Category Archives: Photographer Profile

A profile of a working photographer, based in Japan or occasionally elsewhere

Dialogue with Charlotte Dumas

Charlotte Dumas is a photographer based in Amsterdam. Her latest book,
Anima, features the burial horses of Arlington Cemetery.

Japan Exposures: First of all, congratulations to your personal “Japan Exposure” in IMA Magazine! Could you describe how the feature came about?

Charlotte Dumas: I think the first time one of my publications was featured in IMA was the issue previous to this one with the publication Repose. Then right after they contacted me again because of the publication ANIMA which I’ve done last year and shows 14 portraits of the burial horses of Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC. I portrayed the horses at night in their stables as they were drifting to sleep. During the day they work pulling the caissons that carry the caskets of deceased soldiers of the US. Charlotte Cotton was asked for this issue to name some of her favorite books and included this one in her choice. I was very happy about that.

Japan Exposures: Can you please describe your photographic interest and background, including the relation to Japan (if any), and the some detail around the work that was featured?

Charlotte Dumas: I think I mentioned this above already a bit but I mainly take portraits of animals and have been doing so since 2001. My main focus is on animals that are of some significant importance to us either practically as well as symbolically. Because it’s becoming increasingly rare to use animals being used for labour (although some professions are gaining popularity) and their continuing disappearance in our daily life I try to find places and situations where they are still prevalent in a specific function such as police or army horses or search dogs (see Retrieved -on the search dogs of 9/11) or where they encounter us by their overlapping habitat, such is the case in my most recent project which will be published next month ‘The Widest Prairies’ (oodee publishing) which focuses on the wild horses of Nevada that roam the residential areas of the desert population.

Charlotte Dumas -- Ima Magazine spread

Japan Exposures: Do you think your work was of particular interest to a Japanese audience, and if so, can you explain why?

Charlotte Dumas: I wouldn’t be able to say for certain but I know that one of my earlier series (Day is Done resp.) did get some attention in Japan. This series involved lying down roman army horses and I think ANIMA is definitely a series that a Japanese audience can appreciate for it’s spiritual character. The vast and rich history of animals in mythology in Japanese (and in general) culture is in many ways a great inspiration to me as a photographer researching each of my subjects. There is always a strong connection to the history of each subject both in reality as in the depiction and place they have in art history.

Japan Exposures: Here at Japan Exposures, we get numerous requests from people asking for advice to get noticed in Japan, which you have obviously accomplished. What is your advice to achieve this?

Charlotte Dumas: I’ve been making (small) books since 2005 on my own behalf sometimes in close collaboration with different publishers. I think doing this is a great way to distribute ones work internationally and allowing it to be seen by people who can then in their turn recommend it to a larger crowd making the work more known. It’s a very democratic process that I am a big fan of. It is really nice to get the recognition from people who buy and celebrate your books.

Japan Exposures: Language barrier aside, we believe that the Japanese photo world is unique and extremely broad, photography and photographers seem abundant. What is your impression?

Charlotte Dumas: I think Japan has a great and excellent eager audience that loves art and photography and follows it very closely. There is a great public interest I think and worth investigating as well as (trying) to take part in. I am planning my first trip to Japan next spring to photograph and can’t wait to experience the culture myself.

Japan Exposures: Are you interested in Japanese photography and if so, can you elaborate what you like about certain work or artists?

Charlotte Dumas: One of the books and work that springs to mind immediately is that of artist Akito Tsuda and his book Street Cats, brilliantly done and beautiful direct work. I love the very personal approach that many Japanese photographers incorporate in their work and feel affinity with that for sure.

I appreciate greatly the work by Daido Moriyama and this I say not just because of the famous photo of the street dog. I just saw a fantastic show titled ‘With a Trace: photographs of absence’ curated from the Bidwell collection at the Akron museum of Art that included a wonderful work by Moriyama on the ungraspable factors and layers of life.

Interview with Shinya Arimoto

Shinya Arimoto was born in 1971 in Osaka. He won the No.35 Taiyo award in 1997 and set up TOTEM POLE PHOTO GALLERY in 2008. Arimoto has been photographing and exhibiting work since 1994. Currently teaching photography at the Tokyo School of Visual Arts, he has supervised and lead the artist-run Totem Pole Photo Gallery since founding it in 2008.

John Sypal is an American photographer who has lived in Japan since 2004, and joined Totem Pole in 2010.

Please also see this and this special gallery with more images by Shinya Arimoto.

