The Spacious Warmth of Gallery 916

The other day I was surfing online and I came across a new to me photography gallery just by chance. I was intrigued because one, it had earlier this year staged a Ralph Gibson exhibition, and two, I noticed that Yoshihiko Ueda, who is a well-established photographer both commercially and artistically, was serving as co-curator along with Shigeo Goto, a figure I’m familiar with through the G/P Gallery in Ebisu where he serves as Chief Director as well as a previous association with Gallery Punctum Photo+Graphix Tokyo(sadly no longer open). Seeing as their upcoming exhibition was work by a Japanese photographer I had not previously heard of, it seemed the opportune time to tick off two boxes in one shot.

Gallery 916 -- The building exterior
Gallery 916 — The building exterior. Look for the shell.

Opening its doors in February of this year, Gallery 916 is in the district of Tokyo called Hamamatsuchō, an area not normally associated with galleries. The space is on the 5th floor of a big warehouse-y building, and were it not for a small sign for the gallery near the entrance to the building, I would have assumed I was in the wrong place. It’s quite common in places like San Francisco or New York to have galleries in these kind of industrial warehouse-type spaces, but not all that common here in Tokyo.1 The gallery space itself is huge — 600-square-meters apparently — leading me to wonder if it isn’t now the largest photography gallery in Tokyo.

Though admittedly it’s not a place most would consider warm and intimate, especially on the cold and rainy day I visited, the gallery felt heartwarming somehow, knowing that such a large and relatively unadorned, unpretentious space was being given over to photography.

Gallery 916 - Building entrance
Gallery 916 — The building entrance, with hard to spot gallery sign.

In size it felt like one of Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography’s exhibition spaces, but sans the obligatory museum shop, coat check, silent black-suited watchers making sure you don’t touch anything, and most importantly, any admission charge, much more relaxing.

Exhibitions held at the gallery so far have been one-artist shows running between six to eight weeks in duration. Both the Gibson and Arita exhibitions have been accompanied by substantial exhibition catalogs normally not seen from galleries2, and in its catalogs and on its clean, well-designed website, English translations of critical essays and biographical information are given equal footing with the Japanese. (Well-translated English it should be noted, which is far from a given in Japan). [Both the Ralph Gibson and Taiji Arata exhibition catalogs are available in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.]

Of course such a large space does not come without its challenges, number one I’m sure being to remain a financially viable concern for its backers. But there are challenges for the Ueda/Goto curating team as well.

Gallery 916 - Interior
Gallery 916 — The main room.

On view when I visited was a series of photos by the relatively obscure Taiji Arita from the late 60s/early 70s, for whom Ueda once served as an assistant. The prints were not large, and it felt a struggle sometimes for the photos not to be completely dominated by the space. No doubt the curators are aware that a space this large will not be appropriate for just any work, and care will be needed to select photography that works best in the space. Alternatively, perhaps occasionally the space will need to be changed — closing off the two spaces in the back that lead off the main hall, for example — for some exhibits.

[See our accompanying review of the Taiji Arita “First Born” exhibition being held at Gallery 916. — Editor]

Gallery 916 -- Interior two
Gallery 916 — Lots of room to play with.

In its first year, two of the five exhibitions were of Ueda’s work. This may well be part of the arrangement, for all I know. But certainly from the neutral’s perspective, one will hope that this is more a gallery served by Ueda’s creative vision rather than the other way around.

That said, having co-curators of Ueda and Goto’s standing, approaching the gallery from the differing perspectives of photographer and curator respectively, leaves what appears to be have been an excellent start in good stead. It remains to be seen what will come in 2013, but I for one am looking forward to it.



1. The Kiyosumi Gallery Complex, which houses Taka Ishii, Hiromi Yoshii and ShugoArts, among others, is an obvious exception.

2. The old Min Gallery and the current Zen Foto Gallery being two worthy exceptions that come to mind.

Hidekazu Maiyama — from Stadt der Engel

Hidekazu Maiyama is a Tokyo-based photographer who was born in 1962. Maiyama graduated from Kyushu Sangyo University in 1980. He makes his living as a commercial photographer photographing for mainstream magazines. The personal work series that this image is taken from was photographed in Berlin, Germany in winter 2011/12. It was inspired by the now classic film Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders. The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants and comfort those who are in distress. Even though the city is densely populated, many of the people are isolated and estranged from their loved ones. (Wikipedia). The photos aim to take the viewpoint of angels and bring the idea of the film into the contemporary.

