Category Archives: Gallery

Japan Exposure galleries for an extended sample of a single photographer’s work

Aya Okabe Gallery

Profile by John Sypal for Japan Exposures

The Japan which Aya Okabe presents in her work is perhaps too familiar to those who live there and not nearly Japanese enough for those who don’t. Visually she would fit in the Street Photographer pool although her work is most likely maddeningly dull to that genre’s most righteous practitioners. Owing nothing in influence to the gritty contrasty black and white photography to which so many others with a camera in Tokyo follow, she plainly and clearly photographs events and places with a New Color sort of palette. All of those trite, tired, and worn Traditional & Modern, Old & New, East & West dichotomies are of little interest to Okabe. Her pictures refreshingly lack attempts at employing visual documentary drama but that contemporary photographic buzzword “deadpan” would be inaccurate in describing her work. These photographs are more complex and deftly framed than a first glance might determine. With the proper amount of consideration their charm shines through.

Okabe’s Japan is clearly lit, steadily focused, and often amusing. Cultural and visual elements come together within the frame often at the same physical distance from picture to picture but her skill at keeping everything just out of reach adds to their perplexity. The entire frame is the subject, not any one easily recognizable person or thing. Even when the Japanese national flag is prominently featured in stark red and white within the frame, it isn’t ever enough to make the image “about” Japan’s particular type of nationalism. Kimonos do not simply denote “tradition” any more than power-lines express a fondness of “electricity”. Faded signs of post-war local shops aren’t explicitly about the past or a desire to return to it. It would be easier to be fed meanings and stories but Okabe rightly avoids stooping to this sort of image making to provide the viewer with something more interesting.

The key to my own personal understanding of these photographs is the enjoyment of their ambiguity.

Hideo Takiura Gallery

Hideo Takiura began his adult life not as a photographer but as a landscape designer. I don’t know much about this somewhat esoteric profession but it’s hard not to wonder how shaping the earth has ended up shaping Takiura the photographer. At the very least, these two vocations share the need to take a wild, amorphous nature and confine it within a defined, artificial frame. And if we are talking about frames, it strikes me that of all the various film formats, Takiura’s chosen format for his “Tokyo Bodies” series, the 6cm x 6cm square, represents the most artificial, self-conscious type of confinement a photographer can choose.

We have been conditioned for so long to see in rectangle that its frame lines have become second nature. But the square forces us to acknowledge the frame, and to acknowledge that what is presented in that confined space, like the manicured landscape, is only that which the artist wants us to see. This is not to say that we are left with mere contrivance, however. This is what is so charming about Takiura’s work — on the streets of Tokyo, there’s only so much trimming and pruning one can do. Takiura’s subjects are confined to their frames, but they are also fighting against them (and occasionally hiding behind them, or even stuck in them). Fanciful as it may be, I like to imagine that the reason Takiura traded in his shears for a Rolleiflex is because in the wild city streets of Tokyo, these trees talk back.

Signed copies of Takiura’s self-published book, Tokyo Bodies, are available in the Japan Exposures bookstore.

Asphalt Gallery

Japan Exposures is pleased to present a selection of images from Asphalt Magazine issues 1-5, published by Atsushi Fujiwara and Shin-ichiro Tojimbara, and edited by Akira Hasegawa.

Please also see our Feature on Asphalt Magazine.

In-print issues of Asphalt are available in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.

Masahito Agake Gallery

Even though there is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described, the world that we live in is hardly a factual affair. Emotions, perceptions and an infinite number of combinations between the two make our lives much more of a mystery than we would like to believe. Certain is nothing. What was a given yesterday is full of vague and potential eventualities today.

Photography in the streets and public is by now an established genre, yet the world we have created around us and enter with confidence on a daily basis remains a mystery beckoning visual exploration. A photographer’s mission is to peer into the cracks that give entry to another world, a universe that is not usually seen and often times we don’t care to see.

Masahito Agake is one more hunter and watcher who is ready to capture these seams in our reality when they become apparent. While some may dismiss his visions as “nothing new”, once you take your time with the material there is a detectable addition of his own views. Photos from Japan and Taiwan blend into each other, connecting dots of universality that are often glossed over. In his photography he uses digital techniques to add an intriguing textural glow and shimmer to the images, which in my view add an incentive for repeated viewing to the photographs. While this may not be to everyone’s taste, we encourage you to not look just once.

