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Shimooka Renjo, back in focus

Shimooka Renjo, back in focus

Shimooka Renjo, back in focus

It’s not surprising that the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has organized a retrospective on Shimooka Renjo, one of the very first commercial photographers in Japan. What is surprising is that it didn’t happen sooner: The exhibition, at the museum through May 6 with a change of exhibits on April 7, is the first-ever large-scale retrospective on this pioneer…

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Up now at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography:


Photographs that stirred up debate 1966-1974

One of the top three exhibitions I’ve personally viewed over the past decade at this museum, 1968 showcases an extensive part of the museum’s collection of prints and publications from the eight years stated in the subtitle of the show.  The prints, often showing signs of physical age and in the case of the section on the student riots of 1968,  mutilation by history,  work as a veritable who’s who of this most popular period of Japanese photo history.  If you’ve got interest in the Provoke era, don’t miss it.

The museum’s website states that: 

This exhibition traces how the framework of what we understand as photography in Japan was being transformed, and was trying to transform society, in the years 1966 to 1974, with 1968 the critical focus. What is photography? What is Japan? What is modern? Raising questions on all these fronts, it searches for a way forward.

Perhaps it’s the translation, but “a way forward” from 2013 isn’t quite the point of a show like this, indeed, it’s much, much more about looking back, or at least being able to put together how things got to the way they are.

 In terms of aesthetics, I couldn’t help but note that my digital Ricoh, like most digital capture devices, has an “Art Mode” with which anyone can easily create a high-contrast Moriyama-y snap that shares the look of the pictures on display.  The pictures in the show are evidence of an approach to craft (or anti-craft) that was born in part as a reaction against notions of Proper Photography- a “look” that has been consumed by camera companies and software engineers who have transformed it into a marketable algorithm to load up digital cameras with. It’s worth pointing our that no manufacturer, film or digital, has yet been able to make a filter for embedding actual insight, sensitivity, or profundity into ones’ pictures.  That’s the hard part. But it’s an enjoyable challenge.

Via the museum’s website you can download a PDF of the flyer for the show, as well as a full list of work shown, in English.  The accompanying exhibition photobook/catalog is quite satisfyingly well done with a generous selection of reproductions from the exhibition, with essays and photographer bios in English as well as Japanese. It will be an excellent reference for anyone interested in this period of Japanese photography. 

FACT: the Tokyo Metro Photo Museum of Photography: 東京都写真美術館, Tokyo-to Shashin Bijutsukan  is romanized as “Syabibut pronounced “Sha-bi”.  This truncation comes from the core of the institution’s title: 東京都術館, with “Sya-bi” being the first half of the word photograph (真, SHA-shin) and the first kanji of Art Museum (術館, BI-jutsu-kan). 

It’s also interesting that the combination of these two Kanji mean “Reflect Beauty” when translated in the most literal way possible.  

Suda Issei exhibition opening reception, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

Contax T3

Photographer: Masumi Kura 

Kura, represented by Zeit-Foto Salon, has put out a few books of her work shot on the streets of Tokyo in via the Sokyu-sha imprint.

Her first two collections, Kura  &  Adventures of Kuraare both available from the Japan Exposures and are books that anyone interested in contemporary Japanese street photography will enjoy.  

Side note: She’s also part of the casual School of Visual Arts group that includes Shinya Arimoto, ERIC, Keizo Motoda, Keiko Nomura, and even Jun Abe, among others.


Seen: Suda Issei‘s nagai no hira - fragments of calm  at the Tokyo Metro Museum of Photography (Syabi)

There was no photo show I was looking forward to more than Suda’s massive exhibition at Syabi this autumn.  These pictures are so deeply exciting it’s draining trying to come to terms with their power to affect the viewer. The museum website states:

Suda’s eye seems to travel between the ordinary and extraordinary, creating an atmosphere similar to that experienced in moments of 'calm’ when the wind ceases to blow. This exhibition consists of an accumulation of numerous fragments of this calm, each captured within a single photograph.

The opening reception this evening was well attended- everyone I spoke with is planning on a second visit to get a better look.  This is easily one of the best exhibitions in Tokyo of the year, if not past several years. If you are in Tokyo between now and December 1st it is not one to miss.