At 66, Kitai Kazuo (Kazuo Kitai) may be the oldest photographer I’ve featured on this blog yet. While he doesn’t have instant name recognition, he’s very well-respected in Japan for his black and white snapshot work: last year at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Photography, his work was given equal footing alongside Daido Moriyama, Masahisa Fukase, Hiromi Tsuchida and others. He’s also the recipient of the first (sometimes career-making) Kimura Ihee prize in 1975, which is kind of funny because he was Kimura’s friend.
Kitai has an interesting history: he was born in Manchuria, and has returned to China a number of times to photograph it. He was present at, and photographed, the 1967 Narita protests, which the government crushed, putting an end to Japan’s student movement. In the 1970s, he ran into Hiromi Tsuchida a number times in remote villages, while they were each shooting projects on rural Japan. (The story goes that Kitai would give Tsuchida a ride in his car.)
In the fall of 1977, Kitai took a trip to Spain, shot some rolls of color, and never did anything with the film. Now, 30 years later, he’s made these photos into a book published by Tosei-sha called “Spanish Night.” There’s been no effort to undo the effect of time on the negatives, and I really like how the colors turned out. It’s fun to guess what the people here were thinking. I’d imagine something along of the lines of, “what the hell is this Japanese guy doing here taking pictures of us?” I don’t sense any hesitation on Kitai’s part, though, more like the thrill of exploring a new place. This is a short book but it really hits the mark.