Ryudai Takano
2014, Aug 21
The Ryudai Takano incident, and Takano’s response to it

Ryudai Takano at Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art

The Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art is putting on a group show entitled “Photography Will Be” 1, which seems to be a “state of the medium” exhibit; I’m back in America now, so unfortunately I can’t see it for myself. The participants include Yuki Kimura, Kazutomo Tashiro, Naoya Hatakeyama and Ryudai Takano. The show has appeared in the news recently, after police asked the museum to take some of Takano’s work down on the basis that, because it shows male genitalia, it violates obscenity laws. As you can see in the above photograph, the museum is not exactly complying with this request.

I started to write up a post about this incident a few days ago, but since then a lot of material has appeared online, including a statement from Takano that explains the situation in detail; I have translated it below. This post has grown quite long, so I have organized it so that you can first get the general idea of the case at the beginning, then see Takano’s statement, and finally, if you are so inclined, get some background on a different time Takano covered up his photos.

It should be helpful to publish some basic facts about the incident. Takano, who is gay, is showing his work “With Me” (おれと), a series of photographs in which he poses naked together with another person. Most installation photographs online show Takano with a man, but the series also includes photographs with women. The photographs are mounted in various frames that fit snugly next to each other. These images aren’t amazing but they at least give some idea of what the space looks like:

Photos by Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art

Of course these photos were taken after the police intervention. However, the entrance to the space itself looked like this from the very beginning:

Entrance to Takano's room, photo by Mika Kobayashi

After consulting with a lawyer before the start of the exhibit, the museum had cordoned off Takano’s exhibition space with a notice that explains the content of the works inside. Obviously this did not help in the end, because the police received (and acted on) an anonymous complaint about the show.

Further information about the incident has been provided in English by Artinfo 2 and Japan Trends 3, which also points out double standards with respect to the application of obscenity laws in Japan. Meanwhile, Takashi Arai, another photographer participating in “Photography Will Be,” has created a petition on change.org 4 asking for transparency from the Aichi Prefectural Police which includes an English explanation; as of today it has received more than 1,800 signatures.

As many news sources (in Japanese and English) have pointed out, this incident comes only a month after Japanese artist Rokudenashiko (real name Megumi Igarashi) was arrested for distributing 3-D printer files of her vagina 5; she was later released. Takano refers to this case in a statement about this affair that was originally published in Japanese by WebDice 6. Here, he explains the way in which he responded to the police intervention and reflects on the broader implications of the incident. I think it is well worth reading this statement in full.

After receiving anonymous reports, a member of the prefectural police came to the museum on August 12. Upon examining the exhibit, he concluded that the works were in violation of the law; his judgment was that the public display of a penis is uniformly illegal. He explained that if the exhibit was to continue, arrests would be unavoidable. Because it was not me, but rather the museum staff, that would be arrested, my options were limited.

I had three choices. First, continue with the exhibition as before. Second, remove the specified works and replace them with unproblematic ones, making it seem as if nothing had happened. Third, make it clear which works had been targeted and continue the exhibition in that way.

If I were dead, or if for some reason another person had to act on my behalf, the first and second choices would be possible ways to continue with the exhibition.  However, since I am alive and can respond to this matter directly, I decided to alter the exhibition in order to show how this intervention took place. In this way the audience, too, can consider the situation.

While carrying out the work of covering the “improper” parts, one of the museum workers mentioned that this was similar to the case of Seiki Kuroda. In the Meiji Period, when Kuroda (who had returned to Japan from France) displayed a painting of a nude woman, the police judged it to be obscene. The woman’s waist was covered in a cloth, and the affair became known as the “Loincloth Incident.” We are now more than one hundred years on from this incident, and perhaps the fact that the object of concealment is now a man shows how times have changed. In any case, I did not cover these images in a loincloth, but rather from the chest down, in a way that suggests being wrapped up in a blanket.

Aside from my involvement in this case as the creator of the work, I personally think that it represents a violation of the “freedom of expression” (or perhaps the “freedom of speech”) of museums. Artworks are fundamentally “strange things,” and a museum is a place that collects and stores them. If that is the case, then it is natural that a museum should operate according to standards that are slightly off from those of society; in other words, the museum is necessarily an extraterritorial sanctuary. A failure to accept this point means denying the institution of the museum itself. Nevertheless, this time a single “anonymous report” was enough to prompt the intervention of the government. Essentially, a museum is a place that should not be easily entered by government agencies, and I was startled by this lack of respect for art. This is, of course, also an issue for citizens, who operate this prefectural museum. As a place for “strange things,” in other words by supporting diversity, the museum functions as a safety valve for society; citizens maintain and administer the museum in this knowledge.

