Snap! (Japanese photography)

Ebisu is an area in Tokyo where the HQ of the well known Yebisu beer is located. This is why , on arrival, the speakers of the Ebisu train station, welcome travellers with the theme of one of my old time favourite movies: The third Man.

The song has been used , for many years, as the soundtrack to the brand’s advertisements and it is quite an experience for the unsuspected traveller to be suddenly transported to an almost comedic environment, typical in mute movies, where the crowd begins to walk to the rhythm of a tune.

Ebisu is also home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the best place to discover Japanese photography gems which might not have ever travelled beyond the sea of Japan.

Earlier in the week we visited the museum and discovered a photographer who my father in law used to know. His name Kurigami Kazumi. He is currently exhibiting at the museum two bodies of work: One experimental titled Hitohone (images taken with a toy camera) the other one a personal journey under the title Northern… This one, I really liked. It is a nostalgic record of a personal journey back to his hometown in the north of Japan. The images are full of sentiment and show life from a very personal view point.

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Image by Kurigami Kazumi (taken from exhibition brochures)

I love Japanese photography. I was in my fourth year of architecture when I decided to take a couple of courses on photography. I had always been fascinated by the magic of the dark room and I wanted to be able to experience it. One aspect of the courses was technical, so after years dreaming about it, I did learn some “magic”. The other aspect though, was a complete eye opener.

I discovered photographers I had never heard of: Andreas Gursky, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Walker Evans, Eadweard Muybridge… And I begun to discover a world I had never even considered to exist. My favourite though, because of his story telling ability was Hiroshi Sugimoto . His Theatres work blew me away. It was experimental, almost “scientific” but also emotive, architectural and artistic all at once. I loved it.

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Another body of work of his I like very much is Seascapes. It does, in 2012 , feel a bit strange to say this , as it seems to have become such a part of the popular culture, but … I’ve always loved it. I remember the day I arrived to Naoshima, the wonderful island where Tadao Ando designed various museums and a hotel for the Japanese Publishing company: Benesse Holdings.

I had seeing those building so many times in books, that I could hardly believe that we were there. We were taken along and shown the main pieces of art on display and ended up arriving at the terrace where we noticed that some of Sugimoto’s Seascape images had been hung. The guide asked us to move down the stairs and at some point stopped, letting us make sense of both the lined up images and the sea horizon surrounding the island of Naoshima. It was beautiful. “The sea unites the world” he explained. I have since being in many exhibitions of his work, but I have never felt the images to make that much sense as they did there. There is such a thing as the perfect location for a piece of art.

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Image by Shoji Ueda (taken from exhibition brochures)

More recently, during one of my visits to Kyoto I discovered another great photographer : Shoji Ueda. Ueda’s work extends through the history of Japan : From the arrival of the instant camera to Japanese life, to post war surrealism (in the form of images at the dunes of Tottori or Magrite-like images) to more recent experimental His images are beautiful, almost cinematographic.

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