artists Help Japan, the Poster Cause Project (more poster/print related efforts here), and Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan.

The above images of flowers is from Japanese photographer Akira Gomi, who has offered up these and other images for “license-free” use in the hope that they will be used to create merchandise goods that can sold to raise money for earthquake/tsunami relief efforts.

We’re shaken, but fine

Both Dirk and I have been receiving a lot of emails from concerned friends of Japan Exposures, asking about our safety and that of our respective families in the wake of yesterday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The short answer is that all of us are fine even as we remain shaken, both physically and mentally. Even as I write this, some 18 hours after the quake, the incessant aftershocks are a constant reminder that nothing can be taken for granted.

We deeply appreciate the concern for our well-being that all of you have expressed. Thank you!

The above photo is from Dirk’s place. He has a few more at his Flickr photostream.

In accordance with the ongoing situation you may not get a speedy response from us as you are used to. We also are not yet sure about the situation of our suppliers and shipping carriers, but given our respective locations and distance from the areas affected worst, we do not expect not major mid-term issues. Nonetheless please be prepared for potential delays.

The 11th of March 2011 and following days will go down as a very dark period in Japanese history. Please extend your your thoughts and prayers to those affected.

Kazuyasu Matsui – from Paradise☆INGA

Kazuyasu Matsui was born in 1973, and graduated from the Tokyo College of Photography. He has been exhibiting his work since 2007, and last year he was selected by photographer Katsumi Omori as one of his five Honorable Mention selectees of the “New Cosmos of Photography” competition sponsored by Canon Camera for his Paradise☆INGA series, from which the above photo comes.

Please also see our extended gallery of this series.