Japan Exposures: 私達は新宿近辺で何回か偶然に会っていますね。有元さんは毎日カメラを首から下げて撮影してるというイメージです。このやる気はどこから生まれてきますか?

We’ve randomly run into each other many times in Shinjuku over the years. My image of you is that you’re always out with your camera around your neck photographing. Where does this desire come from?

Shinya Arimoto: 都市の路上は飽きることがないです。同じ場所を歩いていても、すれ違う人は毎日違う。その一瞬一瞬を見ていたいという欲望があります。

I never get tired of the streets of the city. Even though I walk the same streets, it’s different people passing every day. I have a desire to look at each moment as it happens.

JE: それは素敵な言葉だけど、他の人達も同じことを考えるでしょう(笑)。有元さんは言葉だけではなく、実際に行動していると思います。一ヶ月に何日間「撮影」をしていますか? 大体何時から何時まで? 一日に何本ぐらいのフィルムを撮影しますか?

That’s a common sentiment about shooting on the streets but what’s different about you is that you’re really out there all the time making work. About how many days a month do you shoot? What kind of hours?

SA: 他の仕事が無ければ、基本的には毎日撮影に行きます。去年の夏などは全く仕事がなかったので、本当に毎日撮影していました。正午頃に新宿に着いて、日が暮れるまで撮影しています。なので撮影時間は季節によって変化します。
私の場合、街で出会った人に声をかけて撮影することが多いので、まず大切なのは撮りたい人と出会う事が重要です。これは偶然性の問題でもあるので、その確率を上げる為に多くの時間を〈街にいる〉ことに費やしています。

If I’m not at work, I’m going to shoot every day. When I’m not teaching, such as last summer, I was out there every single day. I arrived in Shinjuku around noon, and shot until sunset. The time I am able to photograph varies depending on the season though. In my case I often communicate with those who I photograph on the streets so it’s important that I just get out there to meet who’s out there. Depending on who I meet depends on random encounters so in order to increase my chances I need to increase the amount of time I spend out photographing in the city.

JE: 一日に何本ぐらいのフィルムを撮影しますか? また一ヶ月間ではどのぐらいの数になるでしょうか?

How many rolls of film do you shoot a day? A month?

SA: 一日に10本撮る日もあれば、全く撮れない日もある。平均すると一ヶ月で50本ぐらいでしょうかね。

Some days it is not possible to shoot at all, other times I’ll shoot 10 rolls a day. The average is probably about 50 rolls a month.

JE: プライバシーの問題は、現在のストリートフォトグラファーにどのような影響をあたえていますか?
How do privacy concerns affect street photographers today?

SA: 社会的に見ると、プライバシーの問題は時と共に重要になってきていると感じています。
しかし個人対個人で向き合った時、その問題は社会的な問題というよりはむしろお互いの問題へと変化します。私の場合、相手に許可をもらってから撮影することが多いので、トラブルにはなりにくいようです。

From society’s standpoint privacy concerns have been growing more important over time. But when you interact with people one on one on the streets it’s less about society and more about individuals. Since I am often able to interact with my subjects and get their permission before I photograph them I personally haven’t had much trouble with privacy issues.

JE: ストリートで写真を撮ってる人にはどのような責任があると考えますか?

What responsibility does a street photographer need to keep in mind with their subjects?

SA: 撮らせていただいたからには、自分の望む作品に仕上げる事。私自身はネガティブなイメージが好きではないので、作品が観客にそのように捉えられないように注意を払っています。

When I’ve been granted the right to make the photograph I want to match in respect the desire I have to make the work as well as I can. Personally I don’t like photographs that are negative, and I take care so that I don’t catch my subject in that sort of way.

JE: 仕事についてですが、写真学校での講師の仕事以外にコマーシャルの撮影もしてますか?

In addition to teaching photography, do you do much commissioned photography as well?

SA: 20代は仕事の撮影も積極的にしていましたが、今はほとんどしていません。以前から付き合いのあるクライアントから依頼があれば行っている感じです。

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I did commercial work, but now not so much. If I do it’s by request from a former client from a previous relationship.

Shinya Arimoto from Ariphoto 2013

JE: I’d like to talk about your teaching experience. What do you feel is the most important part of photographic education?

「有元先生」につい少し聞きたいです。写真の教育において一番大切なのはどのような事でしょうか?

