Wataru Yamamoto
2014, Jul 15
Tokyo shows

© Wataru Yamamoto

Now is a good time to see exhibits in Tokyo. Why now, in July, when each day is more unbearable than the last?

I was really impressed by Kunié Sugiura’s show at Taka Ishii Gallery 1, “You are always on my mind / you are always in my heart; photo-painting and photo collage, 1976-1981.” Almost 40 years ago, Sugiura was doing things that younger photographers are just figuring out now. Sugiura is a long-term resident of New York, and she says that this work was not received well at all there when she made it. Better late than never? I’m going to see this one again. Until 7/26.

Kazuo Kitai has a show at Zen Foto Gallery 2, “One Road,” which is worth a look. Also until 7/26.

Wataru Yamamoto is opening up a new solo show, “Spring,” at Yumiko Chiba Associates 3, from 7/25 – 8/23.

Keizo Kitajima also has the latest installment of his “UNTITLED PHOTOGRAPHS” 4 series up at photographers’ gallery, until 8/10.


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Exhibits, Kazuo Kitai, Keizo Kitajima, Kunié Sugiura, Wataru Yamamoto

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2013, Nov 03
Young Japanese photographers in Paris

If you will be in Paris between November 9 and 17, I would suggest visiting the “Lumix Meets/Tokyo 2020 by Japanese Photographers 9” 1 exhibition, currently slated to take place at 1 Rue Richelieu. This show will feature a number of young talents in the field of Japanese photography:

Maya Akashika

Go Itami

Yumiko Utsu


Yuji Hamada

Yoshinori Mizutani

Wataru Yamamoto

Daisuke Yokota

Kazuo Yoshida

A different venue was listed on the website a couple of days ago, and I can’t find any information about “1 Rue Richelieu,” so it might be best to check the site again before heading out. It’s less than a week before the show and the site is still Japanese-only, so while it certainly looks like this has been thrown together at the last minute, I hope things go well—it could be a very good introduction to the work of some young Japanese photographers. I won’t be in Paris, but I would be curious to hear how things go if you stop by.


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Daisuke Yokota, Go Itami, Kazuo Yoshida, Kosuke, Maya Akashika, Wataru Yamamoto, Yoshinori Mizutani, Yuji Hamada, Yumiko Utsu

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2013, Jul 25
Wataru Yamamoto, “Plane Tree Observations” at Yumiko Chiba

© Wataru Yamamoto

Wataru Yamamoto 1 will hold a solo exhibition of his work “Plane Tree Observations” at Yumiko Chiba Associates 2 in Shinjuku, from 7/26 – 8/10. There will be an opening reception Saturday, 7/27. Technically, I have “curated” this exhibit. Further information about “Plane Tree Observations” is available on the YCA site 3.


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Wataru Yamamoto

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2013, May 27
Wataru Yamamoto, “Drawing a Line” at photographers’ gallery

© Wataru Yamamoto

Wataru Yamamoto will hold an exhibition of “Drawing a Line” at photographers’ gallery 1 in Shinjuku, from 6/4 – 6/16. The exhibit will serve as a (somewhat belated) celebration of the publication of his book with MCV MCV 2.

Wataru and I will have a talk event on Saturday, June 8 starting from 4pm, and there will be an opening reception from 6pm.



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Photographers' gallery, Wataru Yamamoto

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2013, Feb 23
About Wataru Yamamoto’s “Drawing a Line”

© Wataru Yamamoto

In Raymond Roussel’s 1914 novel “Locus Solus,” readers are introduced to a series of impossibly complex machines, all of which serve no discernible purpose; one, for example, is a road-paving machine which creates the mosaic of a soldier out of human teeth. These machines are the result of a playful technique that Roussel applied to his native French. In this game, a phrase like “demoiselle à prétendant” (“a girl with suitors”) becomes “demoiselle à rêitre en dents” (“paver with soldier, of teeth”). The task Roussel set himself was to cover the distance between these two phrases, and the result in this case was the tooth-placing device which (because of other plays on words) was powered by minute changes (predictable ten days ahead of time) in the direction and intensity of the breeze.

