Yesterday I had half an hour to kill in Nishi-Shinjuku and decided to go again to Ahn Sehong (安世鴻, 안세홍)’s show 重重 (Layer by Layer, 겹겹, Gyeobgyeob, Jūjū).
There were fewer security guards this time, but instead of (very politely) going over visitors with a metal detector, they now (very politely) asked these to put baggage and the like to the side, and to walk through an airport-style security gate. This device pleasantly added to the general surrealism of the whole affair. Fewer visitors this time than last, but still a lot for a show at Nikon during working hours on a weekday.
Not only the uniformed people were extraordinarily polite, all were. The Nikon staff in particular seemed alert to the slightest possibility that they might be in my way, deftly stepping aside when I even started to approach. At least one of them magically combined this with an impression that he was avoiding looking in my direction. Extraordinary peripheral vision there.
And so the Nikon staff helped me concentrate more on the photos than I could the previous time. The best of these are good, but I was less satisfied with some others. It’s just that they don’t all have much visual interest. As for other interest, there’s probably plenty — but because there are no captions, one can only guess. Or one can’t — yes, I see (for example) that a lady is holding what I suppose is a Chinese ID card; but I can’t make out what’s written on it, and don’t know what other significance it may have.
I hope that an informative booklet eventually comes out of this work. (There’s already a modest brochure.)
The news today is that the Tokyo District Court turned down Nikon’s appeal against its provisional ruling and instead ruled that the exhibition should go ahead as planned (Asahi [at WebCite], Mainichi [at WebCite]).
All the best to Ahn and, despite its recent aberration, my thanks to Nikon for mounting shows such as this.
Though it thrilled the small, photobook-obsessed corner of the blogosphere, the book of Watabe Yūkichi’s series A Criminal Investigation whelmed me. It’s pretty, even elegant; but the printing doesn’t show detail (and doesn’t make up for this in any obvious way), the elastic band is going to age, and it costs a lot. It contains material for perhaps one quarter of some other, excellent book; but I give it three stars out of five.
Still, I do like the photos, and atsushisaito tipped me off to a show of the series at the TAP Gallery (map, map), running till 8 July. He was most (politely) persuasive, so Mrs microcord and I went out to see it.
As we got out of the train I heard my name called and there was a friend I hadn’t seen for over a decade, together with a handsome young man. After a short chat we emerged. Featureless at first glance, the neighbourhood quickly turned out to have a lot of fascinating corners. The weather was glorious. So I was already in a good mood as we walked in the door.
I forgot to count how many photos there were around the small room. Not too many. The small prints — I think what are quaintly called “8 by 10″ — are large enough. They’re darker than the reproductions in the book, more detailed, and (something I always like) sometimes from different frames. “Vintage prints” (not exhibited) cost peanuts by DLK Collection’s standards but major moolah by mine. But the prints exhibited were priced so reasonably that I peeled notes from my tight wad. Yes, I bought a print (of a frame that doesn’t appear in the book); here’s an atrocious reproduction.
Like many photo galleries, TAP has a shelf of books and so on of particular connection to its regular exhibitors. These shelves are usually of interest (notably signed yet slightly discounted copies of Dodo Shunji’s Ōsaka at Totem Pole). TAP doesn’t disappoint: it has issue number zero of a new photo magazine, Ima. This has a bit too much of an emphasis on names (Ryan McGinley etc) amply hyped elsewhere, but all the same there’s good stuff. At 1500 yen a pop the magazine won’t be cheap, but this is only 60% or so more than the cost of Asahi or Nippon, which don’t offer many good photos these days. (The current Asahi has Bangladesh by Kikai and a good series by Someya Manabu, but little else. A high percentage of the nudes show industrial-strength retouching, but there’s no hint of ironic intent.) It’s a brave or insane publisher that starts a magazine in Japan, where the more interesting new magazines (e.g. Kaze no tabibito) reliably shrivel and die; let’s hope that this Ima lasts long and without becoming just yet another shoppers’ guide.
Here’s TAP (counting down to a party):
Seeing Watabe’s good photos put me in the mood to take some crap photos. I took a very slightly roundabout route to the nearest station and encountered these sights on the way:
Reading material in the train on the way back home. TAP Gallery obligingly has not one but three postcards for the show.
Go to TAP Gallery for your free set of postcards, but buy a print (or three) while you’re there.
