Last week I managed to get myself down to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (Syabi) and see the Issei Suda retrospective exhibition just before it closed. It may come as a surprise but I miss a lot of these major exhibitions at Syabi (and other museums/galleries), and I had basically already written off seeing this one. When I do see one of these exhibitions, more often than not it serves as an all too easy to forget reminder that it is worth the effort (but that won’t stop me from wondering if it is whenever the next one rolls around).
Suda has been on my mind recently, spurred on by this altogether rare and insightful piece on Suda and then later by my conversation with the author, Ross Tunney, who was in town recently specifcally to see the Suda retrospective. (If he could make a 12-hour round trip just to see the Suda exhibition, well then really I have no excuse.)
When I do make it down to Syabi I always try to avail myself of their excellent reference library, and this time was no different. I particularly wanted to look again at two Suda books I don’t own, 人間の記憶 (Human Memory, 1996) and 犬の鼻 (A Dog’s Nose, 1991) — particularly the latter as Suda’s color work is still by and large ignored even amongst all the Suda exhibits and books we’ve been treated to recently. Both of these are excellent but unfortunately not really affordable on the used market. It would be great if both of these could be re-issued so I could affordably buy them, or perhaps not….
At the risk of biting the hand that sometimes feeds me, I’ve been thinking about the recent spate of re-issues such as the new Flash-up (Seiji Kurata), Suda’s Waga Tokyo 100 (both of those from Zen Foto), the reprint (or re-reprint) of Katsumi Watanabe’s Shinjuku Guntoden: 1965-1973, or the new facsimile editions of Daido Moriyama’s Another Country in New York, both of which are the latest in a string of re-issues from Akio Nagasawa Publishing they’ve done over the last couple of years. These are all worthy of once more seeing the light of the everyday, rather than languishing unseen and out of reach in the usually overpriced listings of AbeBooks, and most of them are very fine renditions indeed.
However — and I’ll admit right up front that I have no idea of the economics of putting these books out — do they all have to be so damn expensive? Speaking as a photo book lover, rather than a photo book store proprietor, I would much rather see more Errata Editions type of facsimile editions, which admirally accomplish several goals (of mine, not necessarily their’s or that of the publishers’ I mentioned above): allow people who have no access to the original to see the work; present the work as it was presented originally, but with better printing; provide context and perspective through contemporary essays; and make the books available to consumers at a very affordable price point. Japanese publishers are hardly the only guilty ones here it must be said. The German-based Only Photography has put out very nice — so people say, as I have never personally seen them — editions of work by Yutaka Takanashi, Suda, and Shomei Tomatsu. Nice and deserved, but not really priced at what sane people would call “affordable”.
For better or worse, Nobuyoshi Araki’s work is ubiquitous enough that hundred-dollar reprints are not yet in abundance. I caught Araki’s “Someone’s Wife” exhibit the other day at Rat Hole Gallery. I went down there to pick up a book and probably would have given the show a miss otherwise, but I’m glad I got to see it. The subject of the series is hitozuma, which the gallery translates into the vaguely innocent-sounding “someone’s wife”, while the translation I’m more familiar with is the altogether more titillating “another man’s wife”. (If you’re after a more culturally accurate English equivalent, “MILF” is what you want — for those not familiar with that term, I recommend you search Google for it when you are not at work).
Araki has over the last 15 years produced quite a number of “Hitozuma” books (in the main series of this type of work, 人妻エロスor hitozuma eros, published by Futabasha, Araki released #17 this past March). They’re a bit slick but I quite like them. However, I only own one since to the casual eye of say, my wife, having more than one of them would be the equivalent of a teenager with mound of Penthouse magazines stuffed under his mattress.
The exhibit at Rat Hole features about 15 large black and white portraits of middle-aged women exposing their unclothed bodies in various degrees of nudity that we assume is the limit of what they’re comfortable with, each one daubed in brightly colored paint that Araki has often employed in recent years and here uses as a way to censor the images in the same way that his books of old featured black strips over women’s private parts.
Thus superficially the tone of the show, and that of the accompanying book, is different from the hitozuma eros books I mentioned before, and one may be forgiven for thinking that here Araki is trying on his “I want to make serious movies” Woody Allen hat. But ignoring the trappings of the large prints, black and white film, and a large, airy gallery space, the series produced the same feeling I get from much of Araki’s oeuvre, and what I suspect drives Araki much more than his legendary dirty old man-ness — a deep empathy for the people he photographs, and a loving embrace of the notion that the flawed and fragile represent the true pinnacle of beauty.
If you’re in Tokyo, the exhibition is on until January 19, 2014.