In short, Roussel was performing an experiment with language, and in the most basic sense, Wataru Yamamoto’s photography is also experimental: he sets up certain conditions for his photographs, and sees them through to the end of the work. Still, these experimental systems—one generating text, the other images—are idiosyncratic, not scientific. Roussel’s linguistic games developed out of an experience with a punning carnival worker, while Wataru holds a long-standing interest in nature, having grown up near an untouched forest.

“Drawing a Line” makes its experimental technique clear to the viewer, and it’s a strange time for such a work to appear. Many of Wataru’s Japanese contemporaries are more inclined to chase after fleeting moments of beauty, using a highly personal, intentionally vague style. This aesthetic has dominated Japanese photography in recent years, but it now seems to have exhausted itself, out of its depth in the Japan of 2012. The challenge for the next generation of Japanese photographers (Wataru’s generation) is not so much to found a new aesthetic program—as if this would be a step forward—but to find a way beyond aesthetically-driven photography altogether. Roussel is now commonly seen as an important precursor of significant literary developments, and we could take Wataru’s untimely appearance as a good omen.

Drawing a Line 1 is the second book published by MCV MCV. It includes text in English and Japanese. Available online through PH 2.

Design by In Residence (USA)
Edition of 500
48 pages
Black & white offset, printed in Singapore
Thread sewn binding
303 x 231mm

© Wataru Yamamoto


© Wataru Yamamoto


© Wataru Yamamoto


© Wataru Yamamoto


© Wataru Yamamoto


© Wataru Yamamoto


© Wataru Yamamoto


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Wataru Yamamoto

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2013, Feb 14
Short note on Wataru Yamamoto

© Wataru Yamamoto

To create the series “Drawing a Line,” Wataru Yamamoto 1 hiked into one of the only virgin forests in Japan (located in the Kumano region), set up his camera in the woods, and took a number of self-portraits using an extremely long cable release.

Why is Wataru worth paying attention to? Why do I think these somewhat silly images are seriously important for contemporary Japanese photography?

The answers to these burning questions—and more!—in the near future. Don’t unsubscribe from this old blog just yet…


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Wataru Yamamoto

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2013, Feb 12
Capsule reviews (recent)

Installation view © Kobun Hayakawa

Kobun Hayakawa, “Mask Road” at Place M

In 2011, Leo Rubinfein put up a show at MOMAT, “Wounded Cities,” which had the ambitious goal of showing, through photographs, how a certain kind of fear can be literally found written on the faces of today’s city dwellers, all over the world. Rubinfein’s text made it clear that he was fully aware of how difficult this claim would be to make through photographs, and I wish that Hayakawa had taken a similar position, given that he’s trying to do a similar thing, with similar results—snapshots of people on the street, lost in thought. Hayakawa’s almost bizarre claim, though, is that this phenomenon of “mask-wearing” is particular to Tokyo. This is a flimsy proposition at best, as Rubinfein’s show alone shows. There are a few well-seen images in this series, but I’m just not convinced.

Misato Kuroda showing "Sawako" © Takumi Suidu

Misato Kuroda, “Sawako” at Jimbocho Garou

This is not the right place to trace out a history of erotic photographers in Japan, but Misato Kuroda is going to head up the list pretty soon. Sakiko Nomura comes to mind, but her images are dark and brooding, while Kuroda’s are just plain naughty. Some of her other works have been more personal, but Sawako (which has long sold out in photobook form, and is now available for 20,000 yen on Amazon) is a series showing a supple Japanese girl posing nude in a variety of locations. Kuroda has written about her early looking at porn mags, and how this experience led her to take these photos.

