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Report from Tokyo

Photography tutor Robert Bloomfield with his first post for WeAreOCA
I’ve just had a few days in Tokyo and took the opportunity to check out the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. This impressive building in Ebisu in Western Tokyo covers four floors with a library, print room, bookshop and cafe bar as well as two floors containing spacious galleries, so you can spend quite a chunk of a day there. The big show at the moment is an Enari Tsuneo retrospective entitled ‘Japan and its Forgotten Wars: Showa‘. Enari is a well-established Japanese documentary photographer and his work is politically charged, dealing with Japan’s wartime past and questioning current Japanese attitudes towards it. The show includes five major series – The Island of Wailing Ghosts about the Pacific war; The Children’s Manchuko and False Manchuko, both documenting the legacy of the Manchurian annexation by Japan in 1931; and a series each on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with portraits of survivors and also artefacts from and around ‘ground zero’.
Enari doesn’t pull any punches in his work, and in this notably reticent country he speaks frankly in his introductory text about Japanese attitudes towards the Showa Era and also the often negative views of modern China by Japan.
He writes, ‘I have been engaged in my solitary journey as a photographer for nearly 40 years. For all those years, when I have thought about photography, I have thought about why we take photographs. It has been important to me to consider the integrity and the context of the art we create when we come face to face with suffering and death.’

His approach to photographing the atomic bomb artefacts seemed to be through the use of colour (and Enari is a marvelous colourist) but for me, more interesting were the portraits of atomic bomb survivors. Black & white, ambient light, cropped head and shoulders straight to camera, these extraordinarily expressive images manage to portray the depth and complexity written into the faces of he survivors who have carried the physical and psychological scars of the atomic bombings throughout their lives.

The second show here, ‘Tokyo Portraits‘ by Hiroh Kikai, lightened the mood somewhat. Kikai has been hanging around the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo photographing ‘oddballs’ with his Hasselblad for about the same amount of time as Enari has been working on the Showa wars. The work was presented as a large series of black and white prints filling quite a few rooms. Each of the framed prints had a caption to it. A few examples – ‘Man who blinked very slowly’, ‘A person who remarked that the good weather had continued for some time’, ‘A woman who told me that her son was the number one barber in Japan’. In other words, pretty deadpan. Sometimes he photographed the same person 20 years apart. He’s clearly continuing Japanese photography’s obsession with the ‘left-field’ – the fringes of society in what is in many ways a very conformist society. Just as a series of photographs on their own they were outstanding. I felt it was hugely accomplished ‘straight’ photography – a great understanding of light, expression, relationship to subject, full of variety and visual interest. It was also very humourous.
I took myself off to the Sensoji temple the next morning to check out the scene. His outdoor ‘studio’ must be the gate before the temple, east side facing the Tokyo Tower, which had a beautiful light. The colour of the temple wall was a deep, low-key red, which translates as a dark grey in monochrome, and there were a number of homeless people around as well as people just hanging out reading the paper and watching the pigeons. Felt quite at home!
While in Tokyo I also checked out the Tokyo Institute of Photography, the 72 Gallery and the Photographer’s Gallery which I may write up in a further post. I’ve been immersed in Japanese photography for a few weeks now and it’s been deeply affective.

Posted by author: Robert
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3 thoughts on “Report from Tokyo

  • I’ve been deeply interested in Japanese photography for a while now, so it’s interesting to here your thoughts – I’m a bit short of time at the moment, but I’ll be sure to check out the links soon…

  • I love black and white myself to,have for as many years as i can recall. so just looking at the pictures of the three images shown just dose it for me. says it all realy.

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