SA: 「写真」とひとことで言っても、その内容は多岐にわたります。様々な写真のあり方を伝えた上で、各個人が目指すべき道を指し示す必要があると思っています。私のゼミ(写真作家専攻)ではテーマやコンセプトの設定や、自作を言葉にすることを大切にしています。技術、知識、経験、の三つの柱の中で「経験」を積むことを重要視します。

Even a though “photography” is a simple word, the content of the term is wide-ranging. In addition to lecturing about the various ways photographs are made and work, it is necessary to help students find their personal way of working that they should aim for. In my classes students need to value the setting, theme and concept of their photographs and also be able to articulate about it in their own words. To gain experience one needs to understand the three pillars of technology, knowledge and understanding.

JE: なるほど。ビジアルアーツの学生は他の学校の学生よりも積極的にストリートスナップを行っているのではないでしょうか? 現在のアート世界ではスナップ写真あるいはストリートフォトは主流ではないが、その事についてどう思いますか?

I see. I get the impression that Visual Arts students do more “street photography” than students at other schools. It seems though that “street photography” is not so popular in the Art World now though…

SA: 東京のビジュアルアーツの学生もストリートスナップしているのはごくわずかです。写真作品が美術作品と認められてゆく流れの中で、写真作品でもコンセプトを示すことが重要となっています。確かに現在のアートの世界ではストリートフォトグラフィーは少ないですが、ストリートフォトグラフィーにおいてもコンセプトを示すことが必要ではないでしょうか。

The number of students at Visual Arts shooting on the streets is negligible. As photography flows more and more into the Art realm, one’s concept has become more important. In the current world of Art there are very few street photographers- so it seems that I think that conceptualism is important now even in street photography.

JE: 有元さんの写真のConceptは何だと思いますか?

What do you feel your concept is?

SA: 「ariphoto」のシリーズのコンセプトは「路上を彷徨いながら、変遷を続ける都市のなかにプリミティブな生命の営みを探し求める。」です。私は都市も人間という生物の作った、一つの生態系だと考えています。生き物としての人間と、その住処としての都市が写真に現われるように工夫して作品をつくっています。また大きなテーマとしては「人間とはなにか?」という疑問が常にあります。かつてチベットの広大な自然の中で、その自然と闘いながら、またそこから恩恵を受けながら生きる人々を撮影してきました。そして今は東京で、その都市機能の恩恵を受けて生きる人々を撮影しています。その両者のなかに、人間としての共通項を見つけたいと思っています。

The concept of my “ariphoto” series is to “Wander the streets seeking out an unrefined or rudimentary, even primitive, kind of life among the city that is always in transition.” I believe that the human organism is of the city and it’s all part of one ecosystem. I create these photographs which formulate that the environment and habitat of man is the city. Of course there’s always the big question “What is Man?”. I have photographed people both struggling against but also benefiting from the vast nature of Tibet. Now I photograph people struggling against but again also benefiting from their environment here in Tokyo. I think that among the two, I’m interested in finding common denominators as human beings.

JE: 最近インターネットの世界ではストリートフォトが再び注目されているそうです。ストリートフォトはこれからどこに向かうべきでしょうか?。新しいことを産み出してゆくべきですか?。それとも「新しいこと」は必要ないと思いますか?

There’s been a resurgence interest, at least online, in “Street Photography”. Is there any place that “Street Photography” can or even needs to go in the future? Is there anything new that this kind of photography can do, or is “new” even important anymore?

SA: 新しい試みはもちろん必要だと思いますが、新しければそれでよいという訳でもない。過去の作品をリスペクトしながらもエピゴーネンにならないように、常に挑戦的であることが大切です。インターネットの世界では多くの人が挑戦的な作品を発表していることに期待が持てます。まだそれは萌芽のようなものかも知れませんが、その中から突出した作品が出てくることにより、今後大きな潮流になってゆくことと信じています。

I think there’s importance in attempting new things, but just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s good. Photographing while respecting the work which has been done before without becoming an inferior imitator is a very important challenge. Regarding the internet, I have an expectation that challenging photography will continue to be shared online. It might still only be something like a sprout, but I believe that from all these pictures a greater trend will follow.

JE: 「挑戦的な作品」という言葉は人によって捉え方が違うと思います。有元さんにとって「挑戦的な作品」とはどのようなものでしょうか?