Issei Suda, "Fushikaden"

Issei Suda, “Fushikaden” at BLD Gallery

The book outshines the exhibit here, but only because it’s so excellent. In this work are some of Suda’s most famous shots that have been used in other books (Only Photography, Tosei-sha etc), in their “original” context. The show itself breaks up this flow, and for some reason or another didn’t do much to hold my attention. Perhaps it’s just edited in a strange way. The best part was a series of snake photos, which were hung up in the bookstore, outside of the main gallery. Still, a couple of stunners, including flashed flowers and dead goat. It’s an old lark that Japanese photography is more about books than prints (it is, but probably not in some incomprehensible way) and this was certainly true here.

© Naonori Oshima

Naonori Oshima “O/N Complex System” at Photographer’s Gallery

A good title. Digital overload kind of thing—laser prints which enhance the “digitalness.” Lots of stuff that most people would throw out, not very much that’s beautiful. This is a good thing. Portraits of people framed in the middle distance don’t really work, they’re way too normal and don’t fit the flow of the show. Kind of Kasubaba-ish, at times. Created artist book in ed. of 10, ¥25,000 – pretty smart. Prints edition of 7 for ¥12,000 – also good. Says he’s not trying to have meaning in one image, I can agree with that. Kind of Kitajima influence (uncommon places style) at times. He’s the youngest member of pg, worth tracking.

Wataru Yamamoto, “Wataru Album” at Chateau 2F

This was part of a group show, with some other photographers, but I can’t even bring myself to write anything about the other people. Wataru has been going to the same photo studio in his hometown since he was a child, and he displayed those albums in this exhibit. It’s fun to see his evolution from a table-tennis playing elementary school kid to a “bad boy” junior high schooler, to a nature-loving college student. The last album shows him posing together with the photographer, who’s still going strong after all these years. Wataru is giving me some real hope about photography in Japan; he is full of ideas and knows how to execute them without trying to do too much.

Asako Narahashi, “in the plural” at Zeit Foto Salon

Known for her “half asleep” series, of course, and there are many of these photos here, including two more of the hit combination of Mt. Fuji + a sweet wave. It may be cliched at this point, but I have to admit it still looks great, and at least the prints at this show weren’t a mess like the ones I saw in 2010. When she looks away from the ocean, there are some great results: a photograph of a field of archery targets nestled in a distant field (seen from above) is an excellent, effortless way to meditate on photographing. A sequence of 2 photos going up a lift, looking back at a snow-covered town, also works well, or at least shows something of Narahashi’s vision, which can be somewhat radical in the way she frames and edits–when she’s out of the water, her images are not actually very beautiful at all, and I think (to her credit) that’s intentional. It’s as if with the water images, she stumbled on a way to make things beautiful, but the aesthetic power of those images is distracting you from what she’s actually trying to do with her work. I might be wrong, and I’m still not exactly sure what she *is* trying to do. There was a little book of notes for sale, but I didn’t buy it because I wasn’t trying to practice reading Japanese then (I am now). Next time.

Scheltens & Abbenes, “I put this here” at LimArt

If you include the activities of its sister shop, POST, LimArt is establishing itself as the best place in Tokyo to view contemporary European photography. A+S’s work is certainly very conceptual, and it was a little bit difficult to grasp, but still, it’s a change of pace from what’s normally exhibited here. The person at the desk said people responded to the show by saying it’s “interesting because it has a different approach”; I’m hoping people will have learned something from it, rather than taking a glance, saying, “huh,” and moving on. Let’s wait five years and see.

Chihiro Ichinose, “Kitsilano” at Nikon Ginza

Kind of like Kawauchi—somewhat magical photos of a trip to Holland—but with a more experimental darkroom style: bands of color (or splotches, sometimes covering the entire image) streaking across the paper. It’s a surprising way of presenting such otherwise tame material, though Ichinose’s statement works against this good work: she reflects explicitly on her own technique, but without offering any more insight than, “I was thinking about photos and, I dunno, I thought I’d try something weird.” Better to leave that unsaid! It seems like she’s close to hitting on something, but also like (as said in her statement) she’s just beginning to question the nature of photographs. I’m curious to see what answers she finds.

