Tomoko Sawada at KPO Kirin Plaza and MEM, Osaka

This is my second post about Tomoko Sawada about whom I wrote two years ago already. Currently she has two exhibitions at KPO Gallery at Kirin PlazaKirin Plaza itself is worth a visit. The building – which gives the impression of a huge sculpture – by the architect Shin Takamtsu is a landmark building in Osaka. Scenes from the movie “Black Rain” were filmed at Kirin Plaza and at MEM gallery in Osaka (until Sept. 3).

“Masquerade” at KPO shows Tomoko Sawada in the guise of a few hundred different self-created identities. The exhibition includes the series “OMIAI” (2001), “Cover/Face” (2002) and “Recruit” (2006). A new book by Sawada with the title of the exhibition “Masquerade” is due to be published soon. In conjunction with the exhibition at Kirin Plaza, MEM gallery exhibits “Early Works” from 1996/97 which have not been shown to the public before.
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Yonosuke Natori and Nippon Studio, Kawasaki City Museum

If you happen to be in Tokyo area I would highly recommend a side trip to the Kawaski City Museum to see the exhibition about “Yônosuke Natori and Nippon Studio (1931-1945)”The English translation of the Japanese exhibition title (on the exhibition poster or at Tokyo Art Beat for example) is only half done. The full English translation would be “Yônosuke Natori and Japan Studio”. (until Sept. 3).

Yonosuke Natori and Nippon Kobo

Yônosuke Natori (1910-62) was a professional photographer, founder of “Nippon Studio” (“Nippon Kôbô” in Japanese) and publisher of the international, multilanguage magazine “Nippon” (Japan). With his studio and the magazine Yonosuke Natori introduced to Japan cutting-edge photographic techniques and design that he studied in Germany.[1]As far as I know there is not much information available on Natori outside Japan. There is some basic information published on Natori, his studio and “Nippon” in The History of Japanese … Continue reading

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1 As far as I know there is not much information available on Natori outside Japan. There is some basic information published on Natori, his studio and “Nippon” in The History of Japanese Photography.

On Japanese photography books – unsorted thoughts, part I

The first visit in one of the big bookstores in Tokyo in search for Japanese photography books can be an overwhelming experience. If you take one of the major bookstores in Tokyo like Kinokuniya at Takashimaya Square in Shinjuku/ Tokyo for example: the store covers several huge floors and the art/ photography/ design department alone is bigger than most bookstores I know.

Even though the different book sections are named in English the language barrier is the major problem for each potential buyer: without a basic ability to read Japanese it almost impossibleto identify any of the hundreds of books in front of you. However, even with the ability to read, withouta basic knowledge of the Japanese photography world it is very hard to find the essential, interesting or unique publications of the recent years – older books cannot be found in this kind of store anyway (I will talk about this later).

After the initial confusion upon entering the empire of signs [I always love to quote Roland Barthes :-)] it becomes evident: the sheer quantity of Japanese photography books is amazing. Even I dont have any hard statistical evidence it is clear that much more photography books are published in Japan than in most (any?) Western countries – without a doubt more than in any European country.

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Tamotsu Fujii “A KA RI”

This book took almost a year until it reached Europe, but now it leaves a strong impression on those who have had already the opportunity to see it. Recently Markus my local photo book dealer told me that this book is doing very well and just yesterday a friend from France praised the quality of the photographs published in “A KA RI” by Tamotsu Fujii.Most will not have heard the name of the photographer before, since his work is rarely exhibited or published outside Japan. However in Japan Tamotsu Fujii is well known as a commercial photographer who did advertising photography for major companies like JR East (Japan Railway) or Suntory. Fujii won amongst others the ACC (All Japan Radio and Television Commercial Confederation) Award, Japan’s most prestigious advertising award for commercials, and in 2003 he received the Tokyo Art Directors Club (ACC) award for his Muji campain.

Tamotsu Fujii: Muji advertisement
Tamotsu Fujii for Muji
[I have only seen the Muji poster on the web yet, but if someone has one left over at home, don’t hesitate to send it to me :-).]
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Aoi Sora “Polgasun”

Last fall the publisher of the bilingual magazine European Photography asked me to write a short review on the book Aoisora Polgasun by Aoi Sora. At that time I had never heard the name of the photographer and a short search on the web revealed that Aoi Sora is not a photographer by profession, but a Japanese idol and porn star, who made a series of self portraits on request of the publisher PowerShovelBooks, a publisher who is involved in Lomo photography.

Polgasun, 2005

5 Japanese popular idols are asked to take self-portrait. They are given more than 50 films and few days for it. They are asked to take the cameras with them all the time, anywhere they go and anywhere they are. As if the cameras are their boyfriends or undetestable stalkers. The girls are Nao Oikawa, Aki Hoshino, Rei Ito, Kyouko Nakashima and Sora Aoi. Their mission is to keep on popping shutters until they get sick of doing it.[…]

(Later) we asked Sora to take pictures continuously. We were desperate to see more photographs she takes. Sora was kind and curious enough to take photographs with many cameras we provided, such as BabyHolga, Babylon4, Holga and GR. Most of the photographs taken by Sora with those cameras were very interesting. However, her photographs have been completely changed since she started using POLGA. (You know, POLGA is Holga Polaroid holder for Holga.)
[Quote: Hideki Ohmori/ PowerShovelBooks]

Polagsun, 2005
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Rinko Kawauchi “Rinko Diary”

Rinko Kawauchi, one of my absolute favorite Japanese photographers**, has published a new book this week: Rinko Nikki (Rinko Diary). It’s a small book with Japanese text and some small images. Her notes and most of the photographs are taken from the website of her publisher Foil where she is publishing a diary since 2004.

