The postcard for Paula Herrera’s photo exhibition in Tokyo
The postcard for Paula Herrera’s photo exhibition in Tokyo
… is the name of an art exhibition organized by Karin Pisarikova at Tama Art University. For some odd reason she contacted me and several of my photos will be featured among the art works. My name is even on the invitation cards, albeit in Spanish form. If you’re in the area drop in.
It’s not really a typo, since that’s how it was written on my birth certificate. Decades have passed since I’ve seen it so, but now I think I rather like it again without the extra vowel.
In this day and age, the idea of a policeman with a camera brings to mind one thing: surveillance. In prewar Tokyo, one officer produced something closer to beauty. That’s the impression provided by “Koyo Ishikawa: Documentary Photographs of Showa by A Metropolitan Police Department Cameraman.” The show runs until March 21 at the Tokyo Station Gallery, which is temporarily located in the Shimbashi district while Tokyo Station undergoes renovations.
Ishikawa (that’s him above, in a photo taken during the war) joined the police force in 1927 is remembered for grisly photos of Tokyo fire-bombing victims taken near the end of World War II. However, the 80 photos in this exhibition instead show what life in the city was like before the destruction. Filled with cafes, elegant European style buildings, westernized “Modern Girls” and kimono-clad matrons, Tokyo seems a magical place.
Yet they are a form of surveillance. Ishikawa cajoled the police department into buying him a stealthy Leica compact camera, an expensive rarity at the time, which he carried around mostly when out of uniform. A Shinjuku street scene, for example, looks innocuous until we learn that Ishikawa may have just stepped out of a movie theater (just out of the frame) where police had a reserved seat for keeping an eye on the audience.
Another shows a quaint alley in the Koenji area, lined with cafes and leading to a thatch-roofed house. We learn that these cafes are likely places to meet desperate young women who had moved to the city from the impoverished countryside.
Throughout the shifting scenes, the hand of the artist never leaves the policeman’s glove. Yet that imbues these images with a certain objectivity, even naturalness. This doesn’t mean, though, that Ishikawa constantly hid himself. One photo shows his four daughters playing with a puppy on the balcony. Look closely, and you’ll see it is a German Shepherd. (This was a slightly reworded version of the one I wrote for Asahi).
“Koyo Ishikawa: Documentary Photographs of Showa by A Metropolitan Police Department Cameraman” continues until March 21 at the Tokyo Station Gallery, a 3-minute walk from Shiodome Station on the Toei Oedo line and a 5-minute walk from Shinbashi Station. Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays (except Jan. 10), from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3, and Jan. 11. Admission free. www.ejrcf.or.jp/gallery.
An interesting story about the last roll of Kodachrome in the world.
“I will be quite brief. Everything I have to say is on the walls of this exhibition.”
– William Eggleston, who’s first solo show in Japan is at the Hara Museum.
Photographers here generally wear fashionable hats.
From: Mom’s Old Kodachrome (or Lt. Jones in Japan). It looks and feels like the Ginza to me.
I don’t have to go out and look for photography — it finds me. Or that’s how I’ve felt these past couple of days. Yesterday, for example, I was on the subway when a middle-aged businessman sat next to me. He looked absolutely ordinary except in one way: he was studying this most appetizing catalog of photography books.
I couldn’t control my curiosity and had to ask him where I could one.
“You can’t,” he told me. “At least I don’t think you can in Japan.”
He then explained that he’d just gotten back from Germany and a book event. His suit told me that he was in the printing business, and not publishing.
“Do you work for Dai-ichi (No. 1) Printing?!” I asked, impolitely.
“Dai-ni (No. 2), actually.”
He looked hurt, but went on to explain that his firm printed Masafumi Sanai‘s 赤車 (Sekisha, ‘red car’), which was judged one of the top 10 books at the Kessel forum. (I noticed that the Sanai book was chosen by an art professor rather than a photographer, unlike some of the others. I will let you guess my opinion of the work from that).
By coincidence I had recently picked up and looked through Sekisha in a bookstore. It really is beautifully printed and I told him so. The businessman then surprised me by telling me exactly where I had seen it: at the Aoyama Book Center in Roppongi. He knew because it was the only place in Japan that was physically selling what has been declared one of Japan’s best recent photo books.
It reminded me again of how small the of world of contemporary art photography really is. We imagine that such works are seen by millions, when actually the number is in the thousands. It has to be, because these days books for even major names are printed in the low thousands or even high hundreds.
That was yesterday. Today I saw what I think is an increasingly rare sight — the “street photographer,” like this fellow above, at work.
I am fairly sure he was a street-shooter, even though he was in violation of one of the cardinal rules of genre: Never put yourself in a situation you can’t easily escape.
Seriously, though, I find it admirable that someone of student age is actually out taking photos of strangers — that is to say of an outer world that might snap back –
when many contently photograph the dishes in their sinks or the tiles in their bathrooms (or for that matter their red sports cars). That is to say objects, from which we are to meant to read (or not read, which is a statement as well) an inner world.
I also liked his hat. I’d love to wear something as characteristic, but find that the brim sometimes gets in the way of a good shot.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about music and photographs — no wait, that doesn’t sound quite right. Lately there’s been a song playing in my head constantly, and it really makes me feel as if I’m taking a photograph.
There are lots of long lists about songs and photographs such as this one. Personally, my short list is just three songs: On it there’s “Kodachrome,” which is really about obession. Then there’s the bossa-nova “Desafinado” (“off-key”), which has this line:
“O que você não sabe, nem sequer pressente
É que os desafinados também têm um coração
Fotografei você na minha Rolleiflex
Revelou-se a sua enorme ingratidão”
(It means something along the lines of “I took a photo of you with my Rolleiflex, and got a picture of your great ingratitude.”)
The third, which is the tune that I can’t get out of my head at the moment, is an old standard, “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Jamie Cullum version here). It’s probably the most “photographic” song I’ve heard, even though it makes no direct mention of photographs or equipment at all. It’s about seeing, or rather, bringing an object into focus. This line,especially makes me go all “bokeh” inside:
“I don’t know if we’re in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue
You are here, so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
I only have eyes for you”