Arita Taiji, “First Born” at 916 Gallery

An extremely formal show, to the level of Ueda Shoji, which is not a good thing. Everything is set up. A couple of nice images but no impact–maybe I need to have kids? Prints, by Ueda Y, are nice, but still. Maybe the work was better at the time? It feels boring now. The large frames for otherwise small prints seemed like a half-hearted attempt to try to fill this massive space, but it was a mismatch—it felt like miles between one print and the next, which doesn’t work for these photos. Just not sure why it should be presented now.

Syabi “Young photographers” jam

Masumi Kura: Loose way of ordering street snaps, maybe good in 20-30 years.

Keiko Sasaoka: Careful landscapes, really pretty, too pretty maybe. I wonder of Fishing (like Narahashi’s archery) could be thought of as an image of photographing. Not sure if Sasaoka has thought of this though.

Chiro Otsuka: Very conceptual, but so inward-looking. Re-tracing her own memories of childhood, going back to places she visited as a child and re-photographing herself there, then digitally re-inserting herself into the image. The work did not not offer much more than the possibility to say “oh cool” and move on.

Tomoko Kikuchi: Photographs of the trans scene in China. Extremely powerful subject matter, which she did well to capture. No innovations photographically, but the work is still important as a historical document; it makes sense to us today in the way that Kura’s photographs do not, even though they are technically better.

Lewis Baltz/Toshio Shibata at Shadai Gallery

Shibata’s stuff is old (late 80s/early 90s), just shows him doing his thing. This was my first time to see Lewis Baltz prints in real life, they’re really good. I haven’t seen Marten Lange prints but I hope they look like this. Very bright whites and just a few blacks coming through. Desert detritus, around Reno. It’s good. Old world photography, really classical, photo as window.


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Arita Taiji, Asako Narahashi, Chihiro Ichinose, Issei Suda, Kobun Hayakawa, Misato Kuroda, Naonori Oshima, Wataru Yamamoto

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2011, Nov 20
Follow up to Canon New Cosmos

I went back to Syabi, to take a look at the New Cosmos of Photography exhibition once again. Each of the 5 finalists got some wall space, and a place to show their portfolio, but all of the other 20 people who received honorable mention also had some space to show like one print, and a portfolio. It was interesting to see this work, which really ranged from the terrible to the potentially interesting to the really quite clever. My favorite out of the bunch was Wataru Yamamoto, a student at Tama Art University, who presented a work called “Draw a Line”:


The idea behind this work is really pretty simple. He went into the forest, set up his camera and stood some distance away from it with a long cable release, “drawing a line” through the frame. In these photos the line is basically straight, but in others it zigzags through the trees. Turning the pages of this portfolio was extremely enjoyable. On the one hand, you’re kind of playing a game of “Where’s Wataru?” on every page, because he’s often camouflaged quite well. But it’s also interesting to see how the line changes, and to realize that you’re not even bothering to look at the forest. I like this kind of goofy experimentalism, it reminds me of something John Divola might do.

Strangely enough, the winner of the honorable mention section also used the cable release in her photos, but in a much less experimental way. This is the work of Mariko Sakaguchi:

Every photo in this series shows her taking a bath in some scene where no one notices her. This leaves me very, very cold. Taking a bath in front of a busy train station, or in a local convenience store? That would be something, on the Laurel Nakadate tip. It seems like the work is trying very hard to say something, but not really connecting, and leaving the cable in the frame exemplifies this—visually, it doesn’t add anything to the photo, and conceptually it actually makes the photographs weaker. I mean, this tells us that she is controlling exactly when to take the photo, but it’s not like she’s interacting with anyone else; nothing is ever happening around her! Using a timer might have made things more interesting. There was also a photo in her portfolio where she was bathing in front of a house that had been wrecked by the tsunami. Without being sanctimonious, I would like to express some disappointment with that.

Selecting this work as the “best of the rest” may or may not reflect on the competition as a whole. I’m not sure.


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Canon New Cosmos of Photography, Mariko Sakaguchi, Tokyo Metropolitan Photography Museum, Wataru Yamamoto

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