Shinji Abe is a young, 26-year old photographer who was born in Saitama Prefecture, and who graduated from Tokyo Visual Arts professional school in 2008. He has no online presence, nor a home PC for that matter, but I was fortunate to meet him at the Third District Gallery in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward last December on the occasion of his exhibition there entitled Tokyo. It is perhaps a cliché to say that Abe is nothing like the person we’d expect to meet based on his photography, but nevertheless that was the impression I had when I discovered that the unassuming, reserved man sitting in the gallery was Abe himself.
When I asked Abe if he was a fan of Michio Yamauchi it was no surprise to hear a resounding yes, even as he was clearly embarrassed to be mentioned in the same breath as one of the masters of the street photography genre — and another modest, humble person with a demeanor quite at odds with the photography he produces. Abe acknowledged that he has a long way to go before he can get out from under that shadow, but he remains firmly committed to continuing to ply his trade on the streets, even as he noted ruefully that it is getting harder and harder to do so in a world increasingly suspicious of strangers taking pictures of other strangers.
Japan Exposures is pleased to present the work of Shinji Abe, who at 26 is one of the youngest — if not the youngest — photographers we’ve featured. It may come as something of a surprise to readers of this website, but Abe is one of a rather sizable group of young photographers who not only embrace film, the darkroom, and the vagaries of the street as their subject, but who also don’t have an online presence. In Abe’s case, he doesn’t even have a personal computer. Whether by design or happenstance, this makes Abe the ideal type of photographer we hope to feature even more on Japan Exposures as we begin 2010 — young, up and coming, and to borrow a phrase coined by noted street photographer Nick Turpin, “virtually invisible”.
When offline is becoming the new online, then the street is the new stage where the workings of at least some of Japan’s society are laid bare to be examined by a sharp and scrutinising eye such as Abe’s. Similar to photographers like Haruto Hoshi (featured previously on Japan Exposures), Abe bids a final farewell to the quaint snap of the old masters like Ihei Kimura and meets contemporary Tokyo in the streets of central Tokyo head on. These are not street photos showing amusing juxtapositions featuring people going about their daily lives. Abe’s photos have a delightful unnerving intensity and unrest, full of energy and vibrancy of life, yet despite their visual power they never appear confrontational or provocative for the sake of it. The images are a revelation of how much street photography in the civilised Japanese metropolis still has to offer. Radical, essential and absolutely inspirational.