Recently, a law has been passed that makes it easier for the government to involve itself in universities. I think that, in art just as in scholarship, doing away with the limits of such activity will indeed leave an effect. When it is easy for the government to intervene in matters of “knowledge” [知, the “chi” of “Aichi” (愛知), which incidentally means “love of knowledge,” though the Japanese word for “philosophy” is different], it is not difficult to see the danger for a further escalation of that violence.

Saying all this, I am somewhat worried about the possibility that people will cower in fear, though in the decision handed down in the case of the Mapplethorpe photobook, the Supreme Court wrote: “There is some obscene work mixed in here, but looking at the whole, the proportion is low. Therefore, it is not possible to classify the book itself as obscene.” This means there is a precedent to reverse such a judgment through the question of proportion, while the fact that Mapplethorpe’s photographs were taken in black and white was another reason that the work was judged to be art, rather than obscenity. However, while in many works the relationship between “art” and “obscenity” is an intermingled one, making such a dichotomy impossible, the court has set the precedent that arrests can indeed be made on the basis of an arbitrary judgment of obscenity.

From the very start, though, I cannot comprehend why “obscenity” is a crime. In our mature society, it is undeniable that a naked body possesses absolutely no destructive power. In another similar case which resulted in an arrest, I do not understand at all what the government was up to. I only know a bit about this work, but it looks to be entirely human, not at all destructive. If we are going to talk about expressions that “harm society,” there are any number of more serious examples, yet the expressions that the government continually tries to expunge are entirely proper manifestations of human desire.

In any case, one thing is clear: the government is asserting its presence forcefully through the exercise of such power. If the government deviates from its stated purpose, i.e. to temporarily borrow authority from its citizens, and instead makes a display of this power, that act is far more grotesque than something like the display of genitalia. Once a violence that is not locatable to a specific person begins, it is difficult to stop.

I earnestly hope that museums will be able to run without any self-imposed restraints stemming from this case.

August 17, 2014
Ryudai Takano

I have little knowledge of the way museums are operated in Japan, though it is not difficult to imagine that “self-imposed restraints” are quite common. I recently had a conversation about the MOMAT’s excellent (and, relatively speaking, politically radical) permanent collection 7, in which I heard that the curators are not able to trumpet it too loudly. In light of all this, it was refreshing to read the following statement by a museum staff member given to Tokyo Sports 8:

We do not think that the works are “obscene.” If we were to follow the orders from the police to remove the works, that would be an acceptance of this judgment.

That’s a pretty strong stance to take, even though it—like the initial complaint about Takano’s exhibit—was delivered anonymously. (The vice-director of the museum went on the record with Mainichi 9, using less bold language.) If Takano is right, and the government continues to encroach on the territory of art, how will other museums respond?

In any case, this isn’t the first time that Takano’s work has been covered up; a similar thing happened when he showed his work in Hikarie, a then-newly-opened shopping center, in October 2012. Then, I wrote 10 that the exhibit was “mostly forgettable, except for a long vertical strip of paper over Takano’s largest (and most explicit) photo. I thought it had been placed by the gallery to spare passersby the apparently unthinkable trauma of seeing a male organ as they took a break from shopping, but it was actually Takano’s own choice.” I’d spoken with Takano after seeing this show, but in writing this post I wanted to make sure that I had understood him correctly at that time.

Takano at Hikarie, photo by Lammfromm

The short answer is that yes, this was indeed entirely Takano’s choice. He started his email by saying: “It is not that I think showing a naked body at any place and at any time is a good thing. The same goes in photography, as well.” He went on to explain the particular situation of the Hikarie exhibit: “I am concerned about the people represented in my photographs. Despite the fact that the photographs were shot behind closed doors, when they are displayed in a public place like Hikarie, any number of people will find themselves in front of their nakedness. Even though a subject who comes in for a shooting understands that they will be displayed in public, I don’t think that means they accept this kind of situation. More than anything else, it is not acceptable for them to be subject to the prying eyes of insensitive people.” Naturally, Takano says that the situation of a museum, where visitors pay to enter the space, is different, and that in the case of the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art the museum staff was quite understanding.