How would you classify “Challenging Photography”? It seems that this could vary widely from person to person…

SA: アイディア、行動力、テクノロジーの全てにおいてです。特にインターネットの世界ではテクノロジーの進歩が目覚ましい。
例えば従来の「決定的瞬間」のような写真は、高解像度ムービーをキャプチャーする方法に変わっていくでしょう。

It concerns the idea, movement, technology, all of these things. Especially with the internet, there’s been remarkable progress with technology. For example, with “Decisive Moment” photos, they’ll probably be come to be captured through high resolution video.

JE: ですが、有元さんの撮影方法はかなり伝統的でしょう...。 暗室でプリントして、マットに入れて、フレームをギャラリーの壁に貼って展示している。

But you stick with some pretty traditional gear for your own photographs… Not to mention you print in the darkroom, mat your prints, and hang them on the walls of a gallery.

SA: 暗室=伝統的、デジタル=挑戦的 とは違うと思います。新しいとか古いとかいう概念は、ある程度時間が経てば意味をなさなくなります。
私はこの7年間に23回新作の展示を行いました。もちろんこれは今後も続けてゆきます。手法はこそは新しいものではないが、自分にとってそれは挑戦的な試みであります。

I don’t agree with the idea that the darkroom equals “tradition” or that digital equals “challenge”. As time passes the concept of “old” or “new” has less meaning. Over the past seven years I’ve held twenty-three solo exhibitions of my work. Of course I plan on continuing with this. I’m not after a new approach, the main challenge is with myself.

JE: 写真生活や日々の撮影を継続させる為に重要な事はなんでしょうか?

What encourages you in your work to keep you going?

SA: 街に出て撮影をし、ギャラリーで定期的な発表をすることは、私にとっての日常になりつつありますので特別な思いはありません。
しばらくはこのようなスタイルにこだわってゆきたいと思っています。

The cycle of shooting out on the streets, then exhibiting the work in the gallery is what keeps me interested. By now these actions are so engrained I don’t differentiate photography as something separate from my daily life. This is the lifestyle which I’m going to continue living.

The moon is there, even if I am not looking at it

Review by John Sypal for Japan Exposures

The Moon, Following Me is the debut book from Emi Fukuyama, a young photographer living in Tokyo. It is an elegant, nuanced, thoughtful, and beautiful creation, the product of a highly attuned and sophisticated intelligence.

Fukuyama’s mesmerizing and beautifully reproduced photographs settle the viewer into a very distinct and particular point of view. Much fuss is made over the ideal of a “Photographic Vision” that many photographers aspire to but few actually achieve. Fukuyama is in this minority. Rather than attempting political or social commentary she is able to drive her work around a core desire to reveal visual understanding through photography. The fact that she does so without simply trying to illustrate a political concept or visual idea makes time spent with her book that much more rewarding for those interested in an aesthetic based on the delight of straight photography.

A viewer will readily see some visual patterns appear as they look through this book. Thematically her physical point of view allows for plenty of fences laced over and in frames. Various doors sit ajar and monolithic structures loom in the distance, often jutting out of a spot of lush vegetation or neatly rowed houses in the distance. Each image features some form of plant life and nearly all feature a prominent manmade object. But to reduce these images to simply being about man and nature, or even worse a ruddy celebration of the literal visual shapes they make together is to not fully understand them.

Fukuyama’s best pictures are intriguing because of more than simply what’s in the center. It’s not that what is often centered isn’t in itself interesting, but through slightly obscuring what most people may regard as the subject, the entire entity is revealed to be enhanced through her precise framing which creates a heightened awareness of how the world can be organized both in heart and in mind. A picture with a lone chair in an empty lot isn’t simply about that one chair. Three umbrellas hung out to dry is not simply a picture about umbrellas. What I personally find most engaging about this entire affair is that at no point does her technique lower itself to that of a simple gimmick. At the same time the images are never about any one thing directly pictured in them and Fukuyama steers clear of the common misconception that a photo needs to operate as some coherent narrative device. Each image is somewhat mystifying but independently strong. Bound together the effect can be a moving photographic experience.

We are not for want of lunar substitutes.

The emotional responses they may spark are from her ability to show the viewer the closest thing one might get to looking dead on at what can usually only be hinted at out the corner of an eye.

They say that wherever you go, there you are, and given the title we might expect that wherever Fukuyama is the moon ought to be as well. Interestingly enough, while the actual moon is never actually shown in a single image we are not for want of lunar substitutes. Plenty of glowing and circular shapes appear within the various frames but it may also be that the best analogy to explain an encounter with her photographs would be to liken the feeling to that of looking up at a blue morning sky before eleven to see the white moon above, that odd feeling of familiarity combined with the wonder of seeing something so terrifically beautiful off in the distance.