Today I went to see Ahn Sehong (安世鴻, 안세홍)’s show 重重 (Layer by Layer, 겹겹, Gyeobgyeob, Jūjū), on Koreans in China who had been “comfort women” for the Japanese military about seventy years ago.
It’s an odd show: one passes by three security guards on the way to the room, and is given a once-over with a metal detector when entering, and in the room there are security guards, Nikon employees, and also other staff affiliated with Ahn. But everybody is very polite, and trying not to get in others’ way.
The photos are good. Some of the subjects are very frail indeed, making Ahn’s task difficult; but all in all the photos are satisfying. They’re on warm paper and are somewhat mushy (which is surely deliberate): I wish they’d instead been on the kind of paper usually used for exhibitions (deep black, etc), but perhaps that’s just me. The photos don’t have explanations or even captions, which seems a pity. There’s a text in Japanese and English on the wall. This is so political that, um, the Japanese version at one point euphemistically describes the women as 朝鮮人元日本軍慰安婦 (i.e. Korean comfort women of the former Japanese military) but makes no other mention of Japan; while the English text doesn’t mention Japan at all. Note for the slow-witted: This means that (contrary to what has been claimed) the exhibition isn’t political in the slightest, though I suppose that if you’ve been a credulous consumer of the kind of whitewashed histories that most Japanese governments have more or less openly wanted taught in Japan, or if you have somehow managed to take far-right haranguing seriously, you might hallucinate something political about the show.
Here’s a report from Fotgazet about yesterday. For those who can’t read Japanese text: the first three photos there are of the exhibition space (on the 28th floor); the fourth is I think of the second floor (thanks to elevated walkways outside, perhaps a more widely used way in than the first floor), and the point is that Nikon is advertising the other, smaller show (see below) but not mentioning Ahn’s show. This was unchanged today.
As usual the exhibition space is divided into two. Ahn has the larger room. The smaller one is for this, by ten members of the Department of Photography, Nihon University. The only way you can enter the smaller show is via the larger one. When planning their show, the Nihon University team can hardly have imagined that would-be viewers would be subjected to a security check (however polite). I felt a bit sorry for them and went in. There’s plenty of technique on view there; what’s done with it is of widely varying appeal to me. I enjoyed the works of four of the exhibitors, which is pretty good going — four out of ten is a far higher success rate than I get from, say, books published by Akaaka. This exhibition runs till 3 pm on Monday, so be sure to see it when you see Ahn’s.
More to look at and read:
- some of the photographs
- “Court orders Nikon to allow ‘comfort women’ exhibition”, Asahi Shinbun, 23 June; here, WebCite backup
- Olivier Laurent, “Judge rules against Nikon in controversial ‘comfort women’ case”, British Journal of Photography, 27 June; here
- Miho Inada, “Judge orders Nikon to hold ‘comfort women’ photo exhibit”, Wall Street Journal, 25 June; here, WebCite backup
- Antoni Żółciak, “Sąd w Tokio nakazuje Nikonowi otwarcie wystawy ‘comfort women’”, SwiatObrazu.pl, 26 June; here
- “‘Comfort women’ exhibition goes ahead amid protests”, Asahi Shinbun, 26 June; here; WebCite backup
- Jung Nam-ku, “Amid tension, Nikon photo exhibit goes ahead”, The Hankyoreh, 27 June; here
- “‘Comfort women’ show makes Nikon uncomfortable but not Tokyo courts”, Japan Subculture Research Center, 28 June; here
- “Comfort women photographer pleased by Japan court”, Bangkok Post, 28 June; here
- right-wing fantasists
Ahn Sehong’s show should start at the Shinjuku Nikon Salon tomorrow. But Nikon says (here):
In short, no show. However, it also says (here):
The phrasing is a bit obscure, but Nikon is “provisionally” showing the work, because it has been ordered to do so. However, it’s appealing against this order.
So if you want to see the photographs, better go there earlier rather than later.
On 22 June the Tokyo district court ordered Nikon to do what it said it would do, and show Ahn’s photographs. (This Mainichi story is one of several that report on this decision.) Nikon does not seem happy, which is not surprising as its employees will probably be subjected to harassment and amplified wobbly natsumero tunes from the loony right.
I look forward to seeing the exhibition, wearing earplugs if necessary.
If Nikon puts on the show with good grace, I might buy a Nikon camera. No, wait, I really don’t need another camera. Well then, Nikon spectacles or whatever.