Masahito Agake was born in Tokyo in 1969, and works professionally as an architect. In the early 90s Agake began shooting casually while scuba diving, and after coming across the work of Aleksandr Rodchenko and W. Eugene Smith in 1996, he took up photography more seriously. He had his first exhibition at Tokyo’s Place M gallery in 2003, and since then has exhibited his work in different galleries in Tokyo. Most recently he has been exhibiting his work at Third District Gallery in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

Aya Fujioka Gallery

Profile by John Sypal for Japan Exposures

Aya Fujioka’s photos are not those which espouse a refinement or a celebration of reality. The term “investigation” is inappropriate when attempting to relate them to any sort of exploration of the World. She is one of the few photographers whose pictures are perhaps best seen as evidence of intimate considerations from within the artist’s immediate physical and emotional presence.

Her first book, comment te dire adieu (for which she received the Visual Arts Photo Award grand prix in 2005) was born from a journey abroad but despite contextually understanding that she was a Japanese woman living and photographing in Europe this earlier body of work is anything but Travel Photography. Though this previous book referenced travel through nearly each and every picture I personally do not know if Fujioka travelled far from home when she created the content for her latest book I Don’t Sleep. It’s possible that many of the pictures were in fact taken directly within her family’s house. The majority seem to have been taken in Japan but yet again these images remain mute as objects expressing an evaluation of her native society.

Fujioka’s line of sight through a her camera often centers on a definite discernible object filling the frame. Her color palette is bolder than that of many of her female contemporaries in Japan. While it looks as though it might be easy to dismiss her pictures as “snapshots”, a second more thoughtful glance reveals an emotional pull which is less familiar than it ought to be.

Spending time with both of her books finds one her pictures truly building upon one another. Each turn of the page adds another reference point along a line which reveals through partialities the culmination of a personal emotional experience. It is about as close as one can get to being in another person’s head.

Rather than generalizations of any set and agreed upon feeling, Aya Fujioka’s photographs are distinctly mysterious, sensual, and unsettling in the way which few photographers are able to successfully create. Her ability to peer out and within each time she gazes through the viewfinder allows the realization of a body of work which is mesmerizing in it’s entirety.

Please also see the conversation between John Sypal and fellow Japan Exposures’ contributor Dan Abe about Fujioka’s I Don’t Sleep photobook.

I Don’t Sleep is available in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.

John SypalJohn Sypal, born and raised in Nebraska, USA, currently living in Matsudo city (Chiba Pref.). John has been exhibiting his photographs widely in the US and in Japan. His photographs are frequently featured in Japanese photo magazines. He is currently a member of Machikata Sampo Shashin Doumei (Walking Photographers Alliance). John also enjoys meeting people and photographs their cameras for tokyo camera style.

Ken Kitano Gallery

The medium of photography was invented out of our strong desire to create a likeness of our reality — and ourselves in it. We then learned that the camera would see what our eyes never could — time being brought to a standstill. However, in actuality during the early days of the medium the relationship of photography and time was quite the opposite; long exposures, often using all of the daylight of a full day, had to be used to record a visible image onto the light-(in)sensitive material. And large format photographers to this day know of the tragic mistake of accidentally inserting their film holders more than once and recording multiple exposures involuntarily, spoiling the image. Ken Kitano masterfully takes us back to these immutable properties of photography creating images that we may have had already relegated to history. Images with deep substance, but with no detectable moment.

The terms flow and fusion ring ever so true when looking at these images. The flow of time, an hour, a day or even more, fusing in an eternal cosmic moment. The flows and traces of different lives of distinct individuals, unified in what could be the very essence of a human being.

Japan Exposures is honored to have the opportunity to present an extended gallery of Ken Kitano’s work. Please also see our profile of Kitano.

Kitano’s book our face is available in the Japan Exposures bookstore. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Kitano’s Flow and Fusion, please contact us.

Nipporini Gallery

Nipporini is the pseudonym of the well-known commercial photographer Takahiro Wada, and a mash-up of the photographer’s hometown of Nippori in Tokyo, and the famed film director Federico Fellini. Wada’s “Nippori Guidebook” project and “Nipporini” persona as it were are a homage to his hometown, even as it also seems to be a calling into question of the slick and smooth world of advertising photography. Says Nipporini:

The democracy of Japan had the defeat and arose. How my parents adopted themselves to the conversion of ideology? The technique of prints that I had learnt at the photography school easily became unnecessary because of the appearance of the digital camera. I think I tasted the same circumstances as my parents a little. The world was made by 0 and 1 when I slipped out of my air-raid shelter of darkroom. If I had Fellini’s eye of love and freedom, could I find pleasure in the society of the lie?

Please also see our current Cover Photo featuring Wada’s Nipporini.