More work from The Moon, Following Me can be seen in a special extended Japan Exposures gallery. The photobook itself is available in the Japan Exposures bookstore.


“I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it” — Albert Einstein

Hideo Takiura’s Tokyo Products

Due in part to the heat, and in part from being extremely busy of late, I haven’t been able to take in as many photo exhibitions as I would like. However, when I received a postcard advertising Hideo Takiura’s latest show, “Tokyo Products”, I knew that this was one show I would make a special effort for. And I’m glad I did.

The show, currently at the Konica Minolta gallery in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward until August 10th, features work shot by him over a 10 year period. You may remember that back in April Japan Exposures featured work from Takiura entitled “Tokyo Bodies”. Both that series, and the work currently on show, were shot at the same time. However, when he began to shape the work into a series and ultimately his first photo book (also Tokyo Bodies), he focused on the “street photography” aspect where random strangers formed the central subject. However, for this show and a new photo book, Tokyo Products, there are no people present in any of the shots.

I say that there are no people, and on the surface that is very much true, but in reality, the people are everywhere — their presence is unmistakeable. This presence manifests itself in two ways: on the one hand, what often attracts Takiura’s eyes are shapes and scenes that bear a human-like quality (for example, a rubber glove stuck on the end of a pipe on the side of a building conjures up with nary a leap a human arm and hand); and on the other hand, Takiura is constantly providing us with scenes literally man-made, as if he had snapped the scene just after a set designer had finished setting it up (for example, an old washing machine that has now become an impromptu plant holder, or a shot of a door with two wires inexplicably snaking out from the door’s mail slot).

Like most photographers exhibiting their work there was a statement on the wall that Takiura wrote. To be quite honest, I rarely read these, whether they are in English or in Japanese. But this one was so short I was intrigued. Beyond what it said — something to the effect of “when I walk around I often notice that the landscapes and scenes I pass resemble something human, or on the other hand, perhaps they don’t” — what I thought was significant was that this statement was placed in such a way that it could have easily been missed, and in fact I didn’t see it until I had seen the entire show. Not surprisingly, Takiura confirmed to me later that he would rather not write anything and let the photos speak for themselves, but in the end bowed to a feeling that visitors might feel empty without some explanatory text, however oblique (and obliquely displayed) it might be.

Hideo Takiura

I felt fortunate to meet Takiura at the gallery. Previously we had corresponded via e-mail regarding selling his book and featuring his work on Japan Exposures, and it was clear from those interactions that he is very serious not just about the work itself but how that work is positioned, talked about, and put into context. Part of those email discussions revolved around the fact that Takiura would prefer that the work be judged on its own merits, rather than in comparison to other photographers. So, it was with some trepidation that I suggested to him — in response to his genuine query as to whether overseas photography viewers would understand work that didn’t feature any people in it — that his photographs in this current series reminded me of Hiroh Kikai’s two “Tokyo labyrinth” books (here and here). That is to say, beyond the superficial square format that both works share, there is a humor and irony in what both choose to capture, and that to my mind at least these “still lifes” of Takiura’s interact and resonate with his street photography in much the same way that I find Kikai’s people-less Tokyo cityscapes bounce off and inform (or are informed by) his better known “Asakusa Portraits” work. (For his part, Takiura was non-committal to this comparison, as I expected he would be.)

In person I found Takiura to be humble and soft-spoken yet with very clear, well-considered opinions that he no doubt had formed over a long period of taking pictures and thinking about photography. But by the same token, he was very keen to get my opinion on the photographs or on particular aspects of the exhibition. One thing that is very apparent from listening to Takiura is that this — taking photos, and publishing these books — is very much a labor of love. By that I don’t just mean that he doesn’t make money from these endeavors — although clearly he doesn’t — but that rather money or recognition doesn’t seem to interest him in the slightest. He wants to takes pictures, as time and the mundane business of making a living (from photography, but not his own) allow, and he wants to show them to people, both in shows like the current one (although I get the impression these exhibits are fairly “one-off”) and more importantly, in the two books he has so far self-published.