Takano’s response to the police intervention is meant to bring his audience into this situation, so I think it is appropriate to give one of the paying visitors to “Photography Will Be” the last word. Curator and author Mika Kobayashi relates that, when she visited the exhibition, she overheard an older man berating a museum employee: “I came here because the paper said there would be something obscene, but they’re just regular photos! And I paid 1100 yen for this?”

Update 9/25/2014: 

Takashi Arai updates the change.org petition with a Kafkaesque episode. After gathering physical signatures and sending in the printed petition to the Aichi Prefectural Police, he received a one-line letter from the office (“We return the letter pack”) along with the unopened envelope.

http://www.webdice.jp/dice/detail/4347/: Apart from any normal roughness in translation, a couple of places here deviate slightly from Takano’s statement on the basis of clarifying emails between me and him.
http://www.tokyo-sports.co.jp/nonsec/social/301249/: Tokyo Sports is not exactly a paragon of journalism. When I first saw the Takano article, it was the second most popular one on the site, behind “Beautiful Woman From TV Commercial Makes Adult Film Debut.”
http://blog.mcvmcv.net/2012/11/04/capsule-reviews-october-2012/: Such is the value of keeping a public journal. I had forgotten that Takano had placed the strip of paper (it’s actually tape) himself, and I didn’t even believe it at first when I read it again.


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Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Censorship, Exhibits, Ryudai Takano

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2013, Oct 01
20 Capsules of Japanese Photographers

About a year ago, I wrote some small articles about Japanese photographers for a free paper that was published by IMA Magazine and distributed at Paris Photo, “Japanese Art Photographers 108.” (When the paper was re-printed for the 2013 Paris Photo Los Angeles,  it was re-named “Japanese Art Photographers 107” to account for the passing of Shomei Tomatsu.) The goal of this paper was to broadly introduce Japanese photographers to a Western audience. The selection of photographers in this post, and the order in which they appear, are more or less arbitrary. For the most part, I was responsible for the younger photographers of the group, but there were a number of exceptions. The texts appear in the order that I wrote them, so feel free to read whatever you want into that.

Naoya Hatakeyama (b. 1958)

© Naoya Hatakeyama

Hatakeyama’s approach to photography is both technical and thoughtful. The relationship between humans and nature is central to his work, with subjects ranging from Tokyo’s underground tunnels to hills of coal waste in France. His first major project (“Lime Works,” 1996) was a study of lime quarries throughout Japan, and even these early photographs show the meticulous attention to detail which has been carried through the rest of his work. Still, he is no mere technician; he has also published a book of his thoughts on photography. After the 3/11 tsunami wiped out his hometown, he produced a series of photographs which stand as the most impressive photos of the tsunami’s aftermath: despite his personal connection to the disaster, he was infinitely more careful than other photographers who traveled to the affected region. This body of work should only cement Hatakeyama’s place as one of the most cerebral Japanese photographers working today.

Mao Ishikawa (b. 1953)

© Mao Ishikawa

Born in Okinawa, Ishikawa has taken up themes relating to her native islands and in particular to the issues surrounding the American military bases which remain a major presence there. Her desire to tackle these issues and support Okinawan causes led her to take up photography, and she started working at a bar frequented by American servicemen to create her first project, “Hot Days in Camp Hansen” (shot 1975-77). Later, she traveled to Philadelphia to visit one of these customers, spending two months there to experience his life at home. Her intimate photographs of this time (“Life in Philly,” shot 1986) show not only the full range of her subjects’ emotions, but also Ishikawa’s own willingness to become involved in the lives of the people that she photographs. She has continued to publish books and hold regular exhibitions, while her international profile has been rising. Still, her more recent success abroad is only coming after decades of hard (and largely unnoticed) work.

Nobuyoshi Araki (b. 1940)

© Nobuyoshi Araki

For Araki, life is photography, and vice versa. His goal has been to bring his own personal experience as close to the medium as possible, and his work encompasses the entire range of human emotion. “Sentimental Journey Spring Journey” (2012), a touching elegy for his deceased cat, is an excellent example of his emotionally unrestrained way of photographing. It’s more than just a photo album; Araki’s connection with this animal comes through so clearly that the images take on a universal, almost cosmic significance. Of course, Araki has also made a name for himself as one of the leading photographers of eros, and nudes are an important part of his work. However, the range of his work has perhaps not yet been fully appreciated outside of Japan. He’s highly profilic: a recent exhibition tried to feature the more than 450 photobooks he’d published to date, but more have already come out. Araki is the face of Japanese photography around the world, and he’s already influenced countless photographers, both in and out of Japan.