The whole series will be shown at Gallery E&M nishiazabu from 6-24 November.

MS Optical Sonnetar 50/1.1

MS Optical Sonnetar 50/1.1 @ f1.4, Leica M9 JPG, photo by Ming

We are pleased to announce the release of the MS Optical Sonnetar 50/1.1 lens in Leica M mount.

The lens is available for order now in our web shop. Orders will be served in the order received. Please note that as usual there might be a waiting period between receiving your order and fulfilment, due to the nature of the lens and its production. Shipping is scheduled to commence on or around 10 Oct 2012.


Japan Exposures has over seven years of experience of selling MS Optical products, including several hundred of Super Triplets 35mm and 28mm. This includes efficient and cost-effective shipping, handling of after-sale warranty and repairs and even intra-EU shipping to save on import duty. Thank you for your continued support.


The Sonnar type is a photographic lens originally designed by Dr. Ludwig Bertele in 1924 and patented by Zeiss Ikon. It was notable for its relatively light weight, simple design and fast aperture.

The name “Sonnar” is derived from the German word “Sonne”, meaning sun. It was given this name because its large aperture was much greater than many other lenses available at the time.

Compared to Planar designs the Sonnars had more aberrations, but with fewer glass-to-air surfaces it had better contrast and less flare. Though compared to the earlier Tessar design, its faster aperture and lower chromatic aberration was a significant improvement.

Source: Wikipedia

Here are its key features:

  • 5 elements in 4 groups Sonnar formula lens
  • Compact design, weight 190g, 220g with hood (36mm long, 55mm diameter filter thread)
  • Premium quality Tantalum glass, superior to Trium and Lanthanum glass with best refractive qualities
  • 14 blade aperture for smooth and pleasing bokeh (Made in Germany by Otto Niemann Feinmechanik GmbH, Berlin)
  • Minimum focus distance 0.8m
  • ALL six glass surfaces multicoated, 97% light transmission
  • Initial lot of 300 lenses, designed, manufactured and hand-assembled in Japan by Mr Sadayasu Miyazaki
  • Native Leica M mount

The MS Optical Sonnetar 50/1.1 is available now in our web shop.

Mr Miyazaki of MS Optical, a small independent manufacturer of lenses and camera accessories, has also added a world first: positioned with the rear element of the lens is a “coma adjustment ring”. Coma (aka comatic aberration) in an optical system refers to aberration inherent to certain optical designs or due to imperfection in the lens or other components which results in off-axis point sources such as stars appearing distorted, appearing to have a tail (coma) like a comet (Wikipedia). The coma control has the distance settings infinity, 4m, 2m and 1m (up to 1m setting should only be used with mirror less cameras or cameras with live view). As it is well known, early Sonnar lenses encountered issues with aberration when used wide open. The coma adjustment control allows to select the subject distance and slightly repositions the rear element to compensate for the selected focus distance by reducing spherical aberration. This also changes the focal length very slightly (only by fractions of a millimetre). Alternatively one can set it into the opposite of optimum direction for a soft focus look that makes Sonnar portraits so attractive.

Spherical aberration is also often dubbed as a “friend of bokeh” as the very soft rendering will pronounce out of focus areas even more. The famous Voigtländer Universal-Heliar, introduced in 1926, incorporated the ability of the central lens element to be adjusted by the photographer, thereby introducing varying amount of spherical aberrations. Its images are legendary.

This is what Carl Zeiss say themselves about their C-Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM, similar can be expected for the Sonnetar 50/1.1:

This lens design helps to achieve pictures with a special artistic touch. This lens ‘draws’ your subject in a fine, flattering manner and is therefore ideally suited for portraiture. It renders a sharpness that is slightly rounded, being less aggressive than in contemporary lens designs, but at the same time not soft in its rendition.