Hideo Takiura - Tokyo Bodies and Tokyo Products Photo BooksIn early June, Takiura’s Tokyo Bodies photo book was featured as one of 60 self-published photobooks at the “Self Publish, Be Happy” 2-day event held at the Photographer’s Gallery in London and organized by Bruno Ceschel. Takiura was candid with me that he could very easily pay one of the handful of small photography publishing houses a tidy sum to publish his work under their imprint (in Japan, the prevailing model is artists pay publishers to publish a book of their work, not the other way around), but has chosen not to. Aside from being cheaper to do it himself, there is the much more important aspect of control — Takiura is a control freak in the best possible sense of the phrase, and for him not only the editing but also the design, and the look and feel of the book, are especially paramount. No surprise then that the new work Tokyo Products is again of the same, considered design as Tokyo Bodies, with Takiura even going so far as to design a slipcase that will house both of them.

Before taking my leave, Takiura pulled out his camera, the one he used to take all these Tokyo “portraits”, the only camera he uses for his personal work — a pre-war Rolleiflex with Tessar lens (sorry, didn’t get the specific model, but this is one of the early Rolleiflexes with the “Rolleiflex” on the nameplate in an old semi-cursive font, not the later boxier font). While it’s true that these tools should hardly make a difference, I can’t deny that seeing this 75-plus year old camera, so obviously lovingly looked after, and seeing the excellent work on the walls that it had a small hand in producing, and meeting the humble but assured Takiura, who had of course the biggest hand in all this, heartened me to no end as I went back out into Tokyo’s sticky summer heat.


Both Tokyo Bodies and Tokyo Products are available in the Japan Exposures bookstore.

A Singular Full Of Plurals — Ken Kitano

Profile by Yu Hidaka for Japan Exposures. Please also see our extended gallery of Kitano’s work.

Note: click on images to see large

The photographs of Ken Kitano are both extremely concrete and highly philosophical at the same time. Kitano, whom the critic and curator Vince Aletti picked as one of current five photographers in the world to watch in the April, 2009 issue of Modern Painters, recently published his second book, Flow and Fusion this winter. This book attracted attention this past Fall at Paris Photo, an international art fair held every November in Paris, where Kitano has continually been a big hit. This warm reception follows upon Kitano’s 2008 appearance at the same fair, where “Flow and Fusion” was short-listed for the Paris Photo BMW Prize. His “one day” series was similarly nominated and showed during the 2009 fair.

In the series “Flow and Fusion,” Kitano captured the cityscape of Tokyo by means of a slow shutter speed during the 1990’s, which was a kind of apocalyptic period of such events such as the bursting of the bubble economy, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, and the terrorist actions of the Aum religious cult . We can read Kitano’s photographs as a trajectory of his deep meditation on our existence as human beings and the world we live in.

Kitano’s way of fusing such plural existences together into one trace of light is his consistent and unique style.

In that sense, “Flow and Fusion” should perhaps be looked at in detail first in order to understand Kitano’s whole photographic vision. In “Flow and Fusion”, the use of long exposures causes people as plural existences on the street to melt into one flow of light. Kitano’s way of fusing such plural existences together into one trace of light is his consistent and unique style, and can be seen through all three series of his photography, “Flow and Fusion”, “our face”, and “one day”.

In responding to the chaotic conditions of society at the young age of 20, “Flow and Fusion” undoubtedly became the starting point for Kitano’s search for who he is, and what the border or contour of a person is, and what divides him or her from others — that is, how a photographer can grasp the identity of each person. He resorted to the seemingly contradictory idea where people’s rigid contours, which as depicted in photographs can be seen as something endorsing identity, are put in danger of disappearing by melding them into one trace of light. In this time of people swinging and living in an unstable social environment, how can a person exist as a solid being with actual feelings for his existence? — that seems to have been a crucial question for Kitano at that time.

Even after the chaotic upheaval period of the 1990’s had apparently passed, Kitano continued to explore the difficulty of seeing our contemporary life clearly with actual feelings. The series “our face” shows the next stage of his search for human conditions in this contemporary world.

Ken Kitano, from our face, 24 guards in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 2009
Ken Kitano, from our face, 24 guards in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 2009

Kitano widens the field of his photographic investigation from the cityscape to the globalized world in this portrait series. He superimposed finely detailed portraits of each subject located in a specific region and situation in the world into one collective portrait photograph, and named it “our face.” The choice of “our face” for the series title represents the conflicting union of the plural idea of “our” and the singular form of “face.” He seems to be waiting for the emergence of a new form of our identity in his photographs that is beyond contradiction. Although such qualities as the fine-grained of his photographs reveals his desire to see things in atomic level as a cold realist, “one day” also presents a hot visionary artist keen to envision the image of our identity in a difficult time, and one eager to believe in the solidity and graveness of our identity.