I must have seen dozens of photo exhibitions last year but only a handful made a strong impression. One was this one, in a small Shinjuku gallery, by Ahn Sehong (安世鴻). The man is taking and exhibiting photographs worth taking and exhibiting. He had two slim books (海巫 Haemu and 魂巫 Honmu) for sale and I was happy to buy and bring home a copy of each. Though not in that exhibition nor in either of the two books, among his subjects are the elderly survivors of Japanese wartime sex slavery.
A postcard from Nikon:
Yes, to its credit, the Nikon Salon had been going to exhibit this work later this month. But now it isn’t:
Nikon says that Ahn Sehong’s show has been cancelled. It cites various reasons (諸般の事情), none of which it deigns to specify.
The real reason appears when Ahn’s name is googled: lots of nitwits are proclaiming that he’s anti-Japanese. Liberally financed far-right thugs are offended by any mention of war crimes, when these war crimes are Japanese. They have hugely powerful megaphones and plenty of time and energy. But the police can and do protect embassies and similar from them. The question is, did Nikon contact the police, and if so, what was the response?
The office of the Governor of Tokyo is a few minutes’ walk from the Nikon Salon. Perhaps the current Governor would care to support the freedom to quietly remind others of facts that noisy minorities happen to want expunged from public memory. (But more likely not, as he too prefers a fantasy account of the past.)
If I were a photographer, I’d happily add I’ve added my name to this petition. But I’m still wondering how best to let nikon.com know they really fucked up but they can still come out on top.
Last week I was in Yamagata (City), for Kikai Hiroh’s big exhibition Persona. Simply, this combines the content of his earlier, large Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography exhibition “Tokyo Portraits” with work from the other two main strands of his career: India and Turkey. All in glorious black and white. Read the rest of this entry »
Until 25 December, JCII Photo Salon has a stunning exhibition of work by four photographers: Nakayama Iwata (中山岩太, 1895–1949), Yasui Nakaji (安井仲治, 1903–42), and the brothers Fukuhara Shinzō (福原信三, 1883–1948) and Fukuhara Rosō (福原路草, 1892–1946).
For those poor souls who think that it wasn’t until Provoke that Japanese photography emerged from its Dark Age, the names won’t mean much. (Tip: There was no Dark Age. See The History of Japanese Photography.) But those who know better will recognize all four names and also plenty of their work. At first glance Fukuhara Shinzō’s earliest work may now seem little more than decorative, but in its day it was a refreshing change from the overtly painterly styles (with bromoil, etc) that prevailed. And he moved on from there, while his brother Rosō went still further. (Shinzō also found time to run Shiseidō, and indeed to do so very well.) Nakayama and Yasui each attempted a far wider range, and both succeeded: photograms, portraits, surrealistic montages, and (for Yasui) reportage too. And it’s all fine, in its way.
In the 1970s, the Pentax Spotmatic (with a little gold quality-assurance sticker from JCII) was selling well, and its maker Asahi Optical was able to buy fine prints (as well as cameras of historical value) for its Pentax Gallery. When this closed in 2009, JCII acquired much (or all?) of its content. And at the core of this exhibition are works that were previously at the Pentax Gallery, which was clearly run by people who knew what they were after and had the funding to get it.
But that’s not all. As well as vintage prints from Pentax, the exhibition also has more recent ones. And under glass cases near some of the prints are magazines of the time (not only camera/photography magazines, but also general magazines), showing how the photographs first appeared to the public — often very differently from the current prints.
The exhibition occupies both of JCII’s exhibition spaces, so in terms of quantity it’s comparable with a small exhibition in a museum. The explanations are in Japanese only, which is a pity — but at least the photographers’ names are also given in roman lettering. And unlike many bigger shows, there’s no filler. Entrance is free, and if you go during a weekday you may have a whole room to yourself. Highly recommended.
JCII Photo Salon is a very short walk from exit 4 of Hanzōmon station (Hanzōmon line), in very central Tokyo. (Here’s a map.) It’s normally open 10:00 to 17:00, Tuesday to Sunday; if a national holiday falls on a Monday, it’s open on this Monday but closed the following day.
Here’s the exhibition notice (in Japanese).