Takuma Nakahira (b. 1938)

© Takuma Nakahira

One of the most radical photographers Japan has produced. Nakahira is best known for his work in the late 1960s, during which time he helped start the influential “Provoke” magazine. His 1970 masterpiece, “For a Language to Come,” is a dizzying blend of found urban signage, blurred light and brutal composition, all rendered in a rough black and white aesthetic. At this time, he was also working as an extremely productive and insightful critic, writing hundreds of texts which are still relatively unread even in Japan. However, in 1977 Nakahira suffered an illness which left him unable to write, and almost entirely wiped out his short term memory. Despite this, he has recovered to photograph again, switching from black and white to color. A book of this color work, “Documentary,” was published in 2011.

Haruto Hoshi (b. 1970)

© Haruto Hoshi

Japan has produced its fair share of hard-bitten street photographers, and Haruto Hoshi is the most recent heir to this tradition. Continuing in the vein of Seiji Kurata, Hoshi combines a handheld, flashed look with seedy neighborhoods of Japan, where he himself is no tourist. He’s originally from Yokohama, so this city in particular is well-represented in his work, but he also shoots regularly in Osaka and nearby Tokyo. He started out shooting black and white, and published a book (“Luminance of Streets”) from this work. In recent years, he’s switched to color, and has been holding shows at Tokyo’s Third District Gallery at a fevered pitch–six alone in 2012. Hoshi only shows photographs of people, and although you get the impression that he could get as close as he wants, his wide composition allows the flash to reveal not just his subjects, but their environment as well.

Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983)

© Daisuke Yokota

Yokota’s photographs might look like classic Daido Moriyama images, but he has arrived at his style and method through entirely organic means. He claims director David Lynch and musician Aphex Twin as influences, due to the way they distort sensory information in their respective works. Yokota is attempting to introduce ideas of fade, reverb and echo to photography, and this is what’s led him to his unique approach. To create “Back Yard,” he used a painstaking method in which he printed out his photographs and re-photographed them up to 10 times. Through an intentionally careless developing technique, he introduced new distortions into the image each time that the film was processed. Along with this process of re-photography, he has also used modified versions of the same image in different projects. Yokota recently joined the photographic group AM Projects, which features a number of European photographers and is represented by Doha-based East Wing Projects.

Kazuo Kitai (b. 1944)

© Kazuo Kitai

Kitai’s name is most familiar for his work in the late 1960s, in and around the student protest movements of the time. His early books “Barricade” and “Resistance” reflected the energy of this tumultuous period, while he later spent a significant amount of time in Sanrizuka, site of significant protests against the construction of Narita Airport. His photographs at Sanrizuka were quieter, showing the lives of the peasants on top of whose land the airport would eventually be built. After the end of the student movement, Kitai moved on to shoot similarly rural areas of Japan, perhaps with a premonition that their existence was also threatened on some level. He sent monthly dispatches of this work to Asahi Camera between 1974 and 1977, and it was eventually published as “Mura-e.” Kitai has continued to shoot up until the present day, publishing a book of work on Beijing (“Beijing 90s”) among several others. He still publishes a monthly column in Asahi Camera, and his international reputation has grown with a rise of interest in protest photography. “Barricade” was published in America in 2012.

Koji Onaka (b. 1960)

© Koji Onaka

An heir to the Shinjuku tradition of photography as received from Daido Moriyama, Onaka has gone on to develop his own expressive style of snapshots. He started out shooting in black and white, but his color photographs are quite stunning, not just for the exquisite quality of their printing but also their composition. 2001’s “Tokyo Candy Box” is an excellent example of Onaka’s work. It’s a near-comprehensive look at a city in constant change, represented in brilliant hues of orange. Later books like “Grasshopper” (2006) and “Dragonfly” (2007) have shown a quieter side of Japan’s countryside, but with a similarly keen eye for color and form. He’s developed a following outside of Japan. Onaka has run his own artist space in Tokyo, Gallery Kaido, which supports younger photographers. He also recently launched his own publishing label, Matatabi.

Motoyuki Daifu (b. 1985)

© Motoyuki Daifu

Daifu could be seen as a successor to the wave of snapshooters that appeared in the mid-90s, led by HIROMIX. He shoots color photographs in a similarly unrestrained, flash-heavy way, while one of his major works, “Lovesody,” is a diaristic look at a summer fling. Still, even though Daifu is using the same style as these earlier snapshooters, his focus is somewhat different. Where these early works took an intentionally fast-and-loose approach to editing, Daifu has so far only shown well-defined subject matter. His best-developed series, “Family,” is a sometimes humorous, sometimes intense look at the small apartment he with his parents and siblings. Daifu has already published two books in America, “Lovesody” with Little Big Man and “Family” with Dashwood Books. He held a New York City exhibition of “Lovesody” in 2011.