Kitano has continued to pursue this portrait project as he attempts to superimpose people in different parts of the world, a sort of endless and perhaps impossible journey to capture all of us. This epic idea of photographic research might remind us of that of the great photographer August Sander, who tried to represent the “Citizens of the Twentieth Century”.

Ken Kitano, from one day, Classroom, Kanagawa Kenritsu Soubudai High School
Ken Kitano, from one day, Classroom, Kanagawa Kenritsu Soubudai High School

Kitano’s newest series, “one day,” is a landscape series and a work-in-progress that he has been pursuing off-and-on throughout the last decade. In this series he captures, in a single long exposure photograph, a full day in various places, both common, everyday sites like a high school classroom, as well as historical sites in Japan. Here Kitano expands his study of the human condition and further moves us from that territory which we can grasp consciously into a place beyond our consciousness.

Furthermore, he investigates the identity of photography in this process. He transforms the concept of photographic moment to a prolonged and continuing time. He accumulates moments of time and weaves them into a singular landscape. “One day” invites us to read something overlooked and underlying as a vision of our world. The landscapes of “one day” and the people in “our face,” the origins of which can both be traced to “Flow and Fusion,” might be read as a coupled mirror with which to see our life in this world.


Yu HidakaYu Hidaka is an Assistant Professor at Gunma Prefectural Women’s University, where she teaches on visual culture. Her book, Reading Contemporary Photography: Toward Democratic Vistas, was published by Seikyu-sha in June, 2009. She has written on photography and other forms of visual media for various Japanese publications, including “Studio Voice” and “Asahi Camera”. She received her MA in the Course of Culture and Representation from Tokyo University.

The Burned Field: Takashi Homma and the Rise of Superflat

Text by Silas Dominey for Japan Exposures. Adapted from his dissertation The Japanese City: Representations of Tokyo After the Bubble Burst.

Takashi Homma’s extended photographic survey of Tokyo remains, to my mind, the most complete and persuasive body of work completed on the city. (With one caveat, that is: Nobuyoshi Araki’s fictive, sexualised playground, which actually says more about the photographer himself than than the real city of Tokyo.) Over a period of nearly 15 years, Homma has created a cohesive photographic study of the city and its inhabitants, taking in disaffected youth, suburban space and the plasticity of modern life. His work is, above all, always concerned with and reflective of the changing attitudes of a post-Bubble Japan.


Homma’s work is always concerned with and reflective of the changing attitudes of a post-Bubble Japan.

Homma’s career in the visual arts began at the Light Publicity advertising agency, where he stayed from 1985 to 1991. From there he moved to London to become involved with the fashion magazine I-D. These early, formative years are important to mention, if only to establish that Homma has a deep and complex understanding of the power of visual imagery, underpinned by extensive experience in the advertising and fashion industries. There is no ‘accidental genius’ to his photography. It is as deliberate and considered as an advertisement, and no less effective.

Homma returned to Tokyo in 1993. An early work, Baby Land, failed to make a serious impression on the Japanese art community. That didn’t happen until the publication of Homma’s ‘telephone directory sized’ book Tokyo Suburbia in 1998. The book contains sixty-four images of the newly constructed suburban areas of Tokyo, known as Kogai, or Newtown. Homma’s photographic approach, which has remained largely consistent throughtout his Tokyo survey, involves muted, neutral colour and a remarkably formal, almost architectural viewpoint.

Fireworks, Urayasu Marina East 21 2, 1995, by Takashi Homma
Fireworks, Urayasu Marina East 21 2, 1995, by Takashi Homma

In a series of images from 1995, Homma uses a long exposure to show a fireworks display hanging over Urayasu Marina East, one of the city’s Kogai developments. Viewed from a vantage point some way away from the display, the fireworks appear as a childlike white scrawl on the sky. There is nothing celebratory about the image. The barely visible, unlit tower-blocks in the foreground suggest an emptiness and gloom at odds with the notion of fireworks and festivities. If any image can confirm the suggestion that Homma’s early work is ominous and ironic, it is this one.

While remaining visually cohesive, Homma’s work has gone through a very subtle shift in tone and subject in reaction to the newfound optimism in Japan following both the end of the ‘Lost Decade’ and Takashi Murakami’s Superflat art movement, which has engendered a new-found nationalistic pride in Japanese art and culture.