Some months ago there was a flurry of interest in French- and English-language websites over the photographer Watabe Yūkichi 渡部雄吉 (1924–1993), or anyway in the 2011 book of his work A Criminal Investigation. He was described as obscure, which surprised me until I realized how little there was on him in English on the web. So I started to put together a little piece about two of his other books. While doing this I looked for some recent material on him in Japanese — and two days ago discovered that there was an exhibition of his work going on here in Tokyo. And so of course I went along the next day.
The exhibition is Umi e no michi (海への道) — which means “(the) road(s) to (the) sea(s)” — and it’s showing at the JCII Photo Salon until 27 November. Here’s the JCII building:
The JCII is a camera quality association. Worthy though it is, neither it nor its building is remotely fashionable. Fine with me. Anyway, it’s a minute’s walk from exit no. 4 of Hanzōmon station on the Hanzōmon line — which puts it in very central Tokyo, right next to the curiously opulent British embassy.
The gallery is not so big, not so small. Exhibitions here often maximize quantity as well as quality. Again, fine with me. If I ever want elegant expanses of blank wall between photographs I can see them in DLK Collection; more often I want to see photographs. This exhibition doesn’t disappoint:
Most of the “Umi e no michi” exhibition consists of the series “Umi e no michi”, which first appeared in Asahi Camera month by month from January until July of 1963. Both on the walls and in the printed catalogue (¥800), the photographs are considerately identified by month and place — but, not quite so considerately, only in Japanese. So here you go; the locations (most with a link to the relevant article, whether good or bad, in Wikipedia):
- January: Cape Shiretoko (Shiretoko-misaki, 知床岬)
- February: Cape Sada (Sada-misaki, 佐田岬)
- March: Cape Tappi (Tappi-saki or Tappi-zaki, 竜飛崎; at the far north of the Tsugaru Peninsula)
- April: Cape Inubō (Inubō-saki, 犬吠埼)
- May: Cape Tsunegami (Tsunegami-misaki, 常神岬; here at Itouchmap)
- June: Cape Seki (Seki-zaki, 関岬; or Sado Seki-zaki, 佐渡関岬; here at Google Map)
- July: Cape Todo (Todo-ga-saki, written in a dizzying variety of ways including 魹ガ岬 and とどヶ崎; within Miyako)
In short, Watabe made a journey to a stunning collection of some of Japan’s most remote and wildest places, and no doubt got drenched in sea-water and froze and felt sick — it’s sometimes clear that he’s on a small boat — as he observed fishermen and fisherwives and other fisherpeople at work, without goretex or velcro or many of other conveniences we take for granted. There no doubt was some tourism in Sado (even now not quite, as Wikipedia bizarrely puts it, “a city located on Sado Island”) — Kondō Tomio showed tourism well before Watabe reached Cape Seki — but there’s no sign of it here. Just people battling the elements as they deal with fish.
A description — grizzled faces, backs bent under the weight of baskets, etc — might make it all sound terribly earnest and passé, a throwback to the times of Domon Ken perhaps crossed with the 小説のふるさと of Hayashi Tadahiko. But so? Hayashi’s work is virtually free of the sentimentality that his title suggests, and this kind of Domon is fine with me (whereas I’ll forgo his photos of Buddhist statuary). If Watabe’s work had rather more grain, contrast or burning in, people would compare it that by his coeval Kojima Ichirō and it might get the “Hysteric” treatment.
Decades later, Ishikawa Naoki would make a comparable effort with Archipelago with a very different result; it’s OK, I suppose, but to me somehow tepid. Watabe can do people as well as places, and his work is far more exciting.
And as a bonus, the gallery adds works from other series by Watabe. Among these is the “Criminal Investigation” series. At the right in my photo above are three prints from the “Yama no otoko-tachi” series, of miners in Hokkaidō.
Miscellaneous notes for anyone who sees the show and might be . . . “Japanese-challenged”: Yes, that’s a selection of Watabe’s books in the perspex case. It’s far from an exhaustive collection: it strangely omits his big and award-winning book Kagura (which at least is mentioned in his potted bio) and of course the new Parisian production A Criminal Investigation (which isn’t mentioned anywhere). If two of his cameras, also displayed there, look improbably pristine, this is because they’re not his but instead examples of Leica (with 25mm Canon lens and finder) and Pentax from JCII’s large collection, a generous selection of which is on display in the basement of the same or next building (different entrance, and admission costs ¥300).
Here’s the exhibition notice (with a stylized map at the foot). And here’s a page about the exhibition catalogue (and here’s a description of it in English). So far it’s all in Japanese, but here’s a stylized map in English. And this is Google’s map for it.