Ryudai Takano (b. 1963)

Takano’s work is carefully balanced between sensitive observation and provocation. While his photographs never hit the viewer over the head with a message, they do often have a slightly subversive edge. Takano’s early work was primarily concerned with sexuality: he won the Ihee Kimura Photography Award for his book “In My Room” (2005), which shows men in various states of undress and arousal. Still, his carefully-written captions and evident technical skill made it clear that he was not simply trying to shock his audience. A more recent book, “Kasubaba” (2011), is an expansive series in which Takano set out to document the ugliest places in Japan. The photographs do not show landfills, but rather entirely normal-looking streetcorners. Again, Takano is pushing the viewer to reconsider their assumptions in a subtle way. He continues to exhibit and publish regularly.

Kayo Ume (b. 1981)

© Kayo Ume

Young female photographers first emerged in Japan in the mid-1990’s. Led by HIROMIX and Yurie Nagashima, among others, these photographers used the directness of the snapshot as a form of personal expression. Kayo Ume, however, appeared in the 2000’s, showing the humorous possibilities of this technique. Her first book (“Ume-me,” 2006) is a collection of snapshots showing absurd moments in the city: a pigeon in a grocery store, a businessman taking a nap on the floor of a train, a young girl making a face at the camera. Far from taking a cool perspective on these situations, it’s clear that Ume is laughing right along with the viewer. “Ume-me” was a runaway hit, and Ume’s later books have shown the antics of young boys (“Danshi,” 2007) as well as her own grandfather (“Jiichansama,” 2008). She is affiliated with the Japanese art collective Hajimeten.

Kenji Hirasawa (b. 1982)

© Kenji Hirasawa

Since 2008, Hirasawa has been based in London, after deciding that it was the most suitable place to develop as a photographer. His 2011 publication, “Celebrity,” has garnered positive attention in Europe. This work was shot with a heat-sensitive camera which represents hot and cold areas of the frame through colors. Aimed at the figures on display in Madame Tussauds, the resulting work renders the famous waxen figures in a vacant greenish blue, while the spectators around these bodies are a more vibrant red. In this way, the work comments on the way that people interact with celebrities in contemporary culture. Hirasawa has continued to use this thermal camera, capturing a different spectrum of what we might call “photography.”

Daido Moriyama (b. 1938)

© Daido Moriyama

Moriyama is known around the world for his out-of-focus, blurry and grainy black-and-white photographs. He emerged in the 1960’s, eventually joining the influential Provoke magazine starting from its second issue in 1968. Moriyama’s 1972 book “A Hunter” represents the now-famous style of this period well. However, there is more to his images than just this harsh aesthetic. Moriyama takes a highly material approach to photography: he re-presents phenomena as photographs, almost using a strategy of appropriation. This is why a seemingly insignificant object like a hat could end up as the cover of one of his well-known books, “Light and Shadow” (1982). A 1999 solo exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art helped to introduce his work to foreign audiences, while London’s Tate Modern is currently holding a large-scale exhibition of his photographs alongside William Klein’s. Moriyama’s recent book “Color” shows that even today, he continues to produce challenging work.

HIROMIX (b. 1976)


HIROMIX is a pioneer for female photographers in Japan. She came to prominence after winning the 1995 Canon New Cosmos of Photography competition as a teenager, where her work was championed by Nobuyoshi Araki. Up until this point, photography had largely been the province of men, but HIROMIX’s debut caused a sensation: her freewheeling, self-portrait heavy, snapshot-based style inspired no small number of young women to pick up a camera themselves. Her first book, “Girls Blue,” was published in 1996, and a self-titled book with German publisher Steidl followed in 1998. The Steidl book is an excellent introduction to her work from this period, and shows the casual style which was to influence a generation of photographers to follow. In recent years, HIROMIX herself has come full circle, to serve as a judge for the Canon New Cosmos of Photography.