To explain, Superflat is both a post-modern art movement and a visual style. It represents the ‘leveling’ of high and low culture (for example ukiyo-e and anime). It is both a celebration of the uniqueness of Japanese culture and an acceptance of the imperial influences that have shaped it. In this way it has cracked open the discourse about what it means, culturally, to be Japanese, and it is this debate that Homma engages with in his photography.

Omotesando 1, 2007, by Takashi Homma
Omotesando 1, 2007, by Takashi Homma

Somewhere around the turn of the new century, a barely perceptible shift occurs in Homma’s work. He begins to title his images with the name of the architect, if a building is present. This simple act implies ownership and pride in the base material of the city. Secondly, Homma’s visual treatment of glass and metal ‘takes on a quality of beauty, not of sanitisation’ (Ivan Vartanian, in his essay accompanying Tokyo, published by Aperture in 2008) providing a corrollary to this newfound pride implicit in Homma’s image titles. The image “Omotesando 1″ could, in itself, be a metaphor for the ideals of Superflat. Layers of glass, metal, concrete, reflections, light and space are condensed into the abstract graphic surface that makes up the photograph.

Homma himself makes obscure reference to the ideals of Superflat in his essay in Vartanian’s 2006 essay collection Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers. The essay begins, ‘I am standing once again on the burned field…’ simultaneously an allusion to the scoured, levelled surface of Superflat and the WW2 bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Homma implies a parallel between the end of the war and the rise of Superflat. A new start for Japanese society, this time with the imperial ideals of America subverted and transformed into a cultural export the nation can take pride in. He further compounds this sense of hope in the following statement, which somehow manages to encompass both the failure of the bubble generation and the optimism of the ‘newly enfranchised’, post-Superflat Tokyo:

As a generation, we have missed the boat. Fine! So let’s start from here.


Silas DomineySilas Dominey recently graduated from Leeds College of Art’s BA Photography Programme and currently works as a freelance photo assistant. His work can be seen at www.silasdominey.com.

Manabu Yamanaka Gallery

Manabu Yamanaka’s Gyahtei, published earlier this Fall, brings together Yamanaka’s six major series focusing on societal outcasts, including street children, homeless, the physically deformed, and the elderly. Working in a similar vein for over 25 years, each series might take up to four to five years to complete. Yamanaka doesn’t just bring his subjects into a studio but chooses to immerse himself in the milieu of his subjects and their living conditions before ever setting up his camera.

Yamanaka’s working methods, as well as the consistency of purpose and style he approaches his subjects with, clearly show that he doesn’t take his project lightly, nor is he interested in a quick hit of shock. In a 2005 interview, Yamanaka talked about his working process:

First of all, I decide on a subject for a project and then study and research the subject. And the next step is planning out picture composition [while] at the same time scouting, casting, and thinking about the other details. Finally, I start the new project if I convince myself that all of the above is in place. Usually it is not so easy, so I’m constantly making changes. I always find the appropriate way of shooting after I start. I believe that there is always a way through a difficult project.

The title Gyahtei as well as other series’ titles all originate from Buddhism. Even though Yamanaka has said he is not a practicing Buddhist, he does “always hope that I gain more understanding of Buddhism every time I finish a project. In other words, I show my work as a consequence of my understanding on the theme of the project.”

Manabu Yamanaka’s photographs are often referred to as disturbing, or unnerving, but perhaps that faint praise says more about the viewer than it comments on the actual work, the subjects of the photos, or the photographer’s intentions. In the way that some people peek through their fingers at horror films, labeling Yamanaka’s work as disturbing seems a defense mechanism, a way of distancing oneself from the visceral realization that what separates the viewers’ reality from that of Yamanaka’s subjects is what the Japanese call 紙一重 (kami hitoe) — a fine line. That Yamanaka can bring us so uncomfortably close to confronting that which we take for granted, and our corporeality and mortality, in the reserved and respectful manner that he does, might be one reason why the photographer Kyoichi Tsuzuki called Yamanaka the most “hardcore” of all Japanese photographers working today.

Japan Exposures is honored to have the opportunity to present to our readers the following introduction to Manabu Yamanaka’s work. Please also see our current Cover Photo featuring Yamanaka.

More of Yamanaka’s work can be seen at his website, including some brief writings about each series. A report on him in Japanese can be found here.


Gyahtei is available from the Japan Exposures Bookstore.