Remember, this exhibition closes soon: 27 November. While it’s still showing, it closes every day at the old-fashioned and inconveniently early time of 5 p.m. But it’s free (and far more rewarding than several exhibitions elsewhere that cost me money).
In 1993 Setagaya Art Museum held an exhibition of work by Kuwabara Kineo and Araki Nobuyoshi titled ラブ・ユー・トーキョー (Love you Tokyo). The museum has been acquiring work by Araki since. It’s closed (for nine months, until the end of March), and a two-stage exhibition of post–Love you Araki acquisitions is running at what TAB calls the Miyamoto Saburo Memorial Museum.
The museum is actually Miyamoto Saburō kinen bijutsukan (宮本三郎記念美術館). I don’t know what its true English name is, if it even has one: the building itself only carries a Japanese name and the only words on its website that aren’t in Japanese seem to be “PDF” and “Acrobat Reader”. Anyway the museum is between Okusawa station (Meguro line), Den’enchōfu station (Meguro and Tōyoko lines), Kuhonbutsu (Ōimachi line), and Jiyūgaoka station (Ōimachi and Tōyoko lines). Here’s a stylized map (only in Japanese, of course) of how to get there, and for a detailed stylized map (north at the foot!) of how to get there from Jiyūgaoka station, try this PDF (again, only in Japanese, of course).
What you get:
- dozens of small prints of photographs of the sex business
- some photographs of flowers
- some paintings of flowers
- some pairs of nudes with townscapes and so forth
- three very large scrapbooks of photographs, each open and in a cabinet
- three video monitors, each showing the full content of a scrapbook
The flowers are forgettable. The nudes and the photographs that go with them (I think first published in Tokyo Nude, 1989) are interesting, though I could never see how the one photograph helped the other: the pairing seemed pointless. (Actually I feared that there was some banal “point”, such as the contrast between vitality [and sex] versus lifelessness.) They’re good-sized, handsome prints.
Looking in the best direction:
On the wall, “Tokyo Lucky Hole”. It’s Araki’s mid-’80s exploration of the sex business (first published as a book in 東京ラッキーホール = Tokyo Lucky Hole, 1990). Nothing here is particularly arresting, but they are amusing.
In the glass case, one of the scrapbooks: “Ginza”, from 1967. The other two are “Satchin to Mābo” (1963) and “Onna” (1965). Each of these scrapbooks seems to collect contrasty prints exhibited earlier in some small show. The “Satchin and Mābo” photographs, of two young boys, are well known: they’ve appeared in books (starting with Satchin, 1994), which are worth looking out for: the museum sells the latest, modestly priced book of these. “Onna” doesn’t really take off. The most interesting to me was Ginza, in which serious or glum people walk around Ginza. Their clothing tends to be either for work or somewhat dowdy, and the girls are on the doughy side — it’s quite a contrast from, say, Morooka Kōji’s portrayal of Ginza. (銀座残像 = Remembrance of Ginza is a collection of these photographs by Morooka.) I’m no expert in Araki’s published output but I haven’t noticed these early photographs of Ginza in any book; surely they merit a book, and some arty publisher could milk the nutball collector trade with a stratospherically priced “limited edition” of a facsimile of the original, which could reasonably be termed an elephant folio.
All in all it’s an odd exhibition. I easily got my ¥200-worth, but the best part was standing in front of a monitor watching a video. I’d rather see each video on a computer, with my cursor ready over a pause button.
The content changes on 14 January, after which I’ll go along again.
I’ve no idea how much all of these acquisitions cost Setagaya-ku, but it’s not obviously an unreasonable use of taxpayers’ money. Setagaya’s museum possesses a lot of good stuff. It has a great quantity by Morooka, for a start. Much of Morooka (師岡宏次)’s published work may be humdrum, but if carefully selected and well reproduced it merits a look: none of his books is satisfying and by contrast the best collection I know of is the twenty or so pages he gets within the excellent 1993 exhibition catalogue モダン東京狂詩曲 = Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo. He’d merit a small show in the refurbished museum. The museum also possesses a number of paintings by Anthony Green, whose work doesn’t seem to have been collected in a major book since the bilingual (Japanese/English) catalogue that accompanied an exhibition that toured Japan (including the Setagaya museum) in 1987–88. Time for an updated retrospective of Anthony Green, Setagaya!