Masafumi Sanai (b. 1968)

© Masafumi Sanai

Sanai emerged in the 1990s, and has since established himself as a significant contemporary photographer. One of his early books is called “I Don’t Know,” and this title seems indicative of his enigmatic style, which seems to be driven more by aesthetics than the desire to communicate any one thing in particular. Sanai’s photographs are generally quite empty, requiring the viewer to find their own meaning. Still, he has his favorite subjects: suburbs of Tokyo, food and cars. (An early book has the memorable title of “My Ride,” with this roughness fully intended!) He continues to produce work at an impressive rate, and has started a publication series with the noted Tokyo design studio Match and Company.

Hiromi Tsuchida (b. 1939)

© Hiromi Tsuchida

Tsuchida is an accomplished photographer who works on long-term projects; indeed, he’s now been photographing Hiroshima for almost 40 years. His 1976 book “Zokushin” shows Japan’s small rural communities, which would be replaced with urban crowds during the economic boom of the 1980’s. “Counting Grains of Sand” (1990), another black-and-white series, shows this very transition: it begins with photographs shot at eye level of a few people, and culminates in photographs taken at the time of the 1989 Heisei Accession, where teeming crowds literally fill the frame. “New Counting Grains of Sand” (2005) picks up from this point. Although these color photographs of crowds are shot from a high perspective, Tsuchida does not seem to be looking down on his subjects: he has inserted a small likeness of himself into each image. He continues to release new work: in 2011, he published a long-term project on Berlin, showing the city before and after the wall.

Lieko Shiga (b. 1980)

© Lieko Shiga

In her photographs, Shiga creates a dreamy, almost phantasmagoric world, but she doesn’t use Photoshop to achieve this strong effect. Instead, she has developed a unique method of working with her subjects to create the situations that become her work. She has said, “the scenarios I create for my work are a means to instigate moments of unpredictability.” Her book “Canary” (2008), which won the Ihee Kimura Photography Award, shows how these interactions can produce compelling results. Since late 2008, Shiga has lived in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, where she has served as the town’s official photographer. Work produced in Tohoku is currently the subject of a solo exhibit (“Rasen Kaigan”) at Sendai’s Mediatheque, and a book is forthcoming. Her work has received an excellent reception both at home and abroad; in 2009 she won ICP’s Young Photographer Infinity Award, while in 2012 she won the Higashikawa New Photographer Award.

Yumiko Utsu (b. 1978)

© Yumiko Utsu

Utsu works with photography in an extremely playful way. Starting with found images, she then combines them with food, or other objects, to create unexpected effects. Through this technique, an octopus replaces the head of a woman sitting for a portrait, gourds mimic birds sitting on a branch, and a giant scorpion blocks traffic on a highway. Utsu has a particular fondness for using fish and other sea creatures, which lends her work a certain grotesque quality. Her compositions are generally quite colorful, which makes it seem that they’re not meant to be appreciated in an overly serious way. Because of her approach, Utsu has drawn comparisons to Surrealist art. Her works have been collected in a book, “Out of Ark” 2009). In 2012, she participated in a group show at London’s Saatchi Gallery.

Taisuke Koyama (b. 1978)

© Taisuke Koyama

Koyama often works with everyday phenomena, but he presents them in extraordinary ways. In a signature series, “entropix,” he photographs the details of surfaces in Tokyo in such a a way that they come to resemble abstract compositions. However, he is not just attempting to uncover some hidden beauty in these surfaces. Instead, he views this work as a kind of microbiological exploration, as if these minute phenomena could contribute to a broader understanding of the city. To create “Melting Rainbows” (2010), Koyama left prints from a different series out on his balcony, and re-photographed them as the surface changed. This experimental usage of the medium makes Koyama a truly “contemporary” photographer. “entropix” was published as a book in 2008, and his work was recently selected by English curator Charlotte Cotton to appear in the 2012 Daegu Photo Bienniale.

Tomoko Sawada (b. 1977)

© Tomoko Sawada

Sawada uses photography to explore the relationship between one’s inner life and outer image. Sawada herself is often the subject of her photographs, making herself up to look like a certain well-known “type” of Japanese woman: an office worker, “gyaru” or hostess, among others. For “School Days,” one of Sawada’s best-known works, she produced a series of images which mimic the typical class photo of an all-girls school. Everything seems as normal, except that every student–and the teacher as well–is, in fact, Sawada. Although many critics view Sawada’s work as a comment on popular images of women in Japanese society, others see it as a more personal exploration of the self. Sawada is based in New York City, and has exhibited extensively outside of Japan. In 2004 she received ICP’s Young Photographer Infinity Award.


