The other day Japan Exposures visited the Fukagawa area of Tokyo to take in a unique photo exhibition organized by the photographer Mitsugu Onishi. The idea is not a single exhibition in a gallery, but rather a series of exhibition spaces — and only one or two of them actual working galleries — spread out over several blocks in an easily walkable exhibition that attempts to weave photography into the fabric of both the local area and the individual exhibition spaces, to varying degrees of success, it must be said.
Two years ago, Onishi — who in addition to his photobooks has penned books about exploring his Tokyo through photography walks and often leads his students on such excursions, organized a similar exhibition in the Urayasu area of Chiba near Tokyo Disneyland. For that event, in locales as diverse as a ramen shop, a hair salon, a five-and-dime candy store, and a community center, among others, Onishi showed work both by himself and others connected with the Urayasu or Chiba area, like Kazuo Kitai, Aya Okabe, and John Sypal. At the time, I remember Onishi as being fidgety because on that sweltering Tokyo summer day there were rather few visitors and he wondered aloud whether everyone was at home watching the first day of the Beijing Olympics in the comfort of their air-conditioned homes.
We ran into Onishi on the street on the day we went down to see the Fukagawa exhibit, and he was clearly pleased with the comparative success of the current event. Due to the exhibition area’s proximity to the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art, which currently is showing a collection of art and posters from the popular movies of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli, and the fact that foot traffic from the closest subway station to the museum passes directly through the main neighborhood exhibition space, attendance was the least of Onishi’s worries, and later we overheard one gallery proprietor claim hundreds of visitors to his small gallery over the 3-day holiday weekend just passed when one suspects it might normally take him two to three weeks to have the same number of visitors.
Here is a takeaway on some of the exhibitions we took in (unfortunately, on the day we visited, some of the shops were closed due to the national holiday of the previous day, so we weren’t able to see all the different exhibitions):
Onishi himself exhibited a series of about 8 photographs in the shop window of a modern home goods store. These photographs were taken with a 4×5 camera set up similarly to a pinhole camera, with 40-minute or so exposures recorded on printing out paper (POP), a process that gives the images a blue tint similar to that at work in blueprint drawings. The photos were of various summer-themed landscapes and were rather different and subdued from the ironic street work Onishi is better known for. We found the combination of long exposure, small format and the blue tone particularly appealing and would have enjoyed a closer and longer look, but with temperatures what they are in a Tokyo summer and the photos only visible from the outside we had to move on sooner than we wanted. Onishi himself laughingly commented on the challenges of spending the time during long exposures outside in summer.
In terms of presentation, Akihito Saito had perhaps the most interesting exhibit with his “Still Life” series of seven photos suspended by twine along the wall of one of the areas temples. The fiber prints had holes punched into them to which the twine was tied. Without frames, curling, exposed to the elements, the exhibition was tactile and tangible existing in the environment of the neighborhood in a way the other exhibitions we saw weren’t. The fact that later we came across the same type of twine being used for a completely different purpose helped to seal the impression of tactility.
On the second floor of the area’s merchants’ association office, which was really a local resident’s house, Yuki Kanehira exhibited about 12 large prints from a much larger body of work documenting the dilapidated and now mostly demolished Dojunkai Kiyosuna-dori apartments that were located just a few blocks from where this exhibition was. This apartment complex was one of 16 ferroconcrete and steel complexes that were built by the Interior Ministry in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake from 1924 to 1936 (the most famous of which were the now-demolished Dojunkai Aoyama apartments along Omotesando in central Tokyo). Kanehira himself moved into the apartment complex after his early attempts to document the place were met with derision from the residents, and over a seven year period documented the almost exclusively senior citizen residents. His close connection with these apartments, and more importantly with the residents who lived there, was clear to see in the photos. However in our opinion, the work could have been strengthened by including more of the residents and less of the dilapitated buildings, images visible in the supplementary slideshow running on a computer in the room.
We were disappointed to find that Japan Exposures-featured Sachiko Kadoi‘s work was being shown in a reflexology clinic which had customers, so we weren’t able to go in and had to content ourselves with looking through the window. We were excited to see new work from Kadoi-san focusing on the rivers that run through Tokyo, including one very large print that occupied a dominant place in the shop, and hope we will be able to catch up with her on a different occasion so we can see where this new direction is taking her.
The photographer Toshiya Murakoshi runs TAP Gallery, one of the few actual galleries to serve as an exhibition space for the Photo Session. It is a small place, and the lighting was not the best. Another problem was that it was not easy to see a connection between the work and the area, although there was a handwritten statement on the wall that did attempt to explain why these photos were being exhibited. Nevertheless, it seemed something of a missed opportunity, and the work itself was not nearly as strong as the landscape work which was on view in a series of photo books Murakoshi has published over the last few years.
While the Fukagawa Photo Session Exhibition will be over in a few days, if you do find yourself in Tokyo, a visit to the Kiyosumi Shirakawa area is well worth a visit. The aforementioned Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Japanese architect Takahiko Yanagisawa, is a wonderful museum with a lot of varying exhibits from all genres in very large exhibition spaces (a huge Daido Moriyama exhibition from his Sao Paulo series was held there a couple of years ago). In addition to that, there is also the small but highly recommended Edo Fukagawa Museum which contains 11 full-scale replicas of traditional houses, vegetable and rice shops, a fish store, two inns, a fire watchtower, and tenement homes, arranged to resemble an actual neighborhood. Several blocks away a warehouse is home to some of Tokyo’s most important galleries including Taka Ishii (Moriyama, Naoya Hatakeyama, and Nobuyoshi Araki among others are represented), Shugo Arts (Takuma Nakahira, Shimabuku), and Tomio Koyama Gallery (Yoshitomo Nara). No wonder then that last year, when photo book publisher AKAAKA was looking for a place to set up a combination company office and art gallery, they settled on the Kiyosumi Shirakawa area.