Rinko Kawauchi: Rinko Nikki (Diary), 2006 (book cover)

**I will write more about her in the near future. For those who don’t know her work I would higly recommend to have a look into her book “Aila”. Currently works from “Aila” are exhibited at Foto Espana festival (until July 23).


Recommended books:
Rinko Kawauchi: Rinko Nikki (Rinko Diary)
Rinko Kawauchi: Aila

Naoya Hatakeyama at Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo

In 2003 the “Regionale 2004” a project by North Rhine-Westphalia (a federal state in West Germany) commissioned Naoya Hatakeyama to document the defunct coal mine “Zeche Westfalen I/II Ahlen”.

Naoya Hatakeyama: Zeche Westfalen I/II Ahlen

From October 2003 to February 2004 Hatakeyama photographed the sites and structures that were home to tens of thousands of workers for over a century. The series, which I have not seen yet, neither on the wall nor in the book with the same name published just recently by Nazraeli Press, is on display at Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo.

It seems that Hatakeyam kind of returned with the following series to a topic with which he ‘blasted’ into the Japanese photo scene in 1995, literally.
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Hiroh Kikai: A performer of butoh dance

Hiroh Kikai “Persona”

Does anybody know Hiroh Kikai?

I had never heard of him until I saw his book “Persona” last year. The photobook “Persona” contains portraits of people from Asakusa/ Tokyo, whom Hiroh Kikai photographed for three decades since 1973.

“Persona”, published in 2003, is a large format book and the black and white portraits of people from Asakusa are printed in quadtone in striking quality. The book won the 23rd Domon Ken Award and the 2004 Annual Award of the Photographic Society of Japan. Unfortunately, it is sold out and it took me some time to find it in Tokyo. A new, smaller version of the photo book was published last autumn.


Today Asakusa is best known for its Senjoji Temple, a temple famous for Tokyo’s biggest festival taking place late spring every year, while in the first half of the 20th century Asakusa was the major entertainment district of Tokyo.[1]A very vivid description of the bustling live of Asakusa in the 1920th can be found in Yasunari Kawabata’s novel The Scarlet Gang Of Asakusa.
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1 A very vivid description of the bustling live of Asakusa in the 1920th can be found in Yasunari Kawabata’s novel The Scarlet Gang Of Asakusa.

Naoki Honjo “Small Planet”

Jean Snow pointed me in his blog to the recent publication by Naoki Honjo “Small Planet” (Tokyo 2006).

Naoki Honjo: Small planet (book cover)

Containers, urban buildings, express highways, Tokyo station, parks and people, of which Honjo’s works are consisted. Photographing cities from high places, it would be only colors rather than details of subjects that appeal to people’s eyes. It is like a magic transforming organic view of “created world” into inorganic “fictional world”, like a diorama exquisite yet cheaply made. The strange sense to feel real scenery as fabrication through downward view is the sense of distance of artist’s expression who has seen cities as alien space. A feeling of strangeness as if looking in the border between fiction and reality attracts audiences. A long-awaited debut photo book of the artist is now on sale.
[quote: Little More]

Naoki Honjo: Small Planet

In another comment Jean Snow wrote about the “tilt shift lens photography (or imitation thereof) madness” and I think that he is right with his observation that several photographers from the younger generation are using this technique.

Naoki Honjo: Small Planet

Another photographer who is using the same technique and who comes to my mind immediately is the German photographer Marc Raeder with his Scanscape series. Raeder’s work is IMHO a perfect example of this kind of land-/cityscape photography, which is constantly oscillating between the factual desription of real places and producing the impression of an miniature landscape we know from toy-train landscapes…


Recommended books:
Naoki Honjo: Small Planet
Marc Raeder: Scanscape

Asako Narahashi “half awake and half asleep in the water”

Recently someone asked me about Narahashi’s series “half awake and half asleep in the water” and this reminded me that I was looking for publications with the series last year in Tokyo.

Asako Narahashi: Bentenjima, from the series: ‘half awake and half asleep in the water’, 2001


I am very fond of this series which was photographed by Asako Narahashi at several places around Japan in 2000-2003. The curator Michiko Kasahara (today working at the MOT) was instrumental in promoting the series when she included the series “half awake and half asleep in the water” in the exhibition Kiss in the Dark: Contemporary Japanese Photography.

Asako Narahashi: Zeze, from the series: ‘half awake and half asleep in the water’, 2005

The title of the series […] is very cleverly expressed. Her works, while betraying the stereotyped images of resort areas, somehow make visible as a shared recognition the image of the sea that people embrace. Therein, an uncomfortable felling like seasickness and a pleasurable feeling of floating and entrusting yourself to the sea lodge side by side.[…] They call forth an ambivalent feeling.
[Quote: Michiko Kasahara: Kiss in the Dark. Tokyo 2001]

Momochi, from the series: ‘half awake and half asleep in the water’, 2003


Not in the water, but the water´s edge. The resulting photographs were of a sort that I couldn’t tell wether they were not wanting to go over to the other side (= other world), but standing on this side (= this world) and peeping over a the other side, or looking over at this side from the other side.
[Quote: Asako Narahashi]


Asako Narahashi: Ueno, from the series: ‘half awake and half asleep in the water’, 2003

By the way, besides being published in group exhibition catalogues some images from “half awake and half asleep in the water” are included in Narahashi´s book “Funiculi Funicula. Photographs 1998-2003”, Tokyo 2003, and the series is very well printed in the exhibition catalogue “Imagine”, Tama City Cultural Center 2003.


Recommended books:
Asako Narahashi: Funiculi Funicula. Photographs 1998-2003
Michiko Kasahara: Kiss in the Dark: Contemporary Japanese Photography