surveillance 1930s

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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).

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“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.

50 years of wedding anniversaries

Minoru Iguchi has taken some pretty good pictures over the years — most of them on or about Oct.11. That’s the day, back in 1959, when Iguchi, now 75, married his high-school sweetheart, Tatsuko, three years his senior. Ever since then, on every anniversary of their wedding except one, he’s set up a camera on a tripod and snapped a photo of himself and his wife enjoying their dinner. She on the left and he on the right, they look out from the frame directly at the camera, with a hint of a smirk on his face and a mask of patience on hers.

That’s pretty much is all there is to the photo exhibition “A half-century of Wedding Anniversaries,” running until Feb. 21 (this Sunday) at the Seigetsudo Gallery in the Ginza district.  maybe we’ve all seen fast-motion videos of people aging on youtube, so Iguchi’s photos shouldn’t seem special. Except somehow they is. These photos don’t speak  so much about speed as a remarkable stability.

At first glance, very little  changes in the Iguchi home. But the close you look the more you see: The couple’s rice-maker s continually upgraded: They change houses three times; Mother-in-laws move in and pass away; Late in life they take in a cat, replaced by a photo among  images of the Iguchi’s grand-nieces and -nephews. Meanwhile the couple age, but it’s hard to point to exactly when they become old. Iguchi credits much of that to his wife’s hair dye.

“I didnt start off trying to make a statement, I just saw a chance to a record of our everyday lives,” says Iguchi, a former photographer and cameraman for NHK. “But by continuing this long it’s taken on several meanings.”

“I think my wife thought I’d eventually give up,” he adds. “And partway though I got the sense that she was tired of humoring me. I think that she’s as surprised as anyone that we’ve gone this far.”

supersize me

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It seems as if something strange is happening in Yokohama again — a place has been set up where you eat and drink off giant-proportioned plates and glasses. More photos here.

Looks grand doesn’t it? It’s a conceptual art piece by French person Lilian Bourgeat at Zo-no-hana Terrace until January 11. The Japan version of his work looks rather less idyllic, though, to judge by the plastic cups in this photo:

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KI and HCB

These two photos form the most striking juxtaposition at the current exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography:

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On the left, looking distinctly out of his element, is Japan’s Ihee Kimura standing on a ladder somewhere in the French countryside, looking out of frame even as the action seems to be going on right below him. The shy-looking man on the right, with his delicate hands wrapped around a camera, is Henri Cartier-Bresson. The two took these portraits of each other when they first met back in 1954.

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slope gallery sendagaya

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There really isn’t a lot happening in my neighborhood — culturally speaking. Sendagaya to most people is just the expanse on the map between the shopping districts of Harajuku and Shinjuku, and it only draws visitors only when there are sports events and mega-concerts at the nearby stadiums or so-called “family sales.”

There aren’t many families here, but there are lots of small- and medium-sized apparel firms, most quite hip. At the end of each fashion season they hold these semi-private sell-offs of stuff that would otherwise go to the incinerator.

This place on a slope, I seem to remember, used to belong to a fashion business. The last time I passed by, though, I was surprised to see that it had been turned into a gallery. Naturally enough it’s called Slope Gallery, and deals in books too. It’s first show was of photos of New York City by Tomonori Tanaka.

The website says the gallery’s focus is on surfing, skateboarding, bikes and boards — style signifiers, if you will, reaching out to nearby Harajuku. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find it here: It’s part of the fashion business after all.

a circus invitation

Tomorrow there’s an opening party and presentation for the photography book “IL CIRCO” (サーカス)by L. Pellegatta, along with the telling of a short circus story by Shinji Ishii. Here are the details:

Opening Party: / THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5th, from 18:00 ~ 20:00
at UTRECHT/NOW IDeA
Minami-Aoyama 5-3-8, Minato-ku, Palace Miyuki 2F
港区南青山5-3-8 パレスミユキ- 2F
TEL 03-6427-4041

The exhibition continues until Nov. 15

金秀男 kim soo nam

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This was a great show. I say “was” because it ends today at the new Korea Cultural Center in Yotsuya 4-chome, a beautiful building near all the tiny photo galleries at the edge of Shinjuku. Click here, though, and you can see a full set of photos of Korea shamans and ceremonies taken by Kim Soo Nam (金秀男), who passed away last year. The photos date mostly from the early 1970s onward. The music is fantastic too.