Tags (20)

Daido Moriyama, Daisuke Yokota, Haruto Hoshi, Hiromi Tsuchida, HIROMIX, Kayo Ume, Kazuo Kitai, Kenji Hirasawa, Koji Onaka, Lieko Shiga, Mao Ishikawa, Masafumi Sanai, Motoyuki Daifu, Naoya Hatakeyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Ryudai Takano, Taisuke Koyama, Takuma Nakahira, Tomoko Sawada, Yumiko Utsu

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2012, Dec 05
Capsule reviews, November 2012

"2011, Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama, Qatar Al Jazeera-NHKbs TV" ©Kikuji Kawada Courtesy of Photo Gallery International

Kikuchi Kawada, “phenomena – 2011” at PGI

Kawada is known in the West for his classic book Map, but his new work deserves to be equally celebrated. As you can tell from the image above, he’s embraced digital technology in a very radical way. I was lucky enough to stumble into Kawada’s gallery talk, where he spoke eloquently about his current ways of working (including his great love of iPhoto slideshows) and the challenges of photographing today. At a glance, this series looks terrible, as if Kawada had just applied some bizarre Photoshop filters to his images at random, but he does know what he’s doing, claiming that he likes printing out his photos on inkjet printers because it adds to the digital effect of his work. I left thinking that this work could be easy to write off it was made by a 23-year-old photo student, but credit to Kawada for taking a risk. It’s encouraging to see an old master leading the way.

"AKB48, 2010"

Kishin Shinoyama, “The People” at Tokyo Opera City

This exhibit was not quite a retrospective of Shinoyama’s photographs—more like a jumble of his portrait work. Shinoyama is a skilled photographer, and I was hoping to learn more about the development of his work, but the selection was poor: the show consisted mostly of celebrity portraits, and it is ironic that, in the same room where Takashi Homma showed his photographs of McDonald’s around the world, Shinoyama put up monumental prints of Tokyo’s Disneyland. Apparently, it was the first time that a photographer had been allowed to take such images, and perhaps it was a thrill for some of the (numerous!) audience, but after paying 1000 yen I felt cheated to look at photographs shilling for Disney. In talking with others later, I came to understand better the value of Shinoyama’s portraits as a kind of nostalgia trip. Still, his post-3/11 portraits are unconscionable, as if he’d hopped out of a van and plunked his tripod down in front of the first few people he came across.

Installation view courtesy of Emmanuel Guillaud

Emmanuel Guillaud & Takano Ryudai, “Black Closer to White” at Yumiko Chiba Associates

An exhibition that derived its power from an experimental installation: Takano’s black and white photos were hung on a wall, while Guillaud’s almost colorless color photos were laid out underneath, some covered with white paper. Guillaud’s extremely dark images showed people on trains or otherwise glimpsed through Tokyo’s urban barriers, while Takano showed brighter photographs. Each body of work was quite subtle, requiring time to digest, and the unusual way of displaying these two series was successful in holding the gaze.

Daido Moriyama, “Labyrinth” at BLD

This exhibit was a pleasant exception to the idea that looking at a contact sheet will help you discover, in a romantic way, the “special” (OK, decisive) moment when the photographer’s vision perfectly met his or her subject. This is probably why someone thought it would be worth publishing the contact sheets of the Magnum photographers, the most romantic photographers of all. With Moriyama, though, there’s no romance: he shoots with a compact camera, but he is not trying to pick out “moments” in the Winogrand or Gilden sense. This exhibit shows only where he looked, and it’s enlightening to see Moriyama spend an entire roll of film on a theater sign, his famous tights, or the play of light on a tree. He really is the photographer of Light and Shadow.

Daido Moriyama, “Mesh” at Gucci Shinjuku

I might have been more upset about this show (installed in the event space of Gucci’s Shinjuku store) if I’d seen it a couple of years ago, but post-Color I can’t begrudge Moriyama for coasting. The exhibit itself was an unremarkable, screenprinted career retrospective featuring many of the hits which I’d already seen presented at BLD in a much more challenging way. The fishnet stockings, from which this show took its name, covered every available surface, but the effect was cheesy. At least a new audience will have discovered his work.