Many famous portraits of glamorous and prominent people during the 1930s used this technique to great effect. These images are characterized by portraying the person in a shining, nearly celestial way. This effect is very well balanced and not exaggerated; therefore many viewers see it in a subconscious way. The trained observer, however, understands the underlining technique and enjoys the results.

This lens design exhibits some additional effects, which should be understood to achieve the maximum benefit from the C-Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM:

Because of the above mentioned classical characteristic of the lens the best focus position in the object space can not be kept exactly constant for all f-stop settings. The passionate photographer might notice a slightly closer best focus in his pictures than expected. When stopping down the lens to f/2.8 or smaller this effect is minimized, so the focus position will be as expected. In order to balance the performance at full speed and other f-stop settings the lens is adjusted with above described characteristic.

Just like MS Optical’s lens conversions, please be aware that this lens is slightly different in operation from “normal” mass-manufactured lenses. For example, the aperture scale rotates with the whole lens barrel when the lens is focussed and there are no aperture click stops. This is not a lens for photographers who want all their lenses to function in the same way and cannot adjust to a different way of working. This is a design for the connoisseur with an appreciation for optics and their history.

There is no other independent maker of Leica M mount lenses that offers the same level of quality and creativity as MS Optical in the world today. This is not just a lens, it is a celebration of the spirit of photography.

MS Optical Lens News

MS Optical Perar Super Triplet 35/3.5 Silver

The MS Optical lens Super Triplet Perar 4/28 continues to be popular, in fact so popular that the complete batch of 28mm Perar is close to being sold out and there are currently no plans for another production run.

Stocks for the long-selling Super Triplet Perar 3.5/35 Mark II are also depleting and while there are plans for another run, it will not happen this year.

We have a limited supply of both lenses, to be considered “final stocks” for the above reasons.

For a limited period we are in the privileged position to be able to offer either lens with EU shipping at a small additional cost, therefore bypassing any customs obligations. Please select the EU shipping option when ordering.

At the risk of overusing the word limited in this post, the above photo shows the silver version of the 35mm Super Triplet, originally only available in Hong Kong. Only two lenses are available. SOLD OUT

Lastly, a new lens by Mr Miyazaki is on the horizon, the MS Optical 50/1.13 Sonnetar. The lens offers a very wide aperture and is a Sonnar design. Ten copies will be assembled in early September and details published at that time. These are not prototypes, and to use Mr Miyazaki’s own words “I do not make enough mistakes to justify building that many prototypes” — these are full production spec lenses. After that more lenses are made to produce 300 in total. The lens will be available via various outlets and is priced at Y109.000. We are aiming to offer a EU shipping option for this lens as we are doing for the Perars. More info on this item will follow shortly.

UPDATE: some photos of the lens can be seen here.

UPDATE2: buyers in Hong Kong can buy this lens at Leitzian Limited in Tsim Sha Tsui. Ming Wong will have priority stock and in the beautiful store you can try before buy, and of course meet other Leica people.

MING YUEN WONG
Leitzian LTD

Room 1302, Lee Wai Comm Blvd
Yin Chong street
1-3A Hart Ave, Tsim Sha Tsui
HONG KONG
Tel:+85292221013

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

Japan Exposures on summer holidays

Japan Exposures including our Web and Book Stores will take a holiday starting July 9th until the end of July. The cut-off for Hirano hand-made camera cases was Friday, June 29th. Orders placed on or after these dates will be processed and shipped upon our return in August.

Orders for products that are currently backordered might also be shipped in August. We will make every effort to inform customers with pending order accordingly to manage expectations.

Please note that replies to email inquiries might also be delayed accordingly. We apologise for any inconvenience.

The holiday will affect the web and book stores and the following products and services, which will resume from early August:


Thank you for your understanding and we wish you a pleasant summer with many photographs to take and to look at.

