‘Documentary Photographs of Showa by a Metropolitan Police Department Cameraman’

by Jae Lee

Closes Aug. 28 (and Aug. 15-23)

Shinbashi Station exhibition hall Closes March 21 Ishikawa was a professional photographer who, during the Showa Era (1926-1989), became a Metropolitan Police Department “cameraman.” Though he was reluctant to join the police force, the job entailed using a compact Leica camera, which, in turn, changed his approach to photography.

The Leica took photography to a different level for not only Ishikawa, but also legendary Japanese photographers such as Ihei Kimura and Yoshio Watanabe, all of whom became pioneers of snap-shot photography and war photojournalism.

Old Shinbashi Station, a reconstruction of the building’s original pre-Kanto earthquake Western-style architecture, makes an ideal venue for Ishikawa’s works. No longer serving as an actual station, it maintains the original train track beneath a glass floor and displays everyday objects from the Showa Era. The exhibition hall then reveals a clean modern-style photography space allowing viewers to fully focus on Ishikawa’s depiction of that very same era.

Though Ishikawa is perhaps best remembered for his journalistic images of the World War II air-raids and the horrific bombings in Japan, this exhibition reveals his professional photographic abilities through images of different parts of Tokyo, such as the swinging Ginza district and Koenji’s cafe district.

As modern Japanese photography emerged and photos began to be more appreciated for their journalistic or personal value, Ishikawa’s work stands out as a little different. Unlike the photojournalists who were given specific events or narratives to pursue, Ishikawa’s job was to take photographs purely for documentary purposes.

Though some of his work may be seen to lack personality in that respect, for Ishikawa the Showa Era was personally fraught with hardships. He said of the bombings, “I can hear the ghosts whispering how dare I take pictures of such tragedies, but it was the order I was given. I could not stop my hands shaking as I snapped.”

There are no pictures of the burned victims or crushed buildings in this exhibition, but there is still a pervading melancholy. Here is a police photographer who had no choice but to document one of the darkest periods of Japan, and that knowledge only makes his documentary-style pictures of school girls waiting for a train or young women in kimono all the more poignant.

Old Shinbashi Station is a 3-min. walk from Exit 2 of Shinbashi Station (Ginza Line); admission free; open 11 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Mon. For more information, visit www.ejrcf.or.jp/gallery