“On Photography” at Misa Shin Gallery

This was a three person show, featuring Seung Woo Back, Jio Shimizu and Tsuyoshi Ozawa. I’m not totally convinced by the title, but the photographs were excellent. Back was showing new work that will remind anyone of Sohei Nishino’s composite city photographs. It’s a kind of photographic collage, in which views of a city taken from a number of different perspectives are placed together to make a kind of “map.” Nishino actually puts his photographs together to mimic the form of a real city, creating the simplistic illusion of being able to “take in” the city as a complete unit. This makes it easy enough to look at the work from 20 feet away and move on. Back’s work, though, draws the viewer closer: he’s created new, fictional places, out of photos he shot in five cities across Japan and Korea, and I found myself looking carefully to try to figure out where exactly they were. Shimizu is producing images through intriguing experiments with physics, while Ozawa showed a series called “Vegetable Weapon,” in which he asks people to construct guns out of supermarket vegetables.


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Daido Moriyama, Emmanuel Guillaud, Jio Shimizu, Kikuchi Kawada, Kishin Shinoyama, Ryudai Takano, Seung Woo Back, Tsuyoshi Ozawa

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2012, Nov 04
Capsule reviews, October 2012

© Nobuyoshi Araki

Nobuyoshi Araki, “Sentimental Sky” at Rat Hole Gallery

It’s unlikely that this show would convert any non-believers to the Araki camp, but for those of us who are already in his camp, this was a good if not quite transcendent show. Araki recently moved out of the Setagaya apartment that served as the backdrop for so many of his photographs, and the centerpiece of this exhibit was a digital loop of color photographs of the sky taken from this most iconic of Japanese balconies. None of the images were particularly stunning, but the video worked as a whole. A young photographer could never get away with this kind of work, but then again, they’re not Araki. Some black and white photographs taken on the balcony, a few paintings of Yoko and a strange series of sky photos projected onto a nude Kaori rounded out the show.

Alejandro Chaskielberg, “Alejandro Chaskielberg” at 916 Gallery

916 Gallery is an incredible space run by the top dog in Japan’s commercial photography game, Yoshihiko Ueda. I thought that such things didn’t exist in Tokyo: 916 is a massive gallery on the 6th floor of an industrial building way out in Hamamatsucho. Forget Shinjuku, what’s more Blade Runner than shimmering office buildings, industrial warehouses, a useless monorail whizzing overhead? At any rate, the space must be seen to be believed, but if they continue to run out tame exhibitions like this, it will all be for naught.

Sakiko Nomura, Ryudai Takano, Yurie Nagashima, “Missing You” at Hikarie 8/ Cube 1, 2, 3

Hikarie is a new mall in Shibuya with an art space on the 8th floor. This was a three person show of photographers who I suppose could be connected through the genre of “personal photography.” The strongest connection you might find, though, was that you could walk away with a new bedding set courtesy of Nomura bedsheets and a Takano pillow. Each photographer showed representative work: Nomura’s intimate black and white photographs, Nagashima’s atmospheric work from “Swiss,” and Takano’s abstract portraits of male bodies. Mostly forgettable, except for a long vertical strip of paper over Takano’s largest (and most explicit) photo. I thought it had been placed by the gallery to spare passersby the apparently unthinkable trauma of seeing a male organ as they took a break from shopping, but it was actually Takano’s own choice.

Shinya Arimoto, “ariphoto selection vol. 3” at Totem Pole Photo Gallery

Arimoto holds a few exhibitions every year, usually showing his recent street portraits shot in Shinjuku. This time, he was showing work from Tibet, which he’d taken in 2009 on assignment for Playboy. (Arimoto had spent a much longer period of time there before.) There were a couple of nice portraits, especially one of a Tibetan biker, and as always the prints were extremely well-made. Still, something seemed missing: most of the photos were a little too straight-on, leaving little impression. Arimoto once did a show which consisted pretty much of portraits of bugs he’d found in the forest; at the time I thought the work was too strange, but it’s stayed with me. I would be surprised if the same thing happened with this show.

Haruto Hoshi, “St Photo Exhibition 14: Osaka” at 3rd District Gallery

Hoshi remarked wistfully that it would be years before anyone saw the value in his photos, and it does seem ironically true that snapshots of any kind—”street” or not—look freshest when they’ve been pulled out of storage after being forgotten for a few decades. Hoshi’s work is ready to be appreciated now, though, as the heir to the Katsumi Watanabe/Seiji Kurata lineage of “deep” street photography. For the moment, it looks like he’s about to find a new working rhythm, and try shooting some different subjects. He’s built up a significant archive of photos over the last five or six years, and now he’s going to sit back and edit. I hope there isn’t a decades-long wait before it sees the light of day again.


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Haruto Hoshi, Nobuyoshi Araki, Ryudai Takano, Sakiko Nomura, Shinya Arimoto, Yurie Nagashima

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