Draped in Uncertainty – The Other Side by Masako Miyazaki

 

What is
On the other side
In the forest
draped in uncertainty
I am alone,
gazing in admiration

— Masako Miyazaki

When presenting and discussing Japanese Photography I often wonder whether myself and everyone else share our definition of what Japanese Photography is (or is not). Whether there is even a need to ask for a definition or leave it open to everyone to substitute their own. Still, sooner or later someone might ask “what do you like about Japanese photography?” or “what do you think is different in Japanese Photography?”. Then you would have to ask back, what the person means by Japanese Photography at the first place. Is it a signature style or technique? Probably not. Or simply a Japanese photographer, or a photograph taken in the country of Japan? Possibly, but that’s not all. Could a non-Japanese person produce Japanese Photography at all, or a Japanese person be unable to do so? Probably yes. There are no obvious answers, only clues. I have been looking for such clues for a while and even though my answer is not complete, I feel that gathering traces is a legitimate way to approach it.

Masako Miyazaki’s book The Other Side, published in late 2011 by Tosei-sha, offers such a clue. Not too unlike Manabu Someya’s Nirai (incidentally also published by Tosei-sha), I very much enjoyed looking at this book as it felt like being taken by the hand onto a journey into different places. That is not just physical locations, but places in the mind. Studying the images closely, they were taken in a variety of locations. There are images of Japan and elsewhere (I suspect the Mediterranean and/or Central Europe). Despite that variety, the image content, texture and style allowed them to be presented together while maintaining a common theme between them. Location or subject is not what strings them together.

On a depictive level, a commonality between the images soon becomes apparent: the square black and white images almost all seem to be focussed on the very remote distance, irrespective of whether the near distance contains a subject of interest. Additionally, a very close distance object is often obscuring our view slightly – a wall, high-grown grass, a tree, bushy vegetation or similar. We are often peering over or around those obstructions with a sense of safety as if guarding us from the scene from waist level (presumably due to the use of a medium format camera with waist level finder), like a child who stumbled upon a scene accidentally while running after a ball or a butterfly. Now we find ourselves slightly outside our comfort zone, exactly on the thin line of being equally thrilled and curious to move further while at the same time frightened and wanting to go back to familiar grounds. Here we stand still now, hearing only our own breath and the sounds of nature, frozen in time by our minds and in turn by the capture of the photograph. We have become one with the scene, with the environment, except that unlike the trees or bushes around us we have a gaze into the scene and our view is set on the horizon, the infinite distance.

Few people appear in Miyazaki’s photographs and if they do then they are largely coincidental and visually insignificant. These are introvert photographs, but not of self-importance or exhibitionism. A wanderer in a foreign place is strolling across the landscape with a hint of melancholy. The scene is alive yet abandoned, as if everyone just left to go home for lunch or dinner time a short moment ago. We are still out here, perhaps nobody is expecting us to go home or we just want to enter slightly into the lapse of time and be “too late”, that is not return home on time. Not too late for anyone to worry about us or to scold us, yet enjoying once again finding ourselves on the border between what we should or shouldn’t do.

Towards the end of the book the nature of the images changes slightly. We are now in motion, gazing out of a moving train or car. Are we leaving a place we enjoyed so much as described above? In the final pages we are indoors, the same low level views towards or out of windows and doors. A peek into the living room, over the window sill seeing the roofs of opposite buildings, or inside a shop, church or boutique. Have we returned home from a summer vacation in the countryside back into the hometown, perhaps? The feeling is once more on the middle ground of being saddened by our timely return, yet inside ourselves treasuring the experience of the weeks we roamed on our own on The Other Side.

Miyazaki’s photographs represent just some of the things that Japanese Photography are for me; a quiet yet strong undercurrent of expression that does not present itself to the viewer too easily and besides sensitivity requires patience. At the same time there is an element of child-like honesty and innocence that make the images more than simple documents of localities; we are being offered access to someone else’s inner self as a companion or visitor, just close enough to share some personal time together and not too close to offend or invade the privacy of our host.

Please also see a special gallery with more images from Miyazaki’s book.


Signed copies of The Other Side are available for purchase in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.

Masako Miyazaki — From The Other Side

Masako Miyazaki was born in Tokyo, Japan. She was interested in different cultures since junior high school and became interested in photography as the way of expression while visiting various countries. She studied photography in the US, Canada and Japan since 2001 and has exhibited works in solo and group exhibitions in Canada and Japan. She is currently living and working as an artist in Tokyo.

Miyazaki’s work from the series The Other Side was published in a book from Tosei-sha in late 2011, available as signed copies in the Japan Exposures bookstore.