The bright sparks of photography

by Alice Gordenker

Special To The Japan Times

Photography, because it is both familiar and accessible, is an excellent medium for young people to use for self-expression. With this as a guiding principle, the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (K*MoPA) in Yamanashi Prefecture has sought since its founding in 1995 to contribute to society by purchasing the work of promising young photographers.

“Very often, young people cannot see what they do well unless someone points it out to them,” says museum director and photographer Eikoh Hosoe. “For young artists, having a work purchased by a museum can provide a tremendous boost in confidence. Without that, they may lose faith in their abilities and stop creating.

“They may even throw out their work. So that is the other aim of our acquisition program — to collect and preserve photographers’ early work that might otherwise be scattered or lost.”

Through an annual call for entries, open to anyone under the age of 36, the museum has assembled a “Young Portfolio” of more than 5,000 photographs from around the world. Each year, a panel of three judges — Hosoe and two colleagues recruited from among Japan’s leading photographers — painstakingly review thousands of entries, from which the museum purchases 200 to 300. To commemorate 20 years of this socially conscious acquisition program, and to bring the portfolio to a larger audience, the museum has organized its first large-scale exhibition in Tokyo in the B1 gallery at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. In the spirit of accessibility, there is no charge for admission to the exhibition and related events.

K*MoPA, which is located in the Kiyosato Highlands of Yamanashi Prefecture, has brought to Tokyo some 500 works from its collection, presenting a fascinating and varied look at youthful talent from all over the world. Japan is heavily represented. In the early years there was little international awareness of the museum program and its acquisition program. Now, however, an increasing number of artists from outside Japan are submitting their work for consideration, and the present exhibition includes photographs from countries elsewhere in Asia as well as the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

As a happy bonus, there are also works taken, early in their own careers, by the 35 Japanese photographers who have served as judges during the annual “Young Portfolio” selection process. This is a rare opportunity to see the early work of some of Japan’s most influential photographers, including Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama, Ikko Narahara and Issei Suda, all in one place.

“Basically. Forever: Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography runs till Aug. 24; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thu., Fri. till 8 p.m.). Free admission. Closed Mon. Talk events (in Japanese) will also take place on Aug. 22 at 6 p.m., and Aug. 23 and 24 at 2 pm. For more